Tuesday, November 22, 2005

you think you know the ghetto folk role...but you don't.

"Ghetto, Ghetto, Ghetto, Ghetto we livin

These streets remind me of quicksand (quicksand)
When your on it you'll keep goin down (goin down)
And there's noone to hold on too
And there's noone to pull you out
You keep on fallin (falling)
And noone can here you callin
So you end up self destructing
On the corner with the tuli on the waist tight just got outta the bing doin stay time
Teeth marks on my back from the canine
Dark Memories of when there was no sunshine
Cause they said that I wouldn't make it
(I remember like yesterday)
Holdin on to what god gave me"
- Akon

there is no denying the negative impact ghetto living has left on black folk. many of us were killed as children, white chalk outlines of our little bodies tattoo the sidewalks and playgrounds with permanent reminders of how easy it is for a kid to die before having fully lived. liquor stores share the corners with other drug dealers, their narcotic products gifted in helping get folks minds lifted away from the daily struggle of surviving. many folk are strewn around like straws, sucking in the bitter drink of helplessness and victimnization which keeps their faces permanently disfigured into masks of self-hatred.

those of us no longer residing in the ghetto (if we ever did to begin with) find humor in all things "ghetto", creating whole sites dedicated to either laughing at and/or condemning the self-expression of folks living in the ghetto. blue hair weaved through bone-straight black-tresses finger-waved to perfection after a sista spent four hours in the beauty parlor and spent alot of her $5.50 an hour paycheck is seen as a joke to folk. she ain't just a mess. she's a "ghetto" mess, which implies that she's an entirely different species of mess, the kind that even cockroaches look upon with disdain.

but then non-"ghetto" folk come back with "ghetto-fabulous", as if that's a compliment somehow. a person with "ghetto" fashion sense can't just be fabulous cuz he or she isn't exactly up to the regular standard of what fabulous is. his or her fashion sense is just a step below, dwelling in that "she look good...for a dark girl" territory. you see, it's not fabulous on line with what is widely accepted as good fashion. it's fabulous on a lower scale of standards.."ghetto" standards. i mean really, only an ignant person would think a pink suit with matching gator shoes and a fedora with a pink plume in it is fabulous, right?

the thing is this...we black folk been expressing ourselves in this way since we were in africa. back then, we wore bright colors to express our passion for life and land, gold jewelry to confirm our royalty, and our hair in braids and cornrows. we went from fully clothed to scantily clad and nobody now will say africans back then looked stank or lacking class. so what's the difference between the regal behavior we ordained african fashion to be then vs. the tackiness we've labeled the folks dressing "ghetto fabulous" now?

only one thing. the enslavement of those africans.

in the aftermath of their enslavement, black folk have assimilated with the european standard for fashion and beauty to the point of dissing anything that deviates from that standard. we have used the definitions of other cultures to tell us what is classy and what is not (ghetto). we've assumed that anybody not practicing that particular brand of fashion is just ignant or "doesn't know any better." in other words, we're looking at our own folk through someone else's eyes and finding the image lacking.

and what's so ironic about the whole thing is that many folks say that its "ghetto" folk who exhibit the most self-hatred, glorifying violence and masochism and illegal behavior. meanwhile, the very act of labeling only things that are tacky and tasteless as "ghetto" or "ghetto fabulous in that tacky, tasteless sort of way" is evident of another kind of self-hatred. why? because the fact of the matter is that many black folks live in the ghetto and many black folks express themselves that way and many black folk living in the ghetto are just like those of us who "thank the lawd" are no longer subjected to living in the ghetto.

so this ain't just about black folk, it's about class (or lack thereof). the term itself implies the acquirement of status and acceptance in a world dominated by white folk, something that a "ghetto" person won't have.

now ultimately, i don't think the word "ghetto" should be used to describe anyone, fabulous or not. it's a noun, not an adjective. it's a place where people dwell, not who people are. but if we gonna go there, then acknowledge that "ghetto" is more than just tacky and tasteless and a reflection of ignorance. it's also that determined sista working an 80 hour week at a fast food joint or cleaning someone's house or BOTH, and doing it for pennies so she can keep a roof over the head of her family. it's that prideful brotha who gotta find dignity in a job that everybody else scorns and see as a "step down". it's that intelligent and courageous kid who's trying to find a way to be adequately educated with inferior educational tools while also trying to evade the lure of quick money in the form of illegal activity. it's that dilligent old lady who, despite her age, gotta work her ass off cuz social security and medicare benefits ain't but crumbs in the big pot.

the ghetto reflects all that is good and bad about black folk. the strength and determination and cunning necessary to survive the daily struggle, the laughter and love and hope necessary to make that daily struggle worth surviving, the killing and oppression and hatred that makes it a struggle in the first place.

and you bets to recognize.