Transracial Parenting »

Cardboard vs Ghetto

Dr. Eddie Moore posted on Facebook that he wanted people’s opinions about using the word ghetto – in other words, how racialized is the term and is it cool to use it? Since Dr. Moore’s expertise is the N-Word, it’s only natural for him to take on ghetto.

I have my own history to the word – ghetto is the term for areas where Jewish people were corralled – the National Holocaust Museum website’s definition is:

The term “ghetto” originated from the name of the Jewish quarter in Venice, established in 1516, in which the Venetian authorities compelled the city’s Jews to live. Various officials, ranging from local municipal authorities to the Austrian Emperor Charles V, ordered the creation of ghettos for Jews in Frankfurt, Rome, Prague, and other cities in the 16th and 17th centuries.

It was around this time, that my ancestors were forced to flee their homeland – Toledo, Spain – and migrate to Constantinople, Turkey and later to Havana, Cuba and in the mid 1900s to New Orleans, Louisiana. It is why my father’s family spoke Spanish for more than five hundred years even though they didn’t live in a Spanish speaking country for four hundred of those years. It’s also why as a young doctor with a large family, my father migrated to Central America to work as a doctor in his native tongue.

As a child, I grew up in Managua, Nicaragua and San Salvador, El Salvador and I came to know second-hand the most abject poverty the world has to offer. Mothers lay on dirty rags on the city streets with their skinny babies in their arms, while outside the city limits, entire extended families lived in cardboard boxes, and all the while, I can recall so clearly, my mother, with her new updo, sitting in front of Jerry Lewis’ telethon crying her eyes out and begging my father to send money from our hotel room above the fray. Life pulls together disparate images and the older you get the more they pull together to form common themes. 

Dr. Todd Boyd says in a post about ghetto:

The word is about lower class sensibilities, be it black, white, Latino, etc. People tend to use the metaphor of the “trailer park” when referring to whiteness and poverty, but regardless of the term in question, it is the class component that drives these words and metaphors; though I am not naive enough to think that the word “ghetto” hasn’t been racialized.

When I think of what ghetto means here in New Orleans – the projects where mostly African Americans have lived in the last decades – although they were built for poor whites as well – I know that someone using the term today is speaking about the lower classes – about the people and their behavior, and they are not referring to Jews who were shoved into shanty areas, because that would have a different meaning – wouldn’t it? You are so ghetto translated as you are so Jewish + poor + oppressed.

I replied to Dr. Moore and told him that when I was growing up I learned in my home that ghetto was a term used to describe depravity. Human depravity. And the term was not used lightly around my family. We weren’t throwing around “that is so ghetto” because for us ghetto was real enough, close enough for discomfort. Even though as my description above will tell you – we were not poor, my mother was having her hair done as other mothers were clawing for scraps of food to feed their emaciated babies.

Dr. Boyd says: “I am not a language cop and I have no need to tell people what to say. But I think we need to recognize that simply because something is not necessarily wrong, it doesn’t mean that you need to say it. What often gets lost in conversations like these is the point that the usage of certain words in a particular context may indeed be insensitive.”

I was thinking that there are a lot of people who say – awww, come on now, let’s not get too sensitive – a word is just a word and ghetto is a word, after all, and we don’t need censors, but I go back to what Dr. Boyd says, it may be just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. [Like with the Glambeaux that I wrote about the other day.]

Imagine, if you substitute the word cardboard for ghetto and you hear your child say, “you are so cardboard” – or you hear you friend say, “that girl is cardboard” – or you overhear in a shopping mall, “I’m not wearing those cardboard clothes” – doesn’t that bring out the depravity in the word?

If you answer no, then lose my url.



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