Don’t Mess With Me, I’m From The Ghetto

Shoes hanging from power lines
photo credit: Rae Allen, CC license.

I grew up in the ghetto.

At least, that’s what I tell people when it works to my advantage. It’s a defense mechanism, maybe, but one can never have too many of those. Especially in the ghetto.

“I’m gonna kill every G* D* person in this F*ing neighbourhood,” shouted our next door neighbour, as he stood in his front yard waving an ax. There was not even so much as a fence between our yard and his. I thought we were playing a game when my mom snuck us out the basement door and down the back alley to another neighbour’s house.

I never actually believed I lived in the ghetto… but other people did, and that’s what mattered. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times my “ghetto” origins have gotten – or kept – me out of trouble. Often it would start with some annoying person – or group of people – looking for their next victim to torment. Their eyes would settle on me: the shy girl, the blonde girl, the nerdy girl, whatever.

“Don’t mess with me,” I’d say as if on cue, “I’m from the ghetto.”

I’ve never been challenged to back up my threats, or prodded to detail what they mean – good thing, because they’re empty threats and I have no idea how someone from the actual ghetto would go about backing them up.

Our favourite place to hang out was a forest with a creek running through it we affectionately called “The Gulley.” In summer we would play in the water, and push each other through the tunnel under the railroad tracks in the shopping carts people had abandoned there.

There used to be a huge forest for us to walk through on our way to elementary school, too. Sadly, it was completely cut down one day – one too many “incidents,” they said, whatever that means.

Sometimes, I don’t even need to say it. Someone will make a joke about the city I’m from, and another person will pipe up “hey, she’s from there, you know” (I usually don’t volunteer this information myself).

Inevitably, the joker tries to get themselves out of further trouble by saying, “well, at least you’re not from [X neighbourhood].” I am, of course, from that neighbourhood.

My brother and I sat in the big neighbourhood tree as we always did, as the new kids from the house across the street told us nonchalantly how their father/uncle beats them. They were shocked when we were shocked.

Not actually “shocked,” though, because as they were telling us this they proved that you could actually swing from the power lines without getting shocked – “the lower ones are safe,” they said, almost regretfully.

Don’t mess with me, I’m from the ghetto.

Despite the utility of this threat, I never really believed it… until I started to exchange origin stories with my friends from definitely-not-the-ghetto, and realized that my stories were not the kinds of things everyone experienced. Who knew.

“Remember the weird house four doors down?” My mom asked as I spoke to her through the crackling phone line, catching up on the news while I was living in the Philippines. “It caught on fire and almost exploded. They say it could’ve taken out half the neighbourhood. Rumor has it it was a meth lab.”

Don’t mess with me, I’m from the ghetto.


24 thoughts on “Don’t Mess With Me, I’m From The Ghetto

  1. great post.
    i think its all relative; it depends on where you’re from and what you’re used to. growing up i always thought i was from the ghetto too. the mall that we frequented was straight up called “Gunspoint” and a fellow highschool classmate was killed on our street, gang related. *shudder*

    but more recently i’ve seen how my upbringing wasn’t THAT ghetto, because now i spend more time in a real ghetto -how thankful i am that i could choose the path away from violence/gangs (as opposed to being dragged/forced/targeted into one or by one), that i went to a school that wasn’t a failing school, and how i had friends who would all go to college and that pushed me to do the same (unlike so many of the kids i’m around now who can only dream of college). seeing the present struggles of kids who do grow up and live in the ghetto… facing all those obstacles, and figuring out how to tackle them all.. it is challenging and takes an entire community to transform those lives, one by one.

    1. It is definitely relative, and technically/thankfully none of us lives in a “real” ghetto, in terms of a residential area segregated for Jews (and we all know how well that ended). But yes, I feel very lucky that I was able to overcome that background, with the help of many, and I don’t mean to make light of others’ struggles.Thank you for your very thoughtful comment!

      1. ah yes, indeed. thanks for that clarification. to be more accurate then you are right, i don’t mean ‘ghetto’ in its original definition but the more modern connotation associated with poverty and life in the ‘inner city.’

  2. My teacher friends were talking recently about some of the students in their classrooms. It surprised me how much they knew. It also made me glad that I was not privy to the complications of classism, racism, and abuse when I was a kid. Thanks for your thoughtful post!

    1. Yeah, I can definitely relate to that: even with the language barrier (teaching English in Japan) I still see a lot, but I know there’s a lot more that escapes me. Glad you enjoyed my post, thanks for reading!

  3. I like this post, a lot. Living in the ghetto now, as an adult, I have an appreciation for kids who grow up there.

  4. Love the blog post. It sounds like, as a kid, you thought everything that happened where you grew up was completely normal and happened everywhere. I guess we all think that as a child, huh?

    1. I guess we do! It’s kind of the opposite of thinking “my family is totally crazy” until you realize that, actually everyone’s families are crazy, just in different ways…

  5. I have to admit to making sure people know I have never lived in Park Slope or Williamsburg when they find out I lived in Brooklyn for a decade and a half. Kind of the opposite of “I’m from the ghetto.”

  6. I like how you told this with tidbits of your past experiences woven in. It added that credibility to your proclamation of being from the ghetto. It also adds an interesting point about subjective perception. We are, to an extent, limited by our experiences and how they influence our knowledge of something. And it is always fascinating to see how that contrasts with other perceptions.

    1. For sure, perception is everything. Trouble starts when people assume that they are particularly capable of being objective… when in fact they’re being just as subjective as everyone else. Thanks for reading!

  7. Hah! Love this! I grew up in a neighbourhood which I guess would be the UK equivalent of a ghetto. People give me these funny looks when they find out where I grew up as if to say “is she now going to rob/batter me?”

    1. Haha, yeah, we don’t really have “ghettos” in Canada, either (that I’m aware of), not like you see in American TV or movies. But it’s not a competition… if you come from a questionable place in general, I think it helps add a mystery/intrigue factor to you. Particularly if you appear “normal,” whatever that means.

  8. This is really interesting. I grew up in a really nice area, but there is a ghetto about 30 miles away. One of the worst places to live in the US, supposedly. That said, we would go into some of the bad areas of a neighboring town and just walk around. As an adult, I think of how crazy that was, but whenever I drive through there, I see children playing.

    It’s interesting, the perceptions one has based on where you grew up — where something that’s normal to you is strange to another person. Really thought provoking read. 🙂

    1. Glad you enjoyed the read! Everyone sees the world through different lenses, I suppose our background is just one of those lenses. As an adult, I think of how crazy some of the stuff was, too, but we were kids and kids will play anywhere. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

    1. Thanks! It wasn’t written like that in the first draft, the past stories all came tacked on at the end, but I had an epiphany to change the format, and I guess it worked out well!

    1. Yeah, it’s usually pretty easy to tell when someone’s from “definitely-not-the-ghetto.” So maybe it is easier than I think for them to tell I’m from the ghetto, or at least from “more-ghetto-than-you’ll-ever-know!”

  9. From the age of 6, when my mum married my stepdad, we were ridiculously poor and lived in the closest thing England has to a ghetto – a town called Haverhill. There were kids at my school whose parents messed around with them, didn’t feed them (one girl in my class would fish in the trash for extra food).
    Now, my family is pretty well off and we all have accents that give the impression that we are from a well-off family, but when I tell people I’m from Haverhill it does help sometimes! Don’t mess with me, I’m from Haverhill!

    1. Yeah… it surprises me how well it works sometimes. Although hearing “Haverhill” all I can think is “Haverly Hills, that’s where I want to BE! Livin in Haverly Hills…” There’s your earworm for the day, heh. 😉

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