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Is Ghetto Parenting Offensive?

Most of us are familiar with the three main parenting styles:  Authoritarian, Permissive and Authoritative.  But Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell has discovered yet another style. And while nobody can deny that this particular parenting style exists, plenty are upset with the term she’s coined to describe it: Ghetto Parenting.

According to Mitchell, Ghetto Parenting is:

  • Cursing around, and at, a child,
  • brawling with your man or your woman in front of your child,
  • letting your child roam the streets until somebody else’s mother has to tell the child to go home,
  • putting your child off on friends and relatives because you want to hang out in the street.

Her article was written in response to a tragic story about a young African-American boy named Derrick Lemon who, at the age of 8, watched helplessly as his 5-year-old half-brother was dropped to his death from a 14th-story window of a vacant apartment building.  Sixteen years later, Derrick himself was found guilty of the murder of his aunt’s boyfriend.  According to Mitchell, Derrick was a product of Ghetto Parenting, wherein the adults responsible for him shirked their duties and allowed him to be raised by the streets.

While some wholeheartedly agree with Mitchell’s characterization of parents who subject their children to such abuse and neglect, others take issue with using the term Ghetto Parenting.  Because the word ghetto is so closely associated with African-Americans, this use would seem to suggest that this type of bad parenting is a unique among black parents.

Mitchell herself says that Ghetto Parenting is an equal opportunity term that doesn’t discriminate based on a person’s skin color.  By way of example, she cites Britney Spears’ pantyless partying during the custody fight for her children.  That, she says, was some world class Ghetto Parenting.

But it’s no surprise that some would take offense at a term that seems to racialize bad parenting.  Despite the fact that the word ghetto can be traced to the 16th century Venice, where it was used to describe the area where Jews were forced to live, it is now strongly associated with African-Americans living in poverty.  And where a word has been is less important than where it is now.

I personally find the term, while not exactly offensive, inappropriate.  I wouldn’t use it in front of my child for fear that she might assume the same thing so many others have:  That I am referring only to bad black parents.  What do you think?  Is Ghetto Parenting an offensive way to describe spectacularly bad parenting?

Image: Brieuc/Flickr

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