Most of the time, I try to create well-reasoned and carefully-crafted blog posts about pressing social issues. Today, though, I’ve gotta rant.
There’s a lot of common language that bothers me for its oppressive and prejudiced implications. With some of that language, though, I find a lot of allies in ending their problematic use. For instance, I know of at least one school that is hosting an “End the R Word” rally to stop people from calling people and things “retarded.” I hear more and more young people speaking out against “That’s so gay” and “You’re such a fag.” That gives me hope.
However, there’s lots of hurtful and messed up language use that seems to go unchecked an awful lot. So going along with my posts on White people using the “n-word” and on the word “bitch,” here goes my rant…
People need to stop using “ghetto” as a synonym for shitty, low-class, ugly, cheap, scary, or otherwise undesirable. Seriously.
I mean, what does it even mean when we call something “ghetto”? After all, the word ghetto refers to the outcome of isolating a particular population (often one that is oppressed or marginalized in society) to a specific area, often forcibly or through economic policy. That might be a specific area of a city or to a camp or prison.
So when some sunglasses break and you call them ghetto, does that mean that there is a tiny population of people living in your sunglasses that have been placed there by racist and classist policy?
No. What you are saying is that your glasses were made poorly and that they break easily.
Can I get a little precision of language please!?
Because let’s be clear: every time you call something ghetto, you’re communicating one of three very specific, very messed-up messages.
- The item or person you are calling “ghetto” is low-class, cheap, or otherwise associated with those who don’t have access to wealth and wealth mobility.
- The item or person you are calling “ghetto” is (most often) Black, Brown, or associated with African American or Latino culture (or occasionally other racial or ethnic minorities).
- The item or person you are calling “ghetto” is a combination of 1 and 2.
No matter how you look at it, when you use that language, you’re either using some pretty classist language or some pretty racist language that positions certain items, people, and spaces as beneath you.
And our words have context. Our words have history. This particular word has a long history of oppression. This word harks back to the ghettoization of Jews in Europe leading up to and during World War II. This word exists in the context of economic policies in the U.S. that isolate Black and Brown people and communities to the lowest-income areas with poor property values and limited access to jobs and economic mobility.
So the next time you think about throwing a “ghetto fabulous” party . . .
Or the next time you decide to call your local Walmart “ghetto” . . .
Or the next time you decide to call your crappy Geo Metro “ghetto” . . .
Please, Please, Please think again. Choose your language with precision. Find a word that actually describes what you’re trying to say.
Because our words have consequences. They are part of a wider system of oppression and inequality, and whether you acknowledge it or realize it, our words help to prop up a system that relegates certain people to the margins of our society. And, even in little ways, we have the power to change this reality.