Joined: Jun 09 2006
Topic: How Ghetto Lost Its Meaning Posted: Apr 27 2014 at 3:03pm
long as hell with no buttets, so you'd probably want to skip if this sort of thing doesnt interest you.
Segregated From Its History, How 'Ghetto' Lost Its Meaning
by Camila Domonoske
The pushcart market in the East Side Ghetto of New York's Jewish Quarter was a hive of activity in the early 1900s.Ewing Galloway/Getty Images
The word "ghetto" is an etymological mystery. Is it from the Hebrew get, or bill of divorce? From the Venetian ghèto, or foundry? From the Yiddish gehektes, "enclosed"? From Latin Giudaicetum, for "Jewish? From the Italian borghetto, "little town"? From the Old French guect, "guard"?
In his etymology column for the Oxford English Dictionary, Anatoly Liberman
at each of these possibilities. He considered ever more improbable
origins — Latin for "ribbon"? German for "street"? Latin for "to throw"?
— before declaring the word a stubborn mystery.
the root language, the word's original meaning was clear: "the quarter
in a city, chiefly in Italy, to which the Jews were restricted," as the
OED puts it. In the 16th and 17th centuries, cities like Venice,
Frankfurt, Prague and Rome forcibly segregated their Jewish populations,
often walling them off and submitting them to onerous restrictions.
the late 19th century, these ghettos had been steadily dismantled. But
instead of vanishing from history, ghettos reappeared — with a purpose
more ominous than segregation — under Nazi Germany. German forces
established ghettos in across Europe. They were isolated, strictly
controlled and resource-deprived — but unlike the ghettos of history,
they weren't meant to last.
Reviving the Jewish ghetto made
genocide a much simpler project. As the Holocaust proceeded, ghettos
were emptied by the trainload. The prisoners of the enormous , which at
one point held 400,000 Jews, famously fought their deportation to death
camps. They were outnumbered and undersupplied, but some managed to die
on their own terms; thousands of Jews were killed within the walls of
the ghetto, rather than in the camps.
Maxwell Street, a teeming market place of Chicago's ghetto on July 22, 1939.
Jewish ghettos were finally abolished after the end of World War
II. But the word lived on, redefined as a poor, urban black community.
Jews line up in front of a well in a ghetto at Lublin, Poland, Feb. 1, 1941.
From Anti-Semitism To Race And Poverty
early as 1908, "ghetto" was sometimes used metaphorically to describe
slum areas that weren't mandated by law, but limited to a single group
of people because of other constraints. That year, Jack London
wrote of "the working-class ghetto." Immigrant groups and American Jews
were also identified as living in these unofficial "ghettos."
Even as those areas were identified, they were already transforming. A 1928
explained why such communities were being "invaded" by people of color:
"the Negro, like the immigrant, is segregated in the city into a racial
colony. Economic considerations, race prejudice and cultural
differences combine to set him apart." "Race prejudice" included laws
and lending practices, from to , explicitly design to separate white and non-white city dwellers.
World War II, "white flight" from inner cities further exacerbated
racial segregation. By the '60s and '70s, so-called "negro ghettoes" in
cities like Chicago, New York and Detroit were central to the cultural
conversation about poverty. "Something must be done, and done soon, to
build a strong and stable family structure among Negro ghetto dwellers,"
wrote an in 1966; argued about the causes of ghetto poverty.
And in 1969, Elvis — in his late-career comeback — took a turn for the mournful with "In The Ghetto." Elvis (and many cover singers after him) sings about
with an outsider's concern: "People, don't you understand / the child
needs a helping hand / or he'll grow to be an angry young man some day."
Almost half a century later, Busta Rhymes used the same song title to celebrate the ghetto as a source of identity.
Rhymes doesn't ignore the painful effects of intergenerational poverty.
The ghetto is where "crackhead chicks still smoke with babies in they
belly." But he's not calling for help or claiming that all
ghetto-dwellers are miserable. The ghetto is also "where you find
beautiful women and rugrats / and some of the most powerful people, I
Ghettos were always defined by lack of choice — they were places inhabitants were forcedto
live, whether by anti-Semitic governments, discriminating neighbors or
racist practices like redlining. Sociologist Mario Small that these
limits have largely been lifted, such that researchers should no longer
consider "ghetto" a useful word for urban slums.
And indeed, use of the word "ghetto" in print . But slang variants have been
since before the turn of the millennium. And a quick glance at social
media suggests they're not going away; on a recent weekday, twitter
users referenced "ghetto" almost 20 times per minute.
ghetto," or behaving in a low-class manner (see also: "ratchet").
"Ghetto fabulous," flashy glamour without the wealth. "Ghetto" as an
adjective, roughly synonymous with "jury-rigged," for anything cobbled
together out of subpar materials.
Many commentators have objected to these terms. Using ghetto as an insult is, as our own Karen Grigsby Bates has , inherently classist. Ta-Nehisi Coates once
that "ghetto, in its most unironic usage, is a word for people you
don't know. It's word that allows you to erase individuals and create
boxes." And arguments that the terms are are, well, unconvincing.
This current use of "ghetto" is also curiously mismatched to the
history of ghettos. Venice's ghettos were home to prosperous merchants.
Warsaw's ghettos housed resistance fighters. Harlem was a ghetto when it
hosted a transformative literary and cultural movement. Chicago's
Bronzeville was home to the black professional class — ghettos, by
removing citizens' freedom to live where they want, force schoolteachers
next to drug dealers, working families next to whorehouses.
slang references to "ghetto culture" don't refer to any of those
legacies, or to the perseverance it takes to survive under such
limitations. ("You surviving in the ghetto," raps Busta Rhymes, "you can
make it anywhere.") Instead, they reduce ghetto life to poverty and
poor behavior. Acting ghetto. Being ghetto. Dressing ghetto.
in slang usage, has entirely lost the sense of forced segregation — the
meaning it held for centuries. In a rapid about-face, it's become an
indictment of individual choices.
Joined: Oct 03 2006
Posted: Apr 27 2014 at 3:53pm
Interesting piece. I was curious with where they were going towards the end though. Sort of alluding to black professionals and cultural elite no longer residing in ghettos because the era of segregation has ended. They sort of dropped the point before fully committing to it, but in my mind the damage was done.
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