I once taught a young woman who informed me that even though she was born and raised in “the ghetto”, she still came from a respectable family. Her parents were together, she said, and they were law-abiding and ambitious. She’d defended herself from criticism or ridicule before any such thing had come her way; the implication was that she expected people to believe that no one from “the ghetto” could be respectable at all.
I didn’t ask her what she meant by “the ghetto”. I can say that I was a little surprised that this American word had replaced our own names for our own neighbourhoods, but I didn’t think more of it until this year, when I was informed that tourists who have booked rooms at Dillet’s Guest House sometimes have difficulty getting taxis to drop them there. Some have had the experience of being set down at the Fish Fry and left to walk through Chippingham; Dillet’s is in “the ghetto”, and no place for a tourist or (apparently) a taxi driver.
Not only has the American word replaced our name for the area, but White America’s concept of what a ghetto is (a place for minorities, a place for poor people, a rough environment, a place no respectable tourist would be caught in, dead or alive) has overtaken our Black Bahamian understanding. I’m not going to ask how or why. I want to talk about the result. Words, you see, have power. The old adage about sticks and stones may bring comfort to a child who’s upset by having been called names, but it couldn’t be more untrue; words are far more powerful than weapons. Words define who we are. And by referring to the place in which we grow up as a “ghetto” we are creating for ourselves an image that defines us.
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