The Anti-Ghetto: Taking a Stand Against the Culture of Poverty

Since the 1960s, Black America has been plagued with a growing cultural epidemic, beginning with the most poor and underexposed and then spreading beyond the inner cities where they lived. Over the past half-century this counterproductive culture of negativity has permeated both the entertainment and sports industries, and now affects Americans of all races and walks of life. Characterized by escapism and materialism, this culture calls irresponsibility freedom, glorifies crime, violence, and hypersexuality, defies all authority, and acts as a coping mechanism for those who feel rejected by mainstream society and economy.

This culture is being “ghetto”.

Now reaching far beyond housing projects, slums, and other depressed urban areas, ghetto culture attracts ‘wannabes’ who wish to identify with the either hardness and struggle or the criminal element of  many people living in poverty. Being truly “ghetto” is universal. Because  prostitution is one major aspect of the criminal economy of inner cities, the relative degradation and abuse of women is a part of the culture that members of every walk of life can participate in. The abuse of drugs and alcohol as well as the preoccupation with flashy, expensive clothes and cars is attractive and accessible to anyone who has the money and time to spend seeking pleasure in these things. So, you clearly don’t have to live in the ghetto to ‘be’ ghetto; thanks to the entertainment industry, the gospel of the ghetto has been spread far and wide, promising fleshy satisfaction to all who would exchange civility for vulgarity and rebellion, and who will live for today instead of planning for tomorrow.

Hopefully, my description of ghetto culture depresses you, at least a bit. If not, you may indeed be desensitized due to overexposure.

In case you are wondering, I believe I understand ghetto culture because I was born and raised in the hood (I will break down the difference between the two in another article) and lived in the midst of various ghettos in Detroit, Michigan, a city thoroughly infused with ghetto culture. I never fully immersed myself in it, but I have been and still can get a little ghetto, even to this day. Some of it really is harmless fun.

Most of it, however, is not.

While I don’t judge people I do judge things, and ghetto culture is one of those things that inner city dwellers need to graduate from. It was fostered by the rise of government social services and welfare programs and nurtured by a warped, maternal family structure born out of war, underemployment, and crime. When men ceased to be the head of families in urban areas, ghetto culture spread like a disease. Now, America’s metropolises are plagued with restless, ignorant, self-serving, deviants and those who validate them by sharing in the customs and entertainment of ghetto culture. No, you may not break into people’s homes and rob them, but you sing along with the rapper who glorifies such actions. You may live conservatively during the week but on the weekends you party in the ghetto, with the ghetto, or like the ghetto, further validating the negativity of ghetto culture. While you may not live in a poor area, you like to flash your designer goods and expensive cars in areas where ghetto people can admire you for owning them.

So, even though you aren’t in the ghetto, if the ghetto is in you, you are part of the problem.

We have to graduate from ghetto. People living in ghettos often use ghetto culture as a way of coping with a seemingly hopeless situation; if there is no way out, I should just make the best of what I have. However, when those who are not confined to the ghetto validate the self-destructive culture of the ghetto, it only confirms that there is no need to strive for anything else! People now work to get out of the ghetto just so they can live “ghetto-fabulous”! What kind of sense does that make? Leave the ghetto so I can live like a king in the ghetto, except outside the ghetto, kinda? The idea should be to get out of the ghetto so that we can live safe, productive, responsible lives that ensure our children never have to live in a ghetto. How does spending exorbitant amounts of money on clothes, intoxicants, vehicles, and recreation build a future for you or your family? It may be fun for now, but what happens when later comes?

Oh, that’s right; the government is supposed to give you what you need then because you couldn’t ‘afford’ to think ahead when you did have means and opportunity to build.

That’s their job, right?

No, it’s ours; that is why for every ghetto, there must be an anti-ghetto. The anti-ghetto is simply the sphere in which any person or group from or in the ghetto simply refuses to conform to the expectations and the culture of the ghetto.

