No matter what race or class you belong to, if you live in the United States, you have heard something described as “ghetto” before. The term was almost certainly not intended to be endearing, and it was probably applied to something relating to Black culture; rap music, certain clothing styles, or ways of speaking are often the subject of the label “ghetto.” However, those who use this term in a derogatory fashion are purposefully forgetting its dark (or, more accurately, white) origins.

The word “ghetto” is defined as an area or neighborhood occupied by minority groups, often because they weren’t allowed to live anywhere else. Some examples of these include Jewish ghettos in Nazi Germany, where Jewish families were forced to live separate from other German citizens. Black American families were also forced to live in ghettos; in the age of Jim Crow, very few white landlords were willing to take on Black clients, so those clients were forced to live “on the other side of the tracks.” Plus, in a society that murdered (and still murders) minorities, living in a neighborhood full of your own people was the safest option sometimes. Even LGBT+ communities lived in separate neighborhoods in the late 20th century.

Many people of color in the United States still live in semi-segregated neighborhoods today, and while there are practical reasons to surround yourself with people of a similar cultural background, some of the residents of these neighborhoods probably couldn’t get out if they tried.

Though US law no longer supports racist realty, it still exists; though these aren’t technical “ghettos” anymore, for a person of color with few resources, the difference is negligible.

So, my fellow white people, I beg of you, stop using the word “ghetto” to describe rap music and Nicki Minaj. Ghettos are real places where people with less societal privilege have been forced to live, and if you think that’s something worth mocking, you need to reevaluate your actions.

 

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