The romanticization of the ghetto in Louisville

Jessica Carney-Perks, Financial Advisor


As this ghetto is visualized, abandoned buildings appear, kids playing the streets unsupervised replay, bass-booming music buzzes, and renovated old cars gleam in the reflection as graffiti decorates the nearest corner store. 

Why is this the visual we see? What people do you see? Why these people? 

As bigger questions plague the mind, this interpretation of the “ghetto” holds truth and fiction in the same breath. The city of Louisville is the 11th deadliest U.S. city and the most dangerous city in the state of Kentucky. Some things to consider when looking at such statistics are that Louisville has heavy traffic and is a touristic city with the largest population and growing diversity in the state.

Even though there is a great presence of diversity with immigrant and minority communities, there is a large residential divide based on socioeconomic status in the city of Louisville; this is a divide beyond a zip code. It’s a divide that tells a story of segregation, migration, redlining, and continued discrimination that made it difficult for predominantly Black communities and other communities of color to experience positive social mobility. 

Aspects of such social mobility included education, careers and reputation. Education is not only important for professional careers, but the depth and credibility of higher education provide better job opportunities, traditionally. Even with a Masters or multiple degrees, the color of a person’s skin was all a mortgage lender needed to know to grant or deny the loan.

Kentucky came to a stumble in 1948 when Black students financed litigation to end the practice of segregation in schools as they were presented with fewer educational opportunities. This growing dissatisfaction over time contributed to the desegregation of specific college campuses and Jefferson County Public Schools in 1975.  Today only about 76,567 black Americans attain their high school diploma and only 14,423 obtain their bachelors in the city of Louisville. This may sound very large, however over 300 thousand white Americans have graduated high school and 100 thousand Americans have graduated with a bachelors in Louisville. Particularly in the West End, only 7 percent black residents have obtained degrees. 

Regarding housing, Black people were denied mortgage loans by 20 to 30 percent in comparison to a White counterpart at 5 to 8 percent mortgage denial in 1967.  After more Black people achieved higher education and higher-paying positions, banks and lenders couldn’t turn down an earned dollar. 

Black citizens then began to move to more affluent areas with larger populations of White residents. These communities were actually communities in the west end before areas like Indian Hills, the Highlands, Middletown, and Jeffersontown came into existence. The growing number of Black residents became threatening to the superiority of these affluent communities now that a “minority” can own home nearby.  An even larger uproar was how Black residents were the root cause for property values dropping and crime in the surrounding neighborhoods. This was so threatening that in the late 1950s and early 1960s, over 20,000 white residents moved to the eastern parts of the city and developed their own distinct communities.

 This left communities of the Russell, Portland, Parkhill, California, Shelby Park, Smoketown neighborhoods filled with the remaining Black residents. Of the 23.5% of Black people  living in Louisville over 81.3%  of that 23.5% live in the west end.  Educational resources and temporary financial resources became limited in these communities in comparison to the developing communities in the east end. People became dependent on government subsidies, experienced higher rates of unemployment, heightened violence and lower property values which weren’t attractive to incoming economic ventures that could help restore these locations. 

Over time due to circulating stories and systematic oppression, this narrative of the big, bad west— with Black people as the lead stars— swept the city.  These overwhelming assumptions and stereotypes became what many believed the west end to be: a place to clutch your purse, carry pepper spray and make sure you’re home before dark. No matter how these assumptions may hold true in some situations, they undermine the idea that any neighborhood or neighbor is subject to experiencing crime or violence. 

News platforms, social media outlets, movie and film industries have profited off of this culminating fear of the Black ghetto, from token Black characters and predictable plots to gold jewelry, exotic fashion prints and slurred speech.

At the moment, these characters we stan and create fandoms about are visual representations of prejudicial expectations, a survivor of discriminatory struggle. 

The romanticization of the ghetto as a power struggle.

The romanticization of the ghetto as a setting.

The romanticization of the ghetto as an embodiment of a persona.

A romanticization of the ghetto that euthanizes the potential of these communities and their residents. 

There are many aspects to this problem, but the most prevalent lenses are the local news, social media, and mainstream music. Often, platforms rush media content to be released with a need to outcompete surrounding platforms. Most recently, the need for source verification and fact-checking has become imperative not only with news outlets but social media platforms as well. As the news helps evolve the timeline and accessibility of information, it has also added to the fear of their viewers. The constant consumption of crime updates such as shootings, robberies, accidents, or kidnappings makes many viewers more skeptical about the world around them which creates ideologies and misconceptions about reality. The main perpetrators of the crime that are highlighted during live news are Black men in poor communities.

“I have channel 5 going on all day. It’s just so sad sometimes, I don’t even watch. It’s just white noise. Those babies have so much potential but, they don’t show that. They always want to show somebody’s mugshot even when they do good. It’s always us [Black people] that they talking about. When do we get a break?”, Pearletta Morton, 66-year-old Arcade resident said. 

