This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Ghetto" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (May 2007) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

A ghetto is a section of a city occupied by a minority group who live there especially because of social, economic, or legal pressure. The word was originally used to refer to the Venetian Ghetto in Venice, Italy, where Jews were required to live. The corresponding German term was Judengasse. In Moroccan Arabic, ghettos were called mellah. The term came into widespread use during World War II to refer to Nazi ghettos.

The term "Ghetto" is now commonly used to refer to any poverty-stricken urban area. In the U.S, "Rural ghetto" is used to describe mobile home parks, farm labor housing tracts, and Indian reservations. Urban neighborhoods where Hispanic immigrants settled in the late 20th century (called barrios) are said to be comparable to ghettos, because most immigrants are clustered in culturally isolated enclaves.

Ghettos are formed in three ways:[1]

"Ghetto" is also used figuratively, in a classist manner, to indicate geographic areas with a concentration of any type of person (e.g. gay ghetto, student ghetto). "Ghetto" is also used in slang as an adjective to describe how city-like or thug-like something is.

Etymologies suggested for the word 'Ghetto' derive from "getto", the Italian term for casting, the Griko Ghetonia (Γειτονία, neighbourhood), the Italian borghetto for "small neighborhood", or the Hebrew word get (Hebrew: גט), literally a "bill of divorce." A common explanation is that the name is derived for the "campo gheto", an area that iron foundries in Venice in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries used for cooling slag (Venetian "gheta"; Italian "ghetta"), where Jews were forced to locate.

Jewish ghettos in Europe

Main article: Jewish ghettos in Europe

Jewish ghettos in Europe

Main article: Jewish ghettos in Europe

Because they were viewed as cultural minorities due to their non-Christian beliefs in a Renaissance Christian environment, Jews were placed under strict regulations throughout many European cities.[2]

South African ghettos

The Group Areas Act (27 April 1950) barred people of particular races from various urban areas.

Soweto is a mostly black urban area to the south west of Johannesburg. During the apartheid regime, Soweto was constructed for the specific purpose of housing black people who were then living in areas designated by the government for white settlement, such as the multi-racial area called Sophiatown. Today, Soweto is among the poorest parts of Johannesburg; however, there have been recent signs of economic improvement and Soweto has become a centre for nightlife and tourist excursions. There are other ghetto parts of South Africa like KwaMashu in Durban in the KZN province and Crossroads near Cape Town, as well as numerous squatter camps in and around the larger centres.

United States


The Irish immigrants of the 19th century were the first ethnic group to form Urban Areas in America’s cities, followed by Italians and Poles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Irish and Eastern European immigrants in the early twentieth century actually were more segregated than blacks of that era; they lived almost as segregated as blacks do today.[3] Because there was no official housing segregation against most European immigrants, the second or third generation families are able to relocate to better housing in the suburbs after World War II if possible. Other ethnic ghettos are the Lower East Side in Manhattan, New York was predominantly Jewish until the 1950s, and Spanish Harlem also in Manhattan, New York was home to a large Puerto Rican community dated back to the 1930s. Little Italys across the country were predominantly Italian ghettos.

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, or through redlining) often forced urban African Americans to live in specific neighborhoods, which 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 Southeast San Diego, South Phoenix, Homewood and the Hill District in Pittsburgh, PA, North Philadelphia, PA, North side of Milwaukee, WI certain areas of Detroit, much of Atlanta, GA, the Third Ward and South Park, in Houston, Highland Park, MI, Compton and parts of the San Fernando Valley, South LA, and Crenshaw in Los Angeles, and the Mission District in San Francisco in Bronzeville in Chicago, Gary, Rockford, St. Louis in Missouri, Mattapan in Boston, Massachusetts, Harlem in New York City in Paterson, New Jersey in Miami such as Liberty City, Overtown, Little Haiti and Opa Locka.

