Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ghetto Ass Dogs

The above photos are of a rottweiler and a giant pug.  As you can see, they are beautiful dogs.  I was waiting outside of a 7-11 for the unhusband, when a couple approached me with a pug and a rotti on a leash.  Outside of this particular 7-11, there used to be a pole where people routinely tied their dogs up while they were in the store.  The pole in question has since been removed, and upon noticing this, the woman turned to the man and said, "see, if it wasn't for your ghetto ass dogs, you could have come in the store."  I must admit that when I heard the statement, I turned to the side and giggled lightly, but I have found since I first heard this, I have not been able to let go of the phrase.

What is it about a pug and a rotti that have earned them the descriptor of ghetto?  Ghetto is something we largely relate to class and boorish behaviour.  Just as there are cultural markers to wealth, there are cultural markers for poverty and because we live in such a classist society, those without the ability to consume on a large scale are considered less than.  We also associate the ghetto specifically with people of colour, because of their high occupancy of poor urban neighbourhoods.  Not only were these dogs given a class, they were in a sense given a racial identity of the 'other'.

I find this interesting, because any pure breed dog is expensive.  When we first started looking for a new dog, I wanted an English Bulldog, but after discovering that they were about two thousand dollars, I quickly changed my desired breed.  I ended up buying a King Sheppard/Golden Lab cross for 200 dollars.  Sookie's appearance is mostly lab, even though she is a mixed breed.  Labs are very much associated with a middle class lifestyle.  Considering their habit of chewing everything in exsistence (including devouring my leather love seat), for the first two years, it certainly takes money to survive their puppy stage.

Her temperament is also very mild and playful.  It is her greatest wish that the humans around her, devout themselves to playing or petting her constantly. She also aspires to be a 70 pound lap dog. Her breed is considered the perfect family dog, whereas; such a marker has not been given to the rottweiler.  By many, they are considered to be dangerous aggressive dogs, despite the fact that how they are raised has a large part to due with their temperament and ability to interact with humans.  This led me to think about the relationships between POC, class, and aggressiveness.  Is part of the reason that some would consider a rotti a "ghetto ass dog" because the characteristics assigned to the animal, closely mimic those given to poor people of colour?  This thought does however conflict with the fact that a pure breed rottweiler, just like any other pure breed dog, is extremely expensive in comparison to a mutt. 

Perhaps I am too heavily invested in determining the meaning of said phrase, but our tendency to refer to people, animals and items as "ghetto" has become pervasive.  There can be no doubt that both a class and a racial marker is at play.  When the term ghetto is used, the listener is to assume that it somehow relates to poor people of colour.  Usually the behaviour or item that is ascribed with the ghetto label, is something that is meant to be derided in some manner and therefore; the term ghetto when used in this fashion, is meant to harm a very specific group of people. There are several slurs that are often aimed at people of colour, but ghetto tends to be ubiquitous in its usage.  Though it is clearly hurtful, rarely do people understand it for the slur that it truly is.  

The normalization of the ghetto label is a marker for the way in which people of colour are othered on a daily basis and the fact that there continues to be little real conversation interrogating this term, means that we continue to believe that race and class can tell us something about the individual beyond the limitations imposed by society due to White supremacy and classism.  When people of colour use this term, it is in an effort to seperate ourselves from those we deem to be an embarrassment.  Whether we like to admit it or not, much of race is a performance, in the same way that we perform gender.  Middle class Blacks, have a tendency to desire a separation, thus creating a bifurcation between a good and bad Black.  Though both groups face racism, albeit in different ways, the idea that one method of performing Blackness is more desirable than another has its routes in racism.  Moving closer to a White identity is seen as progress, as though the intentional removal of cultural markers somehow elevates an individual rather than signaling a disconnect.  This is why we have code switching, in which ones behaviour changes depending upon whether or not the audience is largely White or largely Black.  So when we say that something is ghetto, or my personal favorite, ghetto fabulous, we create a division amongst ourselves which only serves to aid White supremacy. Speech always means something, and it creates messages that are often beyond the intent of the speaker, due to the markers encoded in language.  Who and what is considered ghetto, is very much a matter of what has become popular discourse. The shame should never reside with the person labeled ghetto but with the person who felt that a slur and yes ghetto is a slur is an appropriate way to assert difference.