December 12, 2009 Hello Ghetto Peeps!
This was the opening line of a tweet one of my closest friends wrote yesterday. It then proceeded to critique the “pointless conversation” that he overheard young “hoods” have on the way home. Like many who have varied opinions on what is needed to encourage progress in poor communities of color here, he went on about how much better it would be if they knew how to act, how to speak, how to fit in to the “real world”. And naturally, these “bohemian children” could not be entrusted with power to control their futures or ours.
Is social currency a crucial aspect to moving forward in life? Absolutely. It would be naive for me to pretend that the way one dresses, speaks, and interacts with others doesn’t have any bearing on how we are perceived, and what opportunities come our way. However, built into many hood-bashing opinions that are passed off regularly is a dangerous assumption that has worked its way into many forms of development.
If you are a “ghetto peep” you are probably assumed to be a lot of things. You’re probably expected to be someone whose language is peppered with colorful expressions like “whut it do shawty” and plenty of curses. Speaking of color, you probably have a lot of it on your skin, in your clothing, and in the weave you bought last week. You’re probably loud in public, have too many children, and have a name with many syllables and letter repetition (i.e. Tyquayquay, Shankeela).
What you are not expected to be, is someone who has good ideas, creative ability, or thoughtful and valuable opinions. And this is a huge problem.
I think that we too readily associate people from a neighborhood, family, or country that is lacking in financial resources with being someone who is lacking creatively, intuitively, or mentally. Even though the source of this blog started with an observation of this in domestic poverty, the same penchant for treating people from poor countries as people who are incapable of having valid and valuable thoughts and it’s one of the reasons why so many development initiatives in developing countries launched by organizations based in the United States and Europe have been unsuccessful; they never expect people to be able to contribute to their own progress. So the solutions are based on theory and assumptions that have little to do with people’s realities.
What I love about microfinance is the message that the model sends to individuals who are being lent money. It is not based on the idea that you must act like someone who has not lived in a poor neighborhood to be deserving of access to capital. It says, you may not have “good” credit, be from a “good” neighborhood,received “good” education, or been exposed to good opportunities…but you do have good ideas. And I trust that enough to put a few dollars on it.
Now, wouldn’t it be great if next time you saw some “ghetto peeps” you thought to yourself Hmmm, I wonder what ideas this person might have that could change their situation or lives.