The Definition of Ghetto ~ It’s Not Just a Black Thing

“But my question now is who the hell are we to slap labels on people that we don’t even know?”


We all know that you hear all kinds of things in the hair salon. But when my hair stylist, Shana Porter, heard a woman refer to another woman as ghetto her annoyance was unmistakable. “I hate it when people do that,” Shana remarked. “Do what?” I asked. “I hate when people label others as ghetto. Just because the girl has a different style, why does that make ghetto?” Shana’s question made me wonder why this was such a touchy subject for her and question the definition of ghetto. So of course I asked.

I asked Shana what was her definition of ghetto. She explained that ghetto was more of a perception. “It’s a judgment that’s made against people who talk, act or look different from the norm.” Shana went on to explain that all through high school she was labeled as ghetto due to her style. Because of people’s perception she didn’t have many friends, only three other girls that were also viewed as “different.” She was boisterous, loved to have fun, and experimented with fashion and hair. These simple attributes caused her to be unjustly labeled.

“They called me ghetto and assumed things about my life.

“They didn’t know that my daddy was an engineer. He was the primary bread-winner and my mama took great care of us. I think they all thought I was from the hood.” Because of how she was viewed then, and is still labeled from time to time, Shana is sensitive about the idea of someone being slapped with derogatory labels. However, when I asked if she’d ever called anyone ghetto, she readily admitted that she had (hell, so have I), but she vowed to abstain from doing it again. I went on to ask Shana if she thought altering her look or behavior would make people be more accepting of her or view her differently. “Nope, because that would never happen. I’d never change because someone didn’t like me.” Our conversation continued and took an interesting turn when I asked if African-Americans are the only race considered to be ghetto? Shana’s response was an immediate “No!” Then she paused, thought for a second and said “Yeah, it really is. White folks are usually referred to as some other derogatory name like cracker, redneck, or white trash.”

My conversation with Shana continued and it made wonder how someone else might define the term ghetto. Never one to mince words, I called up my sister, Tiffany Foster, to get her never humble opinion. The girl is a straight shooter! According to Tiffany, ghetto can’t be defined, it’s something that you know when you see it. “It’s the way that someone behaves, talks, or looks,” she said. When I asked her if ghetto was a term reserved only for African-Americans, she thought for a moment and replied “Yes.” Tiffany explained that she’s seen white people try to act ghetto. “The white girl who has ghetto black friends and tries to act like them, tries to mimic their behavior, she’s wants to be ghetto, but she’s not. She’s what’s called white trash. But regardless of the name, they’re all acting ignorant.” When I asked her if it was okay to slap labels on people, she responded “People label themselves with their behavior. You’ll be called what you portray yourself to be.”

So while these ladies stated their opinions a little differently, they basically said the same thing. Regardless of what you label it, the bad behavior associated with these derogatory names is the same. An idiot by any other name is still an idiot. But my question now is who the hell are we to slap labels on people that we don’t even know? Yes, we all do it and I undoubtedly will do it again because I am human. However, tonight I will wish upon a star that we all follow Shana’s last words of wisdom and “Just stop judging people. The judgments divide us when what we really need is to come together as a people.”


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