Growing up up the ghetto I always knew what it felt like to be ostracized. Times were different than they are now back in the 80's. It wasn't the overtly racist era of the 50's and 60's but this was definitely before being black was popular.
Black celebrities weren't as plentiful on TV unless they were athletes. The Cosby Show was the only "black" show on but stars could be seen in shows like the A-team or Love Boat. And Hip Hop was just starting to blossom.
I remember the first time I realized the negative impact of the word ghetto was on a trip to the beach in Ocean City, MD. While checking into the hotel with my friends, the woman behind the counter ran down the list of rules. One of the rules was "No Ghettoblasters". At the time I was confused from never hearing the term before. She explained to me that they were big radios that people in the cities carry around. We didn't have one so there was no need to worry. I gave her a funny look and went about my vacation undisturbed.
It wasn't until a few years later when a comedian performed a joke on Comic View did the word take off in mainstream use. I remember hearing people use the term describe the ways we did things to get by in a negative light. Using a hanger for an antenna, drinking Kool Aid, driving an old car or just something different than the accuser became, ghetto.
I wondered why this happening. The I noticed that people thought it was funny but it was a case of people laughing at you not with you. Those making the joke were too ignorant to the fact that they were making fun of their own culture and themselves.
As always, the term was picked up by those who understood the use of the term and began to use it with a different meaning. Once again a word became code for blacks or in this case, the things that black people do. It is a form of hidden racism and unrealized self hate which does nothing to further our development in the world.
In our hurries attempts to look and act cool, sometimes we create things which appear to enhance but only injure. There's that old lie we tell to children that "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" to help combat teasing but we should be teaching them that some words have hidden meanings and lasting affects. We are made of flesh and bone not rubber, words penetrate deeply.