What Exactly Makes Something… “Ghetto”?

January 24, 2012  |  

As I look up the word “ghetto” in the dictionary, I find an array of meanings. For instance, according to Merriam-Webster, a ghetto is:

  • a quarter of a city in which Jews were formerly required to live.
  • a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure.
  • an isolated group; a situation that resembles a ghetto especially in conferring inferior status or limiting opportunity.

Maybe it has to something to do with that last two interpretations (do ONLY minorites live in the ghetto by the way?), but when I look at these random definitions of ghetto, I don’t understand the way the term is being used out in the streets on a daily basis. Or specifically, the way I saw it used the other day. While trolling on Facebook at the end of the night just to see what people were up to/talking about, a former classmate from elementary school and high school was telling the world about a major annoyance that occurred during her day. That’s cool, people vent on Facebook pretty often. However, her comment was so random to me that it bothered me for the rest of that evening. The young woman said something to the effect of, “Why are these preppy girls acting ghetto during my lunch break singing “Bug A Boo” by Destiny’s Child?” And yes, she was white.

Hmmmm.

Maybe I needed to be there. She didn’t go into details about the encounter, but from the sound of it, because they made the choice to sing out loud, and maybe even because it was “Bugaboo” (and not some Adele), they were behaving in the way it’s assumed folks from the actual ghetto behave. Perhaps it was because she was a white woman, who like me (a black chick), grew up in the suburbs and probably hadn’t ever really had to encounter a ghetto of any kind, maybe that’s why it bothered me so much. But either way, her statement literally brought out one of those horrendously long eye-roll moments.

I think it bothered me so much because ever since college (I went to a predominately black high school in an area hit with “white flight”), I’ve heard a wealth of young white women and men I wasn’t highly exposed to before use the term ghetto to describe people who are black, or non-blacks who have an appreciation for black culture and the likes. Saying that something or someone is ghetto with a negative connotation attached implies that folks who live in ghettos all tend to act a certain way–a negative way. Especially when you throw up that eyebrow, curl your lip and say it with such passion. It has become clear that I’m not the only person who has noticed this trend (remember “Ish White Girls Say to Black Girls”?  That was one of them.) Really, what exactly does the chicks singing “Bug A Boo” have to do with people growing up in a place of inferior opportunity or of social, economic and legal pressures? Fill me in if you get it because I just don’t.

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