“Ghetto”: Adj

If I were to talk about “ghetto” as a Noun, I would simply let Donny Hathaway and War explain:

But that’s not today’s topic.  It’s “ghetto” used as an adjective that deserves a significant amount of attention.

Here’s “ghetto” used as an adjective in 4 different ways.

“You got to hit your TV for it to get reception? Why’s your stuff so ghetto?”

“She’s stays talking ghetto… it’s ‘ask’, not ‘axe'”.

“I’m not really trying to drive through Southwest Atlanta, it’s ghetto over there.”

“OMG totally corn-row my hair, I’ll look so ghetto!”

This morning I read through every definition of “ghetto” on UrbanDictionary.com (123 in total), along with all phrases/compound words containing the word “ghetto” (987 in total, including Ghetto Glitter – “Broken glass found in poor neighborhoods” and Ghetto Cute – “A girl that doesn’t look too bad compared to the rest of the girls in the hood, but can’t compete in the mainstream world.”)

Although UrbanDictionary isn’t Webster, it does give a more up-to-date sense of the slang that people currently use. And after spending over 3 hours pouring through these different definitions, “ghetto” boils down to meaning 3 different things, all with one undercurrent:

1. Broken/Fixed in an untraditional way.

2. Ignorant/Innapropriate/Wrong

3. Poor/Dangerous

All of these definitions, either covertly or overtly, stem from characteristics popularly associated with a certain type of Black person.

One of the few conscious decisions I have made over the years is to not refer to things as “ghetto” because I think, quietly, it’s one of the most offensive words used by everyone.


By talking about this, I’m not trying to identify a culprit or vilify any group. Everyone uses “ghetto” in an innapropriate way. On a regular basis, I hear White people, Asian people, and Black people refer to things as “ghetto”, and if you don’t mind me nerding out for a moment, I have a theory about why this happens.


I wrote my undergraduate thesis about well-off Black people that seemed to identify more with their class than their race. I based this on a sociological theory called “social distancing”. In it’s simplest form, it’s the act of pitting yourself and/or your actions against the actions of others in your group, thereby attempting to distance yourself from the “lessers” in your group and exceptionalize yourself.  It’s the “Yeah, I’m ______, but I’m different” syndrome.

When a rich white girl describes a fake pair of Gucci shades as “ghetto”, she’s saying they are cheap, they are something she wouldn’t normally wear, and (the kicker), that there’s a group of people the wears these in all seriousness.

When an educated Black guy describes a bar to his White friends as “ghetto”, he’s saying that a certain type of people often frequent the bar and (the kicker), these people are fundamentally different than him.

Duh. Duh. Duhhhhhhhhh.

I’ve been hearing scenarios like this for years and have yet to be fooled over the real meanings behind “ghetto”. You’ve got to try harder than that to fool the big guy.

Maybe this is only me, but when someone describes someone/something/some place as “ghetto”, a flash of Josh Hardnett doesn’t pop into my head. It doesn’t pop into your head either. I bet it’s a Black person, dressed a certain way, behaving a certain way, and living a certain way. And while people have instances of imitating that type of person, everyone that uses “ghetto” in that way ultimately wants to distance themselves from that person.

But like I said… that’s just my theory.


Words really don’t offend me that much, but “ghetto” has always found a way to bug me, probably because of the fact that it’s almost become an unavoidable adjective to use in modern-day society.

That’s all. I really wish people would use it less, because, believe it or not, it’s pretty ignorant and shows, to me at least, that you don’t fully get it.

As a normally non-judgmental person, when I hear someone say it, I’m fully judging them. Figure I might as well say that upfront, in case we talk after you read this.

Happy Friday. Learn some new adjectives.

About Rembert Browne

NYC via ATL //// rembert.browne@gmail.com 500daysasunder.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Important Ones. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “Ghetto”: Adj

  1. Zac says:

    I can dig it, but what about people who self identify as ghetto? What are they comparing themselves against?

    Not that Dj Khaleed is a Rhodes scholar or anything, but:

    Gimme some more nerd out

  2. DPS says:

    You know what’s also socially acceptable, but totally not okay? The term “white trash.” You’re calling people TRASH. And that’s allowed? No one would ever be able to get away with that with “trash” and another race. And that’s good. Because people shouldn’t be called TRASH — no matter how poor or rural their lifestyle.


  3. Arthur says:

    Big thumbs up for Donny Hathaway, a true demigod. Also, I agree with you Rem. But, as DPS says, it opens up the PC door to all other types of politically incorrect wordage in common language. Where does one draw the line? Now I know you’re not oversensitive – I’ll think those same things in my head too, and most of the time I won’t say anything, but to what extent, or in what situations, is using politically insensitive terms acceptable? I’m curious on your thoughts. Perhaps this could be a good top 10 of the dos and donts of un-pc language.

  4. DPS says:

    Whoa whoa wait – I was not disagreeing with Rembert. “Ghetto” and “White trash” are both not okay. It’s not a politically correct thing. It’s true that saying either is insensitive. But it’s more ignorant than insensitive. Ignorant is the word Rem uses, and he’s right. Take a second to think about what these things mean, and you’ll draw your own line.

  5. Arthur says:

    I know this is old now, but
    p.s. Everything is Everything !

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