The place of race: Constructions of black and white identities in a working-class, inner-ring suburb in the global economy
Kupper, Michelle Meyers
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This ethnographic study analyzes the dynamics of race and social class formations and the processes of identity construction of black and white students in an inner-ring suburban high school. The traditionally white, blue-collar community, located in the northeastern United States, has been hit hard by the flight of manufacturing jobs, and residents can no longer rely on the promise of stable, protected jobs in industry. At the same time, the racial demographics of the town are also shifting, as black families move to the suburb from the city. This work illustrates that place functions in very specific ways and is integral to the identity construction – namely, race and social class identities – of black and white students at the school. The formation of white and black identities is deeply connected to a sense of place, specifically, to a traditional city-suburb paradigm in which the city is defined as black space and the suburb as white space, despite (and very likely in reaction to) both the dissolving borders at the global level and the crossing of the city/suburb line by real people at the local level. This is important because in a globalizing world in which “place” is supposedly losing significance in the formation of identities, this working-class community relies on fundamentalisms of “place” - a race-based binary of city and suburb - as an essential component of identity construction. The major roles performed by the constructs of race and place in identity formation are essential in understanding how the new working class lives out its class position in today's global economy.