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How Did We Get Here? Black Professional Women, Place-Making and Belonging in Portland, Oregon


My dissertation is an examination of what it meant for professional black women transplants to be caught up in the interstices of inter-personal and institutional narratives about race, gender, and class in Portland. I argue that the city benefits from women’s insertion into structures upon which its brand of middle-class livability is dependent. Yet, their labor and complex sense of belonging are not included in historical, social, or political narratives about the city. Between June 2016 and July 2018, I focused on women’s experiences, who were recruited from civic and activist organizations, public events organized for people of color in Portland, and from among my existing friendship circles. I collected data using written surveys, recorded interviews and informal conversations, and participant observations at their workplaces, in their homes and during get-togethers. My research complicates assumptions that black professional women’s class achievement mitigates intersecting forms of oppression. I also demonstrate how contemporary Portland has narrated itself as a predominantly white city by strategizing to marginalize blackness, rather than as a result of its total exclusion. The black population in Portland is historically diverse and the professional women in my study participate in a trajectory of experience where black people have looked for and made opportunity in the city, even when it was not planned for them to do so.

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