Ghetto: What’s In A Word?

May 24, 2013  |  

GhettoNation: A Journey Into the Land of Bling and Home of the Shameless, is an assessment into a developing culture of people of all racial, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds who are victims of a “ghetto mentality” and choose to celebrate that publicly.  The book defines “ghetto” as being a state of mind and not a person, place, or thing.  The term has been used not only as a noun, but also as an adjective used to describe people who are examples of the ideology of ghettonation.

                Written by Cora Daniels, the book first begins with the origin of the term and where ghettos stemmed from.  Ghetto was actually an isolated place, inhabited by Jewish immigrants to keep them confined and separated from the wealthy middle and upper class.  However, the term has evolved dramatically from its historical context and is now a word in our daily vernacular that refers to a distinct group of people that derive from a socio-economic underclass.   We tend to refer to those people as individuals who live in the projects, have ethnic-sounding names like Shaquanda, or claim to have more than one babidaddy.

They be ghetto.

As Cora Daniels repeats (we be ghetto) incessantly in her book to the point of annoyance, she illustrates a valid point by relentlessly inserting “we be ghetto” within the text of her book.  We are a culture that celebrates and worships all that is ghetto.  When I read Cora’s book, it was a bit jarring at first, because she brought up many of the examples mentioned previously about what constitutes as ghetto.

Multiple babidaddies or babimommas

Ethnic sounding names or nicknames like Q-Tang and Nuck-Nuck

Living in public housing (aka the projects)

However, this book is not just about this tiny demographic of what mainstream media wants you to believe is ghetto.  Ghetto is not a tangible thing, but it’s a state of mind.  Therefore, anyone regardless of your economic status or racial background can be ghetto.  Yes, you TOO can be ghetto.  The term babidaddy or babimomma tends to correlate to the word ghetto whenever the expression is uttered.  However, rather than thinking about Shaquanda from the projects, let us take a look at thirty-six year old British model-turned-actress Elizabeth Hurley shall we?

Memba her?

Oh, that’s right.  The bad grammar was ghetto.

Hurley gave birth to a baby boy by Steve Bing whom she claimed was the father of her child.  Of course in ghetto terms we would say “babidaddy”, but it’s the same thing.  A man who bears a child outside of the confines of matrimony is in fact a babidaddy.   In Hurley’s case, it gets better.  Bing, whose net worth at the time was close to $400 million, denied he was ever the father of their child.  Hurley and Bing had to go Maury Povich-style on getting a paternity test to prove he in fact was the father.  All the while Bing was named a father in another paternity suit.  How ghetto is that?   Take a moment to ponder and ask yourself, if this story was presented to you, would you think that the Hurley-Bing case was ghetto?  Or if we replaced Elizabeth Hurley with Shaquanda Jackson and T-Dawg from Canarsie, Brooklyn would you use the term ghetto?

That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow isn’t it?  In Daniels book she also talks about how mediocrity and low expectations are celebrated in our society.  In our community, if a man takes care of his kids and doesn’t go to jail it is viewed as a valiant act.  This is to be revered in the African American community.  She also dissects the idea that by somehow perpetuating a façade of strength by acting tough through the use of carrying a weapon, getting into fights, wearing certain hip hop attire, and having an attitude of indifference that somehow that validates your blackness.  This is the part of the article where you may disagree with me on, but as someone who has been a victim of being called “white” through most of her childhood, I believe it is this very pseudo persona that has become the plight of the black community.  The ideal of speaking a certain way, acting a certain way, and dressing a certain way adds a “certain” authenticity to your blackness, and I believe that is the very bane of our existence as a functioning people.

However, the ideology of ghetto is not strictly a black thing.  In fact it never was.  According to Daniels, even a wealthy socialite who has never stepped one foot into anything remotely middle-class can act and be…well you know ghetto.  Several years back when hit reality series The Simple Life aired, starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie, Hilton, the wealthy hotel chain heiress, got frustrated when her car wouldn’t start.  She finally gave up and simply stated…”this is so ghetto”.

What in the world would Paris Hilton know about what is and what is not ghetto?

I actually could care less what Paris Hilton knows, but it does lead one to question, is the term ghetto simply an implicit concept to all people from all walks life?

Can we all inherently be ghetto to some extent regardless of intellect and socio-economic status?

Towards the end of Daniels’ book, she explicitly describes her own experience of being allegedly ghetto when she and her husband brought their three week old baby with them to the movie theater at an 8pm film showing.

We can all agree that bringing a three week old baby into a movie theater is ghetto.

She states in her book and I quote:

There are no absolutes.  Ghetto is a mind-set and we are all infected…we can never stop trying to compassionately raise our expectations.

In other words, there may be some ghetto aspects to all of us, but what matters is what you try to do to raise the bar and not try to be like everyone else.  The mainstream may celebrate ghetto as depicted on reality TV shows, music videos, and social media.  However, don’t feel like because you reside in a community that has a monolithic approach to certain standards, that somehow you are obligated to follow them.   You’re not being disloyal if you step outside of the box.  Even if that means you choose not to be ghetto.

Perhaps we all have our ghetto moments.  Some just prefer to mask it more than others.

You may agree to disagree on Daniels’ social commentary on this subject, but it is interesting how there has been a shift in our culture with respect to the term.  You can purchase Cora Daniels book GhettoNation here (


Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the niche blog for nerdy women of color called BlackGirlNerds.

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