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The name ghetto refers to an area where people from a given ethnic background or united in a given culture or religion live as a group, voluntarily or involuntarily, in milder or stricter seclusion. The word historically referred to restricted housing zones for Jews; however, it now commonly labels any poverty-stricken urban area.


Jewish ghettos in Europe

13th–18th century

The first ghettos appeared in Germany, Spain and Portugal, in the 13th century, but some authors use the same word to indicate the destination towns to which the Roman Empire deported Jews from the first to the fourth centuries CE.

The term ghetto comes from Venice's Ghetto in the 14th century. Before the designation of this part of the city for the Jews it was an iron foundry (getto), hence the name. Other etymologies suggested for the word include the Griko Ghetonia (Γειτονία, neighborhood), the Italian borghetto for "small neighborhood" or the Hebrew word get, literally a "bill of divorce." From the example of the Venice Ghetto the name then transferred to Jewish neighborhoods. In Castile, they were called Juderķa and in Majorca, call . It is worth noticing that the gated Jewish quarter in Venice (the Ghetto), was an affluent part of the town inhabited by merchants and moneylenders. Non-Jews were not allowed to live in this ghetto, and the gates were locked at night.

In 1555 Pope Paul IV created the Roman Ghetto and issued a canon (a papal law) to force Jews to live in a specified area. This was the last ghetto to be abolished in Western Europe, in 1883. Pope Pius V recommended that all the bordering states should set up ghettos, and at the beginning of the 17th century all the main towns had one (with the only exceptions in Italy, being Livorno and Pisa). In medieval Central Europe ghettos existed in Prague, Frankfurt am Main, Mainz and elsewhere.

The character of ghettos has varied through times. In some cases, the ghetto was a Jewish quarter with a relatively affluent population (for instance the Jewish ghetto in Venice). In other cases, ghettos have connoted impoverishment.

Since Jews could not acquire land outside the ghetto, during periods of population growth, ghettos had narrow streets and tall, crowded houses. Residents had their own justice system. Around the ghetto stood walls that during pogroms were closed from the inside during Easter Week and from the outside during Christmas or Pesach. Often ghetto residents had to have a pass to go outside of the bounds of the ghetto.

Jewish ghettos were progressively abolished, and their walls demolished, in the 19th century, following the ideals of the French Revolution. Furthermore, some Western European countries with tolerant governments (such as Napoleon's France, or the United Kingdom) incited industrious Jews to immigrate. In the Papal States, ghettos were abolished by Pope Pius IX (who relaxed many restrictions on Jews, but maintained others). The Nazis re-instituted Jewish ghettos before and during World War II in Eastern Europe. There had never been ghettos in Poland or elsewhere in Eastern Europe before the Nazis set them up there.

Famous ghettos include:

Ghetto is also an area of south-east london, known as "dirty south." If one hails from this particular area, they are known as "a ghetto." Ghetto is a crew, organised into different franchisements. It has different levels and follows a more genereric gang code of youngers and olders, babies etc. Most gang members have an alias, usually passed on to a younger family member. Ghetto is slowly dying as most of its adult members are moving away from the area and most of the youngers are in jail. This is due to the introduction of a metropolitan police "superstation."

Second World War

During World War II ghettos served as repositories in a forced concentration process of the Jewish population, easing the control of that population by the Nazis. The inhabitants of the ghettos of Central Europe were among the first to be deported to extermination camps during the Holocaust. The authorities deported Jews from everywhere in Europe to the ghettos of the East, or directly to the extermination camps. In some of the Ghettos the local resistance organisations started Ghetto uprisings.

Famous Nazi-era ghettos include:

African-American ghettos in the United States

In the United States, between the abolition of slavery and the passing of the civil rights laws of the 1960s, discriminatory mores (sometimes codified in law) often forced urban African Americans to live in specific neighborhoods, which also became known as "ghettos". Due to segregation laws, in existence in many US states until the Civil Rights Movement and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African-Americans of all economic levels had to live in ghettos such as Bronzeville in Chicago and Harlem in New York City. 1960s civil rights laws allowed wealthier African Americans to emigrate to formerly all-white areas, the economic bases of many ghettos collapsed, leaving them zones of below-average wealth, poorly-maintained housing, and high crime. By the 1970's, the Robert Taylor Homes, located in Chicago's Bronzeville, was home to the poorest and third-poorest census tracts in the United States.

The formation of the ghetto and the black underclass forms one of most controversial issues in sociology.

Charles Murray argues in Losing Ground that Great Society liberalism created the hopeless poor. Murray claims that the eligibility of single women for welfare encouraged women to have babies out of wedlock, and that welfare discouraged all from working. This theory has not met with wide acceptance. Its opponents point out that in the 1970s, when the real amounts of welfare checks decreased, out-of-wedlock births increased. Murray also missed the fact that although the percentage of blacks born out of wedlock increased in the 60s and 70s, the percentage of black women having babies out of wedlock decreased.

William Julius Wilson argues in The Truly Disadvantaged that easy access to welfare had little effect on women's decisions on childbearing. Wilson instead claims that the flight of low-skilled manufacturing jobs to the suburbs and the South left blacks economically isolated in the ghetto—the "spatial mismatch". Wilson explains the high percentage of out-of-wedlock births as due to the lack of marriageable—i.e., employed—men for mothers to marry.

Roger Waldinger offers a third, and less well known, theory of ghetto formation: detailing a mismatch between the wages which blacks desire and the wages which low-skilled jobs actually pay. The argument mainly appears in Waldinger's book, adapted from his Harvard PhD thesis, Still the Promised City?

In looking at New York City, Waldinger points out that new immigrants—Koreans, Pakistanis, Dominicans, etc—often do better than American-born blacks. Waldinger also notices that southern-born and Caribbean-born blacks have higher incomes than northern-born blacks. Waldinger argues that immigrant groups benefit by establishing nepotistic niches for themselves, and use niches for mutual help, something blacks have not been able to do. Waldinger also says that even though hotels and restaurants may offer very low wages, they still outclass wages in Mexico, rural China, or Africa; thus, immigrants readily accept them. In contrast, unskilled northern-born blacks, who hope to do something better than their parents, disdain these jobs, in hope of something better, and may often wind up working outside the legitimate economy altogether.

Cultural life and the Ghetto

It's often said that great art is born out of suffering. So it isn't necessarily a coincidence that great artists lived and still live in the Ghetto. Ghettos often became known as vibrant cultural centers, for example the late 19th century Paris, or Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s. Artists such as Ice Cube, Eminem, Naughty By Nature, The Fugees, John Lee Hooker, Nina Simone, Cab Calloway, were born and raised in ghettos, and much of their music comes from their own suffering, experiences and life in the Ghetto, eg. Nina Simone's "Missisippi Goddamn", John Lee Hooker's "Rent Blues", Ice Cube's "3 Strikes You In", Eminem's "8 Mile Road", Calloway's "Minnie The Moocher"

See also

Last updated: 02-05-2005 07:34:57
Last updated: 02-25-2005 14:00:06