The "black ghetto"

A black ghetto- Woodward Avenue in Detroit

See also: White flight

See also: Racial segregation in the United States

Black-White segregation is decreasing fairly consistently for most metropolitan areas and cities. Despite these pervasive patterns, many changes for individual areas are small.[4] Thirty years after the civil rights era, the United States remains a residentially segregated society in which both blacks and whites inhabit different neighborhoods of vastly different quality.[5][6] Cities throughout history have contained distinct ethnic districts. But rarely have they been so isolated and impoverished as the African-American districts found in U.S. cities today.[3]

Due to segregated conditions and widespread poverty some black neighborhoods in the United States have been called "ghettos." The use of this term is controversial and, depending on the context, potentially offensive. Most of these neighborhoods are in North-eastern cities where African Americans moved during The Great Migration (1914-1950) a period when over a million[7] African Americans moved out of the rural Southern United States to escape the widespread racism of the South, to seek out employment opportunities in urban environments, and to pursue what was widely perceived to be a better life in the North.[8]African-American ghettos started out well, economically. In the Midwest, ghettos were built on high wages from manufacturing jobs. The African-American ghettos of the mid-twentieth century appear to have been much less harmful than those of today.[3] However, segregation increased most in those cities with the greatest black in-migration. Whites felt more threatened by larger influxes of blacks, and their racism grew. [3]

Umoja Village in Miami.

In the years after World War II, many white Americans began to move away from inner cities to newer suburban communities, a process known as white flight. White flight occurred, in part, as a response to black people moving into white urban neighborhoods, and remains a significant cause in the spread of urban decay.[9] Discriminatory practices, especially those intended to "preserve" emerging white suburbs, restricted the ability of non-whites to move from inner-cities to suburbs, even when they were economically able to afford it. In contrast to this, the same period in history marked a massive suburban expansion available primarily to whites of both wealthy and working class backgrounds, facilitated through highway construction and the availability of federally subsidized home mortgages (VA, FHA, HOLC) which made it easier for families to buy new homes in the suburbs — but not to rent apartments in cities.[10]

In response to the influx of black people from the South, banks, insurance companies, and businesses began redlining--denying or increasing the cost of services, such as banking, insurance, access to jobs,[11] access to health care,[12] or even supermarkets[13] to residents in certain, often racially determined,[14] areas. The most devastating form of redlining, and the most common use of the term, refers to mortgage discrimination. Data on house prices and attitudes toward integration suggest that in the mid-twentieth century, segregation was a product of collective actions taken by whites to exclude blacks from their neighborhoods.[15] This meant that ethnic minorities could secure mortgage loans only in certain areas, and it resulted in a large increase in the residential racial segregation and urban decay in the United States.[16] The creation of these highways in some cases divided and isolated black neighborhoods from goods and services, many times within industrial corridors. For example, Birmingham’s interstate highway system attempted to maintain the racial boundaries that had been established by the city’s 1926 racial zoning law. The construction of interstate highways through black neighborhoods in the city led to significant population loss in those neighborhoods and is associated with an increase in neighborhood racial segregation.[17] By 1990, the legal barriers enforcing segregation had been replaced by decentralized racism, where whites pay more than blacks to live in predominantly white areas.[15] Some social scientists suggest that the historical processes of suburbanization and decentralization are instances of white privilege that have contributed to contemporary patterns of environmental racism.[18]

Despite mainstream America’s use of the term "ghetto" to signify a poor, culturally or racially-homogenous urban area, those living in the area often used it to signify something positive. The black ghettos did not always contain dilapidated houses and deteriorating projects, nor were all of its residents poverty-stricken. For many African Americans, the ghetto was "home" a place representing authentic blackness and a feeling, passion, or emotion derived from the rising above the struggle and suffering of being black in America.[19] Langston Hughes relays in the "Negro Ghetto" (1931) and "The Heart of Harlem" (1945): "The buildings in Harlem are brick and stone/And the streets are long and wide,/But Harlem’s much more than these alone,/Harlem is what’s inside." Playwright August Wilson used the term "ghetto" in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) and Fences (1987), both of which draw upon the author’s experience growing up in the Hill district of Pittsburgh, a black ghetto.[2]

