Sunday, August 28, 2005

I'll See Your Ghetto (Part II)...

...and raise you a reservation.

We aren’t the only ones slinging the word “ghetto” around. I see far too many young (and old) Black folk using it in absurdly self-deprecating ways. A perverse sense of pride has even become attached to it. I’m sure many have heard the “You might be ghetto if…” take on Jeff Foxworthy’s incomprehensibly successful redneck jokes (which further demonstrates that what we’re dealing with is class, not race–-whole other topic).

I recently read Chris’ brother Tony Rock’s statement, “I didn’t know Whitney was as ghetto as she is,” referring to her portrayal on Bravo's newest horror show.

Essence ran a cover story on Mariah’s confused ass, and in it, the Brat was teeming over with affirmations of Miss Carey’s ghetto nature (she listens to rap music!!). See, it’s a glowing compliment. And, it solves everything. Mariah blatantly denies and embraces her ethnicity to pursue her own ends?! No way, Mariah been ghetto! Translation: Mariah is black, y’all (the assumption that this needs to be confirmed is a whole other issue).

I’m a realist. A lot of us choose to pretend we live in some alternate universe, and espouse idealist thoughts, but too bad, so sad; There is a time and place for everything.

Now, I think I should note I am a firm believer in humor being a remedy for all maladies. I also understand the concept of flipping the tables, and reclaiming vile epithets as a way of building self-confidence in an environment set up to destroy it (the most obvious, argued, and completely misunderstood by white folk is the notorious N-bomb). But I don’t support the practice. It’s superficial and does nothing to defeat the word. The original connotations still hold power, and even worse, the word gains a perceived acceptance in usage. In the end, it has not been reclaimed; it has been given a free pass.

I also want to clear the air of the misconception that is constantly being pushed, of Black people’s (perceived) near obsession with underachievement. This is most often expressed along the lines of “Black kids make fun of other Black kids who speak well, do well in school, yada yada yada.”

I’m not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that this is pure myth, only that is greatly exaggerated (to serve a contemptible purpose).

How many White kids, who excelled in education and eschewed social pursuits for academic ones, do you know of that weren’t labeled “nerd” or “geek”? And I have had PLENTY White folk call me a sell-out (usually our version of it: race traitor). Once again, we’re dealing with the actions of a certain class of people, not the entire group.

The worst part about the popularity of “ghetto,” as it holds a place in America’s vernacular, is in its connotation. When Whites use it (even jokingly, in a “lighthearted” manner), it’s negative, reflecting the long-held notion of blackness itself being negative in white America.

When Blacks use it, it’s become positive, a badge of honor, even, reflecting Black folks' apathetic/conditioned acceptance of the long-held notion of blackness itself being negative in white America.

It is not Black culture to be poor. Ignorance, poor health, classlessness, lower moral values, etc. are the symptoms of poverty, not characteristics of Black people. That is not the history of Black people. That may be the consequence of history ON Black people, but it is not the fact of blackness. We need to eradicate this line of thinking, and the mainstream use of “ghetto” in this context.

Black people were not born into ghettos, they were sentenced to them. The ghetto was put on Black people, just as the word has been, and neither is acceptable.


Tiger Lilly said...

I have to admit that I am guilty of using the term. Very guilty. It is something that I am trying to work on, though.

It's amazing that you have a more lucid grasp of AfAm histpry and culture than most black folks do. I definitely commend you on that. It takes a lot of study to be so on point.

I totally agree with you on Mariah. As long as she can market her blackness, then she will claim it. That article said that she never hid the fact that she was black. Now, I am from New Orleans and I know too many black people who look like her (even related to a couple of them). I knew it in 1990. But she insisted that her father was Venezuelan. Now if you know anything about the country, you know that it had a huge African population, so it wasn't a huge step to guess that her father wasn't a "white hispanic". This is just my theory, but I think that her "confusion" played a big deal in her breakdown. Yep.

DUB said...

My own upbringing aside, I have two biracial daughters who, as I addressed in an earlier post, are for all intensive purposes, growing up black in America.

I would be a worthless father if I did not look for some insite into AfAM history, and a worthless citizen and man if I did not see the need in general.

I remember MC dodging the issue. She's triflin'.