Who You Callin' Ghetto?!

OK, I will admit it: I didn’t much care for or about the Real Housewives franchise until Bravo decided to take it to Atlanta.  I sat down to watch them last season and, to my husband’s horror, I found it riveting, for all kinds of reasons. (Who lives with that kind of excess? Why buy a $2,500 purse when you don’t have a job? And who routinely goes around the house in high heels? Fascinating!)

Season 2 is up and running, and the most demure housewife has been replaced by a very lively singer-songwriter, Kandi Burruss.  I expected the arrival of a new member to change the dynamic of the group somewhat, but I was a little astonished to hear NeNe Leakes call her “a little ghetto.”


Oh my.

I’m not sure what poor Kandi did to earn that (except for the Technicolor hair, she seems pretty down to earth to me), but NeNe, did you really say that?! (Some observers would say this is the Irony Goddess working overtime. But I love NeNe: Under all the bling, she is the real deal.)


Calling someone ghetto is intentionally classist. (And that’s probably one of the reasons that the Atlanta Housewives are doing so very well—they got it, they flaunt it, and it is a revelation to people who had no idea that black people don’t all live at the same economic level.) It also assumes that just because one lives in a ghetto, there’s only one way to be or act.  As Jesse Jackson liked to intone while on the stump, “I may have been born in the ghetto, but the ghetto was not born in me.”  It would be doing a huge disservice to all the people who live in ghettos who get up every day and (Jesse again) “take the early bus” to work to assume that “ghetto” and “lazy” are inextricably linked.

There are millions of folk who are working two and three jobs in the hopes they can eventually get out of the ghetto.

But maybe ghetto is in the eye of the beholder.  In which case, I’d like to submit for your consideration, one of the most popular African-American blogs of 2009: She So Ghetto.

Yup. Really. The power behind the site is Seriously McMillan.  And she bills herself as the Maven of Modern Manners and Etiquette: “When it comes to manners, I’m no Emily Post. I am more like your wacky Aunt Rosemary who never fails to tell it her way!”


And tell it she does.  She So Ghetto promises to teach you “Everything U Need 2 Know 2 Go From Hood Rat to Social Butterfly.”

“No big earrings,” SSG proclaims, “No tattoos.  No gold teeth.  No baby’s daddy.  No tight jeans.  No thuggin’.”  (Hmmmmm… Housewives: I’m counting 3 out of 6…)


McMillan’s photo illustrations show that “ghetto” is an equal-opportunity aesthetic that transcends boundaries of race, income or celebrity.  Her posted video on "How To Step Out  Of A Car Without Doing A Britney" should be required viewing for all the little (and not so little) hotties out there who don’t realize that thongs don’t cover nearly enough.

So yes, I’ll continue to consider my Atlanta girls must-see TV.  And I would loooove to sit down with the nice people at Bravo and explain to them that the crème de la crème of society may disagree with each other, but they don’t engage in public hair-pulling (or in this case, wig-pulling) contests on the street in front of fashionable restaurants.  It’s probably because they have a staff that needs a little diversity enhancement. But while they’re rectifying that, I know someone they can call to hook these sisters up.


Ms. McMillan, if you make house calls…

Karen Grigsby Bates is a correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).


is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).

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