Someone who subscribes to anti-ghetto culture:

  • Refuses to listen to music or support artists that glorify ghetto culture and ideals
  • Refuses to degrade themselves in speech, dress, or demeanor as ghetto culture allows and encourages
  • Refuses to be depend on government assistance as a way of life, especially when the benefits are not necessary for survival
  • Refuses to glory in ignorance but values education in all forms, both formal and informal
  • Makes empowerment not only a goal, but a lifestyle
  • Respects themselves and others
  • Obeys just laws and works to change unjust laws
  • Honors their own bodies through proper nutrition, exercise, and moderation in delicacies and non-nutritional consumables
  • Speaks with dignity and respect for self and the environment he or she is in
  • Seeks to act as an agent of change and shine as a beacon of hope for others who wish to live above and beyond the ghetto

It’s time for the anti-ghetto element to rise in the inner cities and abroad.

The Urban Counterculture blog and forum are designed to be an anti-ghetto refuge online. Your support of this website will help others to find a way to live differently and evolve into more than just what their environment or current culture expects.

We can be more.

  • Lena

    Great article. Some simply grow out of the “ghetto” mentality. However, many just “graduate” to ghetto fabulous.

    • I.C. Jackson

      Exactly. Now if we could we could just break the chains of ghetto-fabuloscity…

  • LeeJackson

    Some of us are like children still wanting to be accepted by others, and drawn in by fascination. It’s time to grow up and take responsibility for our decisions and actions.

  • Melinda

    Here’s my two cents:

    I lived in the ghetto and never adopted the mentality. For most of my childhood my mother and I lived in subsidized housing and received government assistance while she obtained her Bachelor’s degree. When I was a teen, she was able to purchase a home in a better neighborhood.

    When I left home after high school, I chose to separate myself from that experience to the point where I found it hard to encourage or influence anyone who was in the ghetto and wanted guidance on how to get out. I think that at some point it became difficult for us to relate to each other. I viewed them as “ghetto” and they viewed me as bourgeois.

    My goal now is to try to relate on a human level to those who may not be able to see a future beyond their circumstances. I think it’s a turn-off when anyone is being told what they’re doing is wrong or bad by someone they can’t see any commonalities with. At the end of the day, we’re all brothers and sisters by creation. A lot of this goes far deeper than making smarter purchases and listening to different music. Everyone has a unique story that deserves attention and understanding. Today, I choose to do unto others with compassion and no judgment.

    • I.C. Jackson

      Thank you for your reply, Melinda!

      I understand and fundamentally agree with your perspective. However, as it relates to urban renewal I don’t see ghetto culture in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ so much as ‘productive’ and ‘unproductive’, and ‘enslaving’ and ‘empowering’. So, if I am looking to help someone, its not a matter of telling them that they are wrong; that would be paternalistic and unproductive. No grown, sane person enjoys being treated like a child.

      That is also why I am not overly sympathetic with mature adults who choose to be ghetto. Young people are a little different in my book; they have underdeveloped minds and perspectives, so handling them with kid gloves makes sense in most cases, in my opinion. Grown folks are something different, though.

      Even if your perspective has been warped by a life in and around nothing but the ghetto, you know enough about morality and the world around you to understand that many of the things you endure or enjoy come down to a matter of choice. More often than not people just don’t even take steps that they are truly able to take toward bettering themselves because it requires self-discipline and sacrifice. People are just like that. That’s why in a country like America half of us are seriously overweight; it takes discipline and sacrifice to not comfort one’s self with the foods we like whenever we feel like it. So the problem isn’t limited to ghetto people. Its a human thing.

      But that’s why I believe there must be a healthy balance between understanding and being real with people. You are not an animal or a child just because you are uberghetto. I understand that lack of exposure prevents you from pursuing certain things in life, but unless you are suffering serious mental trauma (and some people are) no one is stopping you from taking the time to consider how certain choices you make will affect you and those around you. Being ghetto doesn’t warp your basic sense of right and wrong, even when your sense of right and wrong seem to conflict with what you understand to be just or fair. So, of course, dealing with the issue of ‘ghetto reform’ is multilayered and complicated.

      This is why I created this site. Different views and perspectives are needed. Every story of success is different, and there are, I believe, many roads to achievement and empowerment. However, there is one thing that I know to be constant: there must be an accessible alternative in the midst; a counterculture that is accepting of all but not tolerant of negative, self-destructing influences. Those who know better can show better, but we have to love hard and stand firm on the truth, knowing that everyone cannot be saved but anyone who is willing can make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.