Other "ghettos"

Chinatowns, where most Chinese immigrants settled from the 1850s onward in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Oakland (Near San Francisco), Los Angeles and other major cities originated as racially segregated enclaves. However, most Chinese Americans no longer reside in those urban sections, but Asian immigration since the 1970s repopulated Chinatowns, even though Little Italys, Chinatowns and other ethnic neighborhoods have become more middle-class in recent times, dominated by successful restaurant owners, family-owned stores and businessmen able to start up their own companies. Many have become tourist attractions in their own right.[citation needed]

In the Southwest U.S., Mexican Americans had historical low-income urban areas known as barrios located in cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Houston, Denver, San Jose, Santa Ana, San Bernardino and San Antonio struggled with issues of crime, drugs, youth gangs and family breakdown. However, middle-class and college-educated Hispanics moved out of barrios for the suburbs. The barrios continually thrived by the large influx of immigration from Mexico, this largely due to the explosion of the Hispanic/Latino population in the late 20th century. The majority of residents in these urban barrios are immigrants directly from Mexico and Latin America.[citation needed]

Great Britain

The term "ghetto" is not widely used in Great Britain to describe present-day areas of poverty, though these do exist in many inner cities. Areas where low incomes and high proportions of ethnic minorities (including sub-Saharan Africans, West Indians, and Asians of Indian and Pakistani origin) are found together include the London areas of Brixton, Hackney, Tottenham, Edmonton, Harlesden, parts of the London Borough of Islington, Newham and Peckham.

Similar underprivileged non-white inner-city areas outside the capital include the Aston, Handsworth and Lozells areas of Birmingham; Chapeltown and Harehills in Leeds; St Ann's in Nottingham; Burngreave and Park Hill in Sheffield; Moss Side in Manchester; and Caerau and Ely in Cardiff. Racial tensions and the impact of immigration are strongly felt in areas with a working-class majority.


Major cities and towns in Northern Ireland can be roughly divided into ghettos, of Catholic Irish nationalists and Protestant British unionists/loyalists.This division is less apparent in more affluent areas, but in more working class areas, territory is marked, particularly in loyalist areas, by flags and murals. In the south, there are towns which are decidedly Protestant, which keep to themselves and do not associate with the larger Catholic population, although more recently this has become less obvious.

Post-World War II France

There are also ghettos in modern France. The poorer banlieues, or suburbs, of France, especially those of Paris, house an impoverished population largely of North African and sub-Saharan African origin in large medium- and high-rise building developments known as "Cités". They were built in the 1960s and 1970s in the industrial suburbs to the north and east of Paris, especially in the Département of Seine-St-Denis (also known from its departmental code as "le 93" or "le 9-3"), and in other French cities like Venissieux near Lyon. They are similar in style and have similar problems as the large inner-city urban renewal projects in the US (like Cabrini Green in Chicago). Social issues that inhabitants of French ghettos must deal with regularly, including racism and police brutality, were famously highlighted in the 1996 film La Haine. Although there has been civil unrest (sometimes resulting in rioting) in these ghettos for decades, many people outside of France were not fully aware of the situation until the more internationally publicised 2005 riots, which largely originated within these areas.

Czech Republic

A Roma ghetto in Chánov, Czech Republic.

A few ghettos have appeared in the Czech Republic. These ghettos are mainly inhabited by Roma who move there both voluntarily or involuntarily (municipalities often try to relocate them from other areas). The majority of the people are unemployed and uneducated, and the crime rate is high. As a ghetto begins to appear non-Roma people move away. The most infamous ghetto in the Czech Republic is Chánov (part of the city of Most). Other cities with neighborhoods slowly transforming into ghettos include Karviná.

During the Second World War, the Terezín ghetto was created to house mass numbers of Czech Jews before deportation to concentration camps, (typically Auschwitz), where the Jews would be exterminated. The Nazis sanitized the ghetto to appear like a "joyful place" to dupe the Red Cross during two visits. The Jewish artists of Terezin created memorable artwork during their stay before being shipped out to concentration camps and gas chambers.

