What more can you say about Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s sojourn to Altus, AR on The Simple Life? They’re possibly the most malignant thing to hit a heartland family since Dick Hickock and Perry Smith visited the Clutter family in Holcomb, KA in 1959. (In this context, FOX becomes not unlike that other alternately priggish and obsequious society chronicler, Truman Capote, except that Tru cleaned up his act and got serious to bring us In Cold Blood, while FOX only gets serious when it’s chasing America’s Most Wanted.)
I’ll leave it to others to deconstruct Paris and Nicole’s every utterance—as we speak, somewhere high atop Rockefeller Plaza Amy Poehler is practicing saying “I’ll puke” while Maya Rudolph is being fitted for a blond wig—but I do have a bone to pick with one of Hilton’s favorite epithets: ghetto.
Ghetto‘s gotten a lot of play in white folk wannabe hip-hop slang circles in the last few years: it’s almost like saying gag me with a spoon, when we were kids, right? No, it’s more like saying No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs: it’s racist, and it’s stupid, and it should stop.
What ghetto, pray tell, is Paris, the heir to the Hilton millions, referring to? Certainly no ghetto like the one described by James Baldwin in The Fire Next Time where grown men:
began to care less about the way they looked, the way they dressed, the things they did; presently, one found them in twos and threes and fours, in a hallway, sharing a jug of wine or a bottle of whiskey, talking, cursing, fighting, sometimes weeping: lost, and unable to say what it was that oppressed them, except that they knew it was ‘the man’—the white man.
Or does Hilton mean the sort of ghetto described by Holocaust
survivor victim [thanks, Ian-M.H. 12/10/03] Emanuel Ringelbaum:
The German authorities did everything to seal off the ghetto hermetically and not to allow in a single gram of food. A wall was put up around the ghetto on all sides that did not leave a single millimeter of open space….
They fixed barbed wire and broken glass to the top of the wall. When that failed to help, the Judenrat was ordered to make the wall higher, at the expense of the Jews, of course.
I’m sure that’s what Paris meant when she called that pick-up truck ‘ghetto,’ right? Look, you don’t have to take it from me: this writer said it ten times better than I can:
I understand that you think it’s cute and hiphop and all that, but I have to ask: Have you been to a ghetto? Are you from one? Do you even know what it is? Well, I’m here to tell you. As a black woman who was born and raised in an actual ghetto called the Bronx–you may have heard of it–I am no less insulted the thirtieth time I hear it than I was the first time. The reality of the ghetto is far worse than you will ever be able to comprehend from the safety of your dorm room or your parents’ house. So the next time your Urban Outfitters hoodie won’t zip, think about what you’re saying. If you do, it might stop you from sounding like the dumb white kid you are.
But I guess the girl can’t help it: every time she says something insensitive to her hosts, I thought of what Mark Wahlberg’s character said of Spike Jonze’s character in Three Kings: “He’s got no high school, man!”
Sidebar: You’d be amazed how many photos of white people throwing up gang signs you get when you type “ghetto” into images.google.com.