In this ethnography of the Fresh Start homeless shelter in Detroit, Aimee Meredith Cox shows how the shelter’s residents—young black women whose average age is twenty—critique their social marginalization and find creative ways to exercise their agency.
In Shapeshifters Aimee Meredith Cox explores how young Black women in a Detroit homeless shelter contest stereotypes, critique their status as partial citizens, and negotiate poverty, racism, and gender violence to create and imagine lives for themselves. Based on eight years of fieldwork at the Fresh Start shelter, Cox shows how the shelter’s residents—who range in age from fifteen to twenty-two—employ strategic methods she characterizes as choreography to disrupt the social hierarchies and prescriptive narratives that work to marginalize them. Among these are dance and poetry, which residents learn in shelter workshops. These outlets for performance and self-expression, Cox shows, are key to the residents exercising their agency, while their creation of alternative family structures demands a rethinking of notions of care, protection, and love. Cox also uses these young women’s experiences to tell larger stories: of Detroit’s history, the Great Migration, deindustrialization, the politics of respectability, and the construction of Black girls and women as social problems. With Shapeshifters Cox gives a voice to young Black women who find creative and non-normative solutions to the problems that come with being young, Black, and female in America.
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