Etymology of the Ghetto
When I was in 8th grade, we read the Diary of Ann Frank in my Language Arts class. I attended Washington Middle School here in Green Bay, which is an inner city school (and a culture shock for a white kid from the suburbs AKA me). Being young and mischievous, jokes were being made about “ghetto life.” Ms. Popour stopped the class cold there and said that ghettos were a serious problem throughout history, and that we shouldn’t be throwing the term around so liberally.
So, where does the ghetto come from? There are a few theories as to where the name is derived from:
- The Italian term for waste, gheto
- A diminutive of the Italian borgo (borough)
- The Hebrew word get, essentially divorce papers.
The term was initially used to describe an area of Venice where Jews were forced to congregate, but the term has found wider usage in describing an area where members of a minority group live due to social, legal, or economic pressure. Ghettos have been present all across the world, in places such as Northern Ireland which is segregated along largely social/religious lines, and much of Christian Europe, where many Jews had their own quarter or part of town since they were alien to a Christian environment.
In modern times, the term has extended to specifically refer to an area afflicted by poverty, and largely to African-American neighborhoods. (Darity 2008, p. 311)
Some hip hop groups in the African-American community have made strides to have the phrase transcend its derogatory origins and show it as a place to rise from, as noted in NWA’s song Express Yourself:
“Or they kill where the hiphop starts,
Forget about the ghetto
And rap for the pop charts”
Works: Darity, William A., Jr. “Ghetto.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences 3.2 (2008): 311–14. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.