On Using the Word “Ghetto”

 

One of the ways in which we forget our history is by sanitizing our language and pretending that these problems don’t exist. We have always recognized that these were “ghettos.” A ghetto is, as I define it, a neighborhood which is homogeneous and from which there are serious barriers to exit. That’s the technical definition of a ghetto.

Robert Weaver, the first African-American member of the Cabinet appointed by President Johnson as his secretary of Housing and Urban Development, described many of the policies that I’ve described today in a book he published in 1948 called The Negro Ghetto.

The Kerner Commission referred to the ghetto.

This is a term that we no longer use because we’re embarrassed to talk about it, and we need to confront our history and stop sanitizing our language and talk openly about what we’ve done as a nation and what we need to do to undo it. And we can’t talk openly if we’re going to use euphemisms instead of being explicit about what the reality is.

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