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In the Ghetto
Tuesday, 2007 July 24 - 11:13 pm
On the word "ghetto", and race... and Eric Cartman.

I have an old lawnmower that operates on rechargeable 12-volt batteries. The recharging circuitry malfunctioned several years ago, so I decided I'd make the battery terminals accessible on the case of the mower. I used an ordinary electrical socket (the kind you have in your house) for the terminals, held to the case by screws and duct tape. To charge the mower, I connect a car battery charger to a lamp cord, and plug the lamp cord into the socket.

When I showed this setup to a friend of mine, I said, "I'm so embarrassed. This is so ghetto."

And afterwards, I thought: is it racist to use the word "ghetto" like this? When I first heard "ghetto" used to describe something "jury-rigged with cheap materials", I thought that black people might find such usage offensive.

And then I thought, isn't it even more racist to believe that black people in particular would be offended by the term? Because certainly, there are many races of people who live in ghettos.

But now I found that there's a TV show that's going to be on BET called "Hot Ghetto Mess". It's based on a web site of the same name, which depicts black men and women with stereotypically tacky hairstyles and fashion choices. The web site's professed mission is to give the black community a means for self-examination, such that they can improve their standards by which they live their lives.

Noble purposes aside, the site and the TV show are clearly intended to poke fun. Some black leaders are outraged by this, saying that this sort of thing merely perpetuates negative stereotypes. I'm not sure I share that outrage; after all, comedians Larry "the Cable Guy" Whitney and Chris Rock routinely poke fun at their own cultures in a similar manner.

But I do know this: I'm not quite so concerned by using the word "ghetto" any more. I'm a bit relieved, because sometimes there's just no better way to describe something... like my old lawnmower. And it's just such a fun word to say, especially when you do it Eric Cartman style.
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Posted by Ken in: commentary


Comment #1 from MonoCerdo (Guest)
2007 Jul 31 - 11:05 am : #
I always figured that since the term was (at least as far as I am aware) originally used to describe Jewish slums, they should be first in line to be offended. However, since it has been given the official Cartman stamp of approval, we should all probably just embrace it. That's a pretty crafty lawnmower set-up you've got going there, though! I'm impressed!

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