Constructing Belonging: Class, Race, and Harlem's Professional Workers

By Sabiyha | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT

Negotiating Difference in Community Life

IN HARLEM, INTERACTIONS BETWEEN PMW AND STRANGERS USUALLY TOOK place across socioeconomic boundaries. Heterogeneity has this community teeming with richness and diversity. Each day, whether walking down the street or waiting for the subway, residents are in the midst of people from different regions and socioeconomic backgrounds. In some settings, PMW converse with neighbors at the apartment building mailboxes in lobbies or while patronizing area stores. In others, PMW may not even acknowledge their surroundings. I observed community members both ignoring and exchanging pleasantries and/or information with each other across the lines of socioeconomic differentiation.

One set of interactions taking place outside of the household and across socioeconomic boundaries occurred through tenant/landlord relations. In some instances these were amicable, but before I began my research, one resident told me about her legal action against a renter. In other examples, African American nurses, social workers, and educators encouraged, ignored, taught, and/or argued with low-income blacks within the corridors of hospitals, office buildings, and schools. I observed this in pre-natal care clinics, job training and WIC centers, as well as other areas where African Americans formally interact across barriers of economic stratum.

In still other examples, project participants would hire handymen to make repairs in or around their homes. Janice Douchette and Louisa Mae Campbell paid men to shovel the snow and complete other odd jobs occasionally. As long-time Harlemites, both women knew most of the people who lived on their blocks. Campbell was retired, and hence, keenly aware of the comings and goings of many area residents.

Elder residents like Campbell were particularly adept at using their windows, doors, or front stoops to observe community activity. I stood

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