Did you ever find yourself using a word that if someone else used it you would be offended?
Oh…..not that word! My family long ago admonished the use of the N word in any type of fashion. Just not happening. So, why then was it so easy for me to drop the word "Ghetto". You know like, that’s so GHETTO, or…”girl, you know he’s ghetto.” It’s all good and funny when it was popping out of my mouth. I could use that word because…..you know, it doesn’t describe me.
Until it did.
And it will go down as one of the worse pains in my professional career.
Me. You know. Good me. Accepted everywhere. All audiences. The “you are all right” girl in every conversation. Professional and straight laced in and out of the office. I don’t play, and have no time for foolishness. Being trifling was and is an assault to our family and my mother was not having it! So I damn sure ain’t ghetto.
Until I was.
Yep. After working for months on a project that was my own from before it ever hit a page to the day it was delivered to over 200 people it was my baby. I was excited and proud of it. When I stepped out front in my new jacket with my hair freshly “did” I felt more ready to share and teach than ever before. My audience struggled. And that was the point. The material wasn’t meant to be easy. It was meant to push and challenge and ultimately allow for GROWTH. For most people it did. But for some…. The entire experience caused a small outrage.
Who is this person (only minority woman in the meeting……not uncommon for me but helpful, perhaps for you to picture the scene) to tell us how to do things…..what needs to change……
My straight forward and everyman language must have really annoyed. That night the insults rang through the conference rooms and gossip ranks. She was no good. Who does she think she is?
She GHETTO-ized that whole program.
What? Wait! I did what?
Let’s be clear on how bad the insult really is…….not only is the person making a “style” insult…..they also are making no connection to the ability of a black woman to create from inception, a finished product. Surely it had to be someone else’s work that I took and yup….you read it…Ghetto-ized! Take a minute and let that sink in.......
I saw red. I am not ashamed to say…I cried. I was so friggin angry. OUTRAGED. I wanted to show then what GHETTO really looked like.......right?
Wrong. I turned the mirror on my own self: A difficult, but necessary task. While my colleagues were wrong in so many ways for their reaction, the bigger learning for me in the end is my own behavior.
How often had I used this term loosely to describe something or someone? So casual was I with this term that I gave little thought to how hurtful it may be....... and inaccurate.
I am not suggesting every word we utter is going to be politically correct or without error.
But I am clear that we cannot be shocked when the very judgments we are so quick to make comes flying right back at us full speed.Shortly after this incident I left the organization where this insult occurred. At that same time….I left the word ghetto out of my vocabulary too! Real talk! Be the change you want to see people.....be the change!