Can we talk about the word "ghetto"?
Recently, I have read a few blogs and heard a few people that I respect use the word "ghetto" and it absolutely amazes me that people are still throwing that word around like it's no big deal. Slowly, many of us have been able to stop using the word "gay" to mean stupid because we understand that gay does not equal stupid, but for some reason, the use of the word
"ghetto" is pervasive and still popular.
Throughout our society, we project the image that black, hispanic,
and/or poor equals inferior. The use of the word ghetto is a perfect
example. What do you think of when you think of the word ghetto? Do you think of country music? Do you think of skinny jeans? Do you think of white guys in polo shirts? I can almost guarantee that you don't. I won't bore you with the history of the word ghetto, but its real meaning has been lost and has been replaced with a more derogatory meaning that has become synonymous with black, hispanic, low-income, and ultimately, inferior.
Think about it. When you say, "OMG, that car is so ghetto!", what are you really saying? You are saying that the car isn't as good as another. Yes, you are talking about a car, but what effect does your word choice have? You are equating ghetto with not as good.
I'm tired of people with privilege never having to think about their privilege and being allowed to use words that perpetuate the image that people who live in ghettos, and I mean true ghettos, aren't as worthy or as important as people who do not. I'm tired of people of color receiving the message that they are inferior.
I know that most people do not use the word ghetto with the intention of perpetuating stereotypes or the image of inferiority of people of color. But to me, the intent isn't as important as the impact. When groups of people consistently receive the message that they are inferior, they start to believe it. This belief absolutely contributes to the cycle of poverty that exists in America's true ghettos. I saw it repeatedly in my life and work in New York City.
What impact could we have if we stopped using the word ghetto? As individuals, it may not feel like much, but as a collective group, the impact could be great. It has to start somewhere. Perhaps language cannot stop the cycle of poverty, but I truly believe it can slow it.