Redefining “Ghetto”

It is the night before Easter, two short years ago.  I am doing a last minute, “crap, we forgot to get the kids some candy” run to the nearest Wal-Mart.  It happens to be the Wal-Mart…you know the one.  The one of which everyone says, “Do NOT go there. It’s so ghetto.  You will get shot.”  It’s 11:00p.m. and I stroll in with all the other parents who forgot to buy chocolate rabbits.  The store is ridiculously busy for such a late night.  And then I notice all of the tiny kids who are out shopping with their parents; some of them snoozing in the cart, others bouncing up and down, but they’re all over the children’s clothing area.  At first, I judge.  These idiot parents.  Why do they have their kids out so late?  When I realize why, I do everything I can not to have the ugliest cry right there in Wal-Mart.  You guys.  These parents, carrying half-sleeping children over their shoulders, are shopping for Easter outfits.  They just got done working two or three different jobs, run home to grab their kids from the nearest relative (because it really does take a village to raise a child), and head to Wal-Mart for Easter clothes.  I drive home having that ugly cry that threatened me at the store.  When I get home, my husband gets an ear-full.  “Is this what ghetto means??  Hard-working, noble minorities who are doing their very best to make a good life for their families in this country?”  It haunts me.

And the picture-perfect park across the street from our old house?  “Ghetto”.  I grew up hearing that and then continued hearing it into adulthood: “I would never take my kids there.”…”It’s just not safe.”  The first time we took our kids to that park, we looked at one another with so much confusion.  Based on how people had talked about it, we were honestly preparing ourselves to run for our lives when someone approached us with a knife.  Guess what we found?  A park full of lovely, beautiful families enjoying their day.  There were African American families playing at the playground, Indian men playing cricket in the field, and Hispanic families throwing birthday parties around the grills.  It haunts me.

Fast forward to last year, when we were searching to buy a house in a new city.  Husband and I once again shared a look when we heard a new acquaintance say this (with much laughter): “I grew up on such&such street and now it is so GHETTO!!” We shared a look because we had been looking for houses on that very street.  Trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, we drove down that entire road on the way home from the library one day, in search of the “ghetto” part.  This is what I found: nicely kept homes with manicured yards, clean streets, a few homes that had several cars parked in the driveways, and three black men walking on the sidewalk.  It was not an “upper-class, white” neighborhood, but it was very nice. When I got to the end of the road I was sad for my new friend.  Is this ghetto?  It haunts me.

I have been wanting to write this post for a year, but I have been too chicken.  Today though, I decided it matters more that I stand up for these dear people who are being stereotyped as “ghetto” than it does that my blog/facebook world approves of me.  This is a colossal problem with our society, and it could be so easily changed.  Can I tell you how simply you can choose to make a difference?  Stop being the problem.  Listen, I know I am being a bit harsh, but this is just ridiculous.  This is America, people.  Remember “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave?”  Yep, that’s where we live.  This is a beautiful melting pot of cultures and peoples that enrich our daily lives, and rather than being thankful that we don’t live in a country of people who look exactly alike, we put them all in boxes and then we stay away.  It haunts me.

You can choose to go the Wal-Mart where people look different than you; I promise you will be OKAY.  You can choose to go to the park where everyone speaks with an accent.  You can choose to live in a neighborhood that is not “white”.

Can I tell you a simple observation I have made about the MOST stereotyped people in our country?  You know right away that I am talking about African American males.  Can I make a positive stereotype about “black guys”?  It is this…they are polite.  Ninety five percent of the time I pass by an African American male and make eye contact, he says, “Hi, how are you doing?”  There you go.  If that’s how you define “ghetto” then this term needs to be redefined.  This is what I propose:

ghetto- noun

1. a part of the city which represents the beauty of America’s acceptance of all people who enrich and sustain her.



“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” ~Maya Angelou


  1. Johanna, as a teacher, I have seen this phenomenon played out by the least likely of suspects: TEACHERS!! It is not often that I hear/see such bias, but when I do it turns my stomach! Thank you for speaking up! My family has ridiculed me and my home because we chose to live in a neighborhood where we could afford the kind of lives we wanted our children to have. Lives of family vacations, money to spend on music lessons, fun hobbies, and money to give and serve others with. We don’t live in a new modern home or drive brand new cars, but our kids have had their parents living life with them rather than working multiple jobs to support luxury homes and finer possessions. So, some might call my neighborhood the ghetto, but I see what you described here. Families with children who are striving for good lives for their children. Bravo!!

    1. Lisa, I love love that you chose to live within your means so that you could use your money rather than have your money use you. Sometime I’ll message you more about this topic because it hits close to home, but this is probably not the place to share. I’m pretty sure you and I would be great friends if we lived in the same city. 😉 Well done to you, good mama.

  2. Jo, you are so right!

    I agree with your observations; I have rarely encountered a minority who was not friendly to me, and I have never had an issue being friendly with all types of people. Actually, I hate to say this… But I fear the affluent, who appear to lack all empathy these days for all other humans, more than any minority.

    I look to you in admiration for speaking the truth – it is sad that so many write off areas (in fear) as being “ghetto”, when really, it’s just a lack of understanding we have for one another.

    I know how passionate you are in this area, your heart is so huge… Peace & love my friend!
    xoxo, Dana

    1. Hey Dana! Thanks for sharing!! Sooo true…Matt actually just reminded me yesterday of a verse that says that the wealthy use the poor for their own gain. (I’m totally messing that verse up, but you get the point.) 😉 Obviously not all..we all know really great affluent people, but I totally agree with you. See you Wednesday! Hugs.

  3. What tender observations and needed encouragement! Especially when I remember that Jesus spent most of his time with the outcast/ minorities/ in the “ghetto.” Thanks for sharing your heart.

    1. Thanks, Evelyn. So true. I think we tend to overlook that about Jesus because it’s easier to pretend like he spent His time chilling in a hammock and hanging with his friends. Thanks for reading, dear heart. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Andrew! I’m pretty proud to be friends with your folk, too. 😉 I was just thinking this weekend that we need to have an Atlanta trip so we can visit with you guys.

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