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Sabiyha Prince, An Anthropologist Back to School

Today’s guest blog post is by Sabiyha Prince (Coppin State U). Dr. Prince has volunteered to lead a program in the Anthropologists Back to School initiative. Her program will take place at The Field Museum. This new initiative seeks volunteers to lead and assist programs at various host sites throughout Chicago on Wednesday, November 20 from 9am to12pm. Share your passion of anthropology while giving back to this year’s host city – Chicago. Learn more about how you can participate in Anthropologists Back to School and register today!

S. Prince

I am an adjunct professor at Coppin State University in Baltimore, Maryland and a researcher and qualitative data analyst for the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum of Washington, D.C. which is currently closed due to the government shutdown.  As a cultural anthropologist I have been interested in the unfolding elements of race, class, and other aspects of status and identity as these overlap to shape the conditions and experiences of African Americans in cities. This is a focus that has led me to look at socioeconomic diversity among Blacks in the U .S. and to explore the continued legacy of racial inequality in the contemporary period.  Most recently my research and writing have resulted in my second book, African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C. Race, Class and Social Justice in the Nation’s Capital (2014).

This forthcoming book uses qualitative data to explore the experiences and ideas of African Americans as they confront and construct gentrification in Washington, D.C.  It contextualizes Black Washingtonians’ perspectives on belonging and attachment during a marked period of urban transformation and demographic change and attends to the impact of hierarchies and standpoints over time.  I present oral history and ethnographic data on current and former African American residents of D.C. and combine these with analyses from institutional, statistical, and scholarly reports on wealth inequality, shortages in affordable housing, and rates of unemployment in Washington, D.C.  Completing this project led me to glossed-over histories of a people and a place too often narrowly construed within adherence to an inside or outside the beltway conceptual dichotomy.  Among my most central findings is the conclusion that gentrification seizes upon and fosters uneven development, vulnerability and alienation in affected communities.  While proponents deploy the language of multiculturalism and diversity in support of gentrification I noted heightened forms class and race-based tension in areas that have experienced this type of urban restructuring.

I am also a longtime proponent of an engaged anthropology and, as such, have worked with grassroots organizers in Washington, D.C. and anti-war, environmental justice and anti-apartheid social movements in D.C. and New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Back to School program appealed to me on a number of levels although I will admit to mildly panicking after coming on board because I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to share.  I have volunteered to work at The Field Museum site but when I was told Power Point presentations would not be possible I began to fear I would bore the pants off of the students in my attempt to support such an important initiative.  This all changed after I read Julie Lesnik’s guest blog posting and became inspired.  As I began ruminating on strategies for incorporating my own research into the process my mind turned to urban change and rested on the D.C. residents without whose cooperation I would have had absolutely nothing to write about in my book.  Certain the students I would come to meet in Chicago would have folks in their lives with stories in need of recording, I decided to lead mini-workshops designed to empower young people around using anthropology to explore their neighborhoods and/or surrounding areas.

The details of my plan are coming together but my goal is to imbue students with (or reinforce in them) a sense of how valuable their own communities are – even those in which residents are experiencing challenges.  I will provide handouts with listings of community assets – broadly considered – and questions students can ask of potential participants in their self-constructed projects.  I intend to encourage those who visit me at the museum to either interview select neighbors or members of their social networks and/or engage in small acts of ethnographic observation within their communities.  It is my hope that this project will inspire students to look at their communities through fresh eyes and encourage them to consider the value of anthropological inquiry.  It is also possible students can use some of the suggestions I will share to complete homework assignments or school projects.

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