Mainland People Are Ghetto

Location: Hong Kong, People’s Republic of China.

So far, no one in Hong Kong agrees with me on the comparison. But there are similarities between how mainland Chinese are perceived throughout Asia, and how inner-city African Americans are perceived in mainstream America. I knew nothing about perceptions of mainland Chinese before I came here. But what I am seeing now gives context to the term ‘global ghetto.’

Semantic Candlelight Dinner.

(Skip this section if you don’t care about semantics.) Semantics is first base for nerds, so let’s not get stuck here. The term “ghetto” is derogatory when you use it to disparage your subject. The terms “ghetto” and “ghettizen” are tarnished by by such use. But—for my purposes here—they are more descriptive than politically nuanced expressions like “under-privileged, under-resourced, under-served, or impoverished communities” (or, for that matter, “populations disproportionately subject to structural exclusions resulting in inequitable access to resources and opportunity”).

  1. ‘Ghetto’ basically means ‘hood’:
    from Italian…[borghetto is] diminutive of borgo, of Germanic origin, see borough
  2. ‘Ghetto’ is not necessarily ‘slum’:
    A slum is a very low income area marked by poor living conditions… Some ghettos became slums and so now the two ideas have intertwined in the minds of many.

So, What is “Global Ghetto”?

Global ghetto is the gestalt of what ghettos have in common transracially and transnationally—good and bad. It’s what arises from billions of people living in cities—in proximity to extreme wealth, and also in extreme isolation from it. It’s poverty and swag. Hip-hop and illiteracy. Hygiene issues and accidental hipsterism. The rank and file of the poor fighting to survive and thrive on the lethal doorstep of middle class indifference.

In the midst of global ghettos, the middle class tweets its outrage at the habits, aesthetics, and vernacular of those culturally, geographically, and legally positioned as outsiders. Balking at what it finds grotesque—while the ghettizens of this Galapagosian foundry, imprisoned in its belly, leech strange chemicals and vital proteins into the corpus of the city—or devour it like a cancer, out of alienated rage, or blinding desperation.

Global ghetto is what we get when we manage social difference with spatial segregation. When we quarantine ourselves in history and law, just like we have learned to do in our luxury high-rises or housing developments. When we have sunk our islands, razed our forests, fled our neighbors, and pimped our constitution, our children, and our planetary future for the price of approximately three vanilla soy lattes per day.

What People Say:

  • Hong Kong: “I have never seen people spit so much.”
  • San Francisco: “You know how mainland people are.”
  • Philippines: “That hotel is Chinky. Everything is tile.”
  • South Korea: “Why go to China? Why not stay in Korea?”

People Not on Best Behavior:

World Bank Numbers, Circa 2008:

From Anup Shah, Poverty Facts and StatsGlobal Issues, Updated: January 07, 2013:

…poverty has not been reduced by as much as was hoped, although it certainly has dropped since 1981…it appears that much of the poverty reduction in the last couple of decades almost exclusively comes from China:

  • China’s poverty rate fell from 85% to 15.9%, or by over 600 M people
  • China accounts for nearly all the world’s reduction in poverty
  • Excluding China, poverty fell only by around 10%

Screenshot 2013-10-16 03.40.31

YouTube Videos:


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