I never know when this conversation may arise, nor am I good at predicting who will be the one to spark it. But it’s recurrent throughout my dating life so why not breach the topic. It never so much happens with friends or family but maybe that’s because they have a clear insight into my life. The topic usually comes up with someone who I’m talking to over text, and haven’t spent much time with in my day to day life. The distance created by messengers also seems to make them more comfortable.
So, I’m texting a young Swedish boy who had moved to London a few years prior. Everything seems to be going well, so the conversation moves into the areas we live. I ask casually ‘Where do you live?’ to which I get the response North Greenwich and a bit about the area. In turn the young man then asks me….
‘Do you live in the ghetto?’
Ghetto? What ghetto? In London City? See, I believe that there are areas of London such as Northumberland Park which experience high levels of deprivation. The widespread experience of deprivation exhibits itself in high levels of unemployment, a high proportion of the population being a benefit recipient, and many shut down local businesses. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily believe that London has a ghetto which is directly reminiscent of the Bronx or Harlem. Channel 4’s Top Boy, for example, is a show which is supposed to provide insight into working class ‘gang’ life in metropolitan Britain. But the show is a complete exaggeration, more creating ethnic rivalries to generate easy storylines than depicting real criminal life in the UK. Top Boy which is supposed to be set in a fictional tower block in Hackney, rarely even deals with some of the real issues the inner-city boroughs actually face such as gentrification and high rent/house prices.
But maybe they aren’t really focusing on the London ghetto. Maybe they’re covertly saying something which is sinister. I sometimes wonder, what ghetto are they on about. Maybe they aren’t assuming I’m from the ghetto which is glorified in Hip Hop culture. The one with widespread drug use and single parents. Perhaps, they are thinking of a ghetto more reminiscent of the one the Nazis created for the Jews in World War 2. I wonder, are they saying my life chances are completely limited by how society sees me, and that to break the odds I would need to be one in a million. Is the path for people like me determined, am I part of the wrong group, at the wrong time? I don’t believe the men I was speaking to are Plato’s in disguise. But, this is one way to interpret what they’re saying.
The question must be looked at from multiple perspectives. Why would someone feel comfortable asking me that? You could answer the question yourself if you got to know me better when I feel comfortable bringing you into my home you will pass through the area. Then you could judge for yourself.
I can’t ignore the stereotypes which I have manifested in your mind. So as a black female, you believe my chances of living in the ghetto are excessively heightened because I’m black? Because the images which you’ve engaged with largely portray black people in positions of destitute, poor housing, unemployment and sexualisation. I have a university degree, but my ethnicity is still a greater obstacle to moving from one residential area to another, is that what you believe? Because I will never know unless someone who has asked me tells me why they have asked I will never know. None of the young men who have asked me has wanted to offend, so when I have asked why they brush it off. ‘It was just a joke’, ‘Sorry!’. No one has replied saying ‘Sorry, I don’t associate quality housing with black people’ so I’m left to theorise why.
But let me answer the question anyway. ‘Do I live in the ghetto?’. I’m going to say no. I live in Islington, my next-door neighbours to one side are young professionals and to the others retired individuals in their 80’s. I’m a 10-minute walk from where Tony Blair lived before he became Prime Minister, and the area is populated by some casual celebrities’ people on EastEnders, to Pete Doherty. I see drug use, but I also see students since Central Saint Martins is so close. My community is friendly, we get cards at Christmas and even have community BBQ’s. It’s multicultural. So no, I wouldn’t consider it the ghetto, but why did you think I live in the ghetto?
By Shaneka Knight