Cultural life

Some ghettos have been known as vibrant cultural centers, for example the late 19th century Paris, or Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s. Many African-American artists and musicians such as Notorious B.I.G., John Lee Hooker, Tupac Shakur, Nina Simone, and Cab Calloway, to name only a handful, were born and raised in ghettos, and much of their music comes from their own suffering, experiences and life in the ghetto or their own experiences with desegregation, eg. Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam" (on the 1964 Nina Simone In Concert), John Lee Hooker's "Rent Blues", Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five's "The Message", Akon's "Ghetto", Huey's "Nobody Loves The Hood", and Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher". The 1970s sitcom Good Times was modeled after life in the Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago. The show portrays a ghetto family that always triumphs over adversity and it has been criticized for painting too rosy a picture of how the ghetto really works [citation needed].

In the United States and Britain, the word "ghetto" is often glorified in popular culture and sometimes used as an adjective to describe a certain way of dressing, speaking, and behaving. Like the pejorative terms redneck, white trash, "cheapie" and "tightwad", there's a new meaning for "ghetto" may describe one's frugal buying habits unlike that of the middle and upper-classes. In common lingo, it may also be used to describe a place or object that is "poorly maintained" or badly put together.[20]

See also


  1. ^ Ghettos: The Changing Consequences of Ethnic Isolation
  2. ^ a b GHETTO Kim Pearson Cite error: The named reference "Pearson" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  3. ^ a b c d Ghettos: The Changing Consequences of Ethnic Isolation Spring 1997 by Ed Glaeser Cite error: The named reference "Glaeser" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  4. ^ Inequality and Segregation R Sethi, R Somanathan - Journal of Political Economy, 2004
  5. ^ SEGREGATION AND STRATIFICATION: A Biosocial Perspective Douglas S. Massey Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race (2004), 1: 7-25 Cambridge University Press
  6. ^ Inequality and Segregation Rajiv Sethi and Rohini Somanathan Journal of Political Economy, volume 112 (2004), pages 1296–1321
  7. ^ The Great Migration
  8. ^ The Great Migration
  9. ^ Central City White Flight: Racial and Nonracial Causes William H. Frey American Sociological Review, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Jun., 1979), pp. 425-448
  10. ^ "Racial" Provisions of FHA Underwriting Manual, 1938

    Recommended restrictions should include provision for: prohibition of the occupancy of properties except by the race for which they are intended …Schools should be appropriate to the needs of the new community and they should not be attended in large numbers by inharmonious racial groups. Federal Housing Administration, Underwriting Manual: Underwriting and Valuation Procedure Under Title II of the National Housing Act With Revisions to February, 1938 (Washington, D.C.), Part II, Section 9, Rating of Location.

  11. ^ Racial Discrimination and Redlining in Cities
  12. ^ See: Race and health
  13. ^ In poor health: Supermarket redlining and urban nutrition, Elizabeth Eisenhauer, GeoJournal Volume 53, Number 2 / February, 2001
  14. ^ How East New York Became a Ghetto by Walter Thabit. ISBN 0814782671. Page 42.
  15. ^ a b The Rise and Decline of the American Ghetto David M. Cutler, Edward L. Glaeser, Jacob L. Vigdor The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 107, No. 3 (Jun., 1999), pp. 455-506 Cite error: The named reference "vigdor" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  16. ^ Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States by Professor Kenneth T. Jackson ISBN: 0195049837
  17. ^ From Racial Zoning to Community Empowerment: The Interstate Highway System and the African American Community in Birmingham, Alabama Charles E. Connerly Journal of Planning Education and Research, Vol. 22, No. 2, 99-114 (2002)
  18. ^ Rethinking Environmental Racism: White Privilege and Urban Development in Southern California Laura Pulido Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 90, No. 1 (Mar., 2000), pp. 12-40
  19. ^ Smitherman, Geneva. Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
  20. ^