  • Steve

    I.C. You make some great points and this is very well written. I agree with everything you say. We have kids who are growing up in affluent communities, throwing away opportunity that they are being blessed with because they want to be “ghetto.” Maybe you can write a second article talking about that and the reasons they do it and the mistake they are making by doing so.

    Take care and have a wonderful day.

  • Eileen

    Since I didn’t grow up poor, sometimes I don’t understand people who grow up in the ghetto. I was in a supermarket today, which is close by to low-income housing. As I was pushing my cart down the ailse, these two younger African-American girls were running down the aisle, one pushed the other, and crashed into my cart. They then ran off. The mother all of a sudden yelled what happened in my direction. The girl responded, “she pushed me.” meaning her sister pushed her and she crashed into my cart. The mother starts yelling at me commenting that I didn’t even ask about the welfare of her daughter. I said, “She seems fine!” she wasn’t crying when she ran off, and she ran towards her mother. She persisted to yell at me about not seeing if her daughter was ok. Finally I said, “Well maybe the issue is that your children shouldn’t be fighting in the store!” I was angry, but I meant they shouldn’t be running around in supermarket. She yelled at me saying, “you obviously don’t have kids!” I said, I don’t and I don’t want them.! She came up to me and said, “What did you say?!” I said, “Look, I’m not here to get in an arguement with you. Your daughter ran into my cart!” she started saying I wont’ have kids, and I hit her daughter. She then said outloud, “Maybe I should put my kids in the car and beat your ass.” So I believe, if my kids were horsing around, and rammed into a cart, I would say, “What the hell are you doing? (to my kids!). I would not be expecting a stranger to ask about the welfare of my kids, if I’m around to console them. What the hell? I’m really trying to understand why this lady is yelling at me, just because I did not show concern over her child to her liking. and demands that I should.

  • Thomas Wells

    The self is formed in part by out interactions with people in our surroundings. This process happens after contraception with our intimate relation to out mother, and continues when we are born and grow older.

    A concentrated zone of crack babies, feral children,and gansta role models is as pathological as lead paint, maybe worst.This is not a function of your skin melanin levels at all. It is an epidemic caused, like chlorera or typhoid fever, by
    living in a cess pool society/culture.

    The miracle here is that some people can escape the societal pollution and can reject the infection of their minds.The tragedy is that other are sucked into the sickness and that insufficient care is provided to them.

  • Human Growth and Development

    I don’t think this is just a problem in the ghetto, it is a problem of human and social environment in the world. This issue reminds me of Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory
    Micro System-Immediate environment
    Exosystem-Social Institutions
    Macrosystem-Cultural Beliefs

    in a human beings Social Institution, such as school has a major effect on a child. Lets say a poor child goes to a school where his classmates families have money and live well. The child will see that and want that because that is the norm, which en-till will have a major effect on him throughout life. The macro system has a major effect. We have to evaluate the Macrosystem of a human beings environment. We cannot live in a society where cultural beliefs are so materialistic. Ones character and actions make a person who they are not there wealth. We must take a stand against poverty. It has a major effect on ones Emotional and Social Development. Poverty has an effect on the Parents and then effects a child as a result. Poverty leads to stress to the parent and the parent unfortunately acts with Child Abuse and Neglect. If ones actions leads to this there child will have many problems in there life such as: Children risk factors
    Difficult temperament
    Unusually aggressive
    Parental risk factors
    Single motherhood
    History of abuse (spousal included)
    Assistance can come from foster care and group home

    We must evaluate our mindset of life and see that every action and environment has an effect on our human growth and development. Where ever we come from.

  • Todd S

    All for this!!

  • jim

    It’s about a teacher I try..buts it’s like trying to plug a hole in a boat with your has to come from a new universal movement

  • John Novak

    I’ve been waiting for this for years. I need to include that this is not only a plight against “black”communities. One third of the urban poor are white, and I am one of those low income white people who has had moments of weakness in my life where I acted “ghetto”. For the majority of my life, I have been resisting against it.

    I am a liberal and an atheist, so I would criticize ghetto culture from an opposite angle I guess. A movement will come.

    • John Novak

      Correction, one sixth of the urban poor are white, making us 2% of the US population.


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