This creates a distorted view of what the west end of Louisville is and the people of Louisville. 

Social media has taken the world by storm by connecting people across the world, establishing new forms of communication, opening new ways to monetize hobbies and updating the world on what’s trending right now. However, not all trends are as innovative or conscious of their impact. Trends of Blackface, blackfishing and “acting” ghetto have resurfaced as late as 2020. 

Decades ago, this was a raging issue as Black caricatures were the faces of companies, food brands and superstores. The fact that this is still an issue demonstrates how has elapsed but, racist mindsets have not decimated. A year of inconsistency, a lethal virus sweeping the world, social unrest, the election and efforts of solidarity to resurge change but, these trends regress steps of progress with their blindness to ignorance.

In addition to racist trends, social media glorifies the persona of the ghetto as a source of fashion and inspiration. Traditional cornrows are now rebranded as boxer braids and long acrylic nails influence the “ghetto fabulous” aesthetic. The problem isn’t necessarily the aesthetic but rather that Black women are put down for wearing styles they created while white models are credited for creating the trend. 

“Back when I was in high school, they acted like braids had something to do with what we were learning. Left someone else to come in with rainbow hair and it’s just ‘expressing’ themselves” Ke‘Asia Ashby, 19-year-old, Russell Neighborhood resident said.

Black men and women have had to change the versatility of their hair and the fluidity of their clothing to meet the white gaze in order to be taken seriously. This double standard glorifies the aesthetic and ignores the aesthetic’s creators. Additionally, this aesthetic influences what people believe Black culture to embody; an embodiment of promiscuity, cheap gold, and “untamed” hairstyles. These boxes and labels make it difficult for Black individuals to embrace what makes them unique and different from the “ghetto” expectation.

Another avenue that the “ghetto” lurks into is mainstream music such as Rap and Hip-Hop as it glorifies struggle as motivation for success. For many rappers coming from poverty and violent traumas, this motivation may be authentic; however, this experience is not one to be desired. Rappers like 21 Savage, Sadababy, Dababy, NBAYoungboy, and many others discuss life surrounded by drugs, guns, educational, and financial barriers that motivated them to “make it out.” 

But not every Black person has to “make it out.” Some people are placed with families and support systems that provide guidance to a point where “making it out” isn’t the same goal. But the point is that sometimes mainstream music can perpetuate this idea of being Black as a monolith or or narrative, which distorts the possibilities of every Black individual and their own personal struggles. Not every Black person comes from impoverished ghettos or little resources; others may come from more affluent areas with issues of anxiety, feeling Black enough or tokenism. The Black narrative is very diverse but the current pace of mainstream music has projected the experience of struggle as a generalized trauma of Black communities. These aspects hold weight and impact these same Louisville communities and similar areas with generalizations and assumptions. 

Residents from neighborhoods around Louisville develop the impact of this idea of the “ghetto” and how it affects their own communities. 

“It’s not about us. It’s about having someone at the bottom to keep the cycle going. They hurt us more with the government checks because it makes people lazy and comfortable. You mean to tell me that I can make money by doing no work? Piece of cake,” said Sharisse Dillard, 42-year-old California neighborhood resident.

“As long as I’ve been living, they [white people] are all the same. They say they want to help but photograph everything to show off later how woke they are. Actions speak louder than words. Show me you are not afraid to come around these parts. Not for a medal or a stamp of approval. Just because you want to be here,” Morton said.

Younger generations took a different approach in comparison to Morton and Dillard.

“I mean, this place is my home. Yes, shootings happen and people die. It happens everywhere. It’s not okay, but we can’t act like the West is just a war zone,” Antione Marshall, 29-year-old Village West resident said.

“I just wish people understood everyone is not a criminal or a felon. If we are, what does it matter? People don’t choose their circumstances,” Ke’Asia Ashby, 19-year-old Russell neighborhood resident said.

No matter the age or neighborhood, everyone agreed that the ghetto persona negatively impacts their community.

“Seeing the news and what people post on Facebook, I understand why people fear the hood. They be telling the truth on the news but that’s not all that should be told. Nobody talks about the future the victim had. California [neighborhood] isn’t a morgue but, what we see on television makes it hard to think otherwise,” Dillard said.

“Looking the way I do, I’m just expected to be loud, messy and rude but, that’s not me. People take what they see on Instagram and run with it. What someone assumes about me shouldn’t be what keeps me from a job position or a scholarship, but it is,” Ashby said. 

The romanticization of the ghetto in Louisville sweeps the long history of racial oppression under the rug and leaves the descendants of this great struggle to be silenced.

Now when you hear the word “ghetto,” what do you see?