Segregated From Its History, How ‘Ghetto’ Lost Its Meaning

Segregated From Its History, How ‘Ghetto’ Lost Its Meaning

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.


But 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. Dressingghetto.


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.


Hmm, I wish they went a little farther with this. But still a good read.