The "GHETTO" Contradiction

The Perspective of a Street Intellectual 

By Karlos L. Marshall 

From the depths of my soul and the valleys of my spirit, at the most fundamental level as a graduate student studying Higher Education Administration at the University of Dayton, while examining social constructs from an artistic lens as a creative team member for GHETTO: A Retail Art Installation and co-creator of Akademy (i.e., a sub-line of GHETTO that specifically examines the usage and terminology of “ghetto” on college campuses) – I ask – why is that Black folks are the only folks on the universe, that when we show love and affection towards our own kind, it is viewed and popularized as aggression?

Waging war is how you defend your humanity, but it is only through the humility of love that you truly experience the existing essences and nuances of life, as a human being. That is to say, for it is the kinship of Black love you see marching in the streets of bastardized ghettos as they hold up signs for justice. For it is Black love that you see righteously shout #BlackLivesMatter on New York City street corners – that sadly know stop-and-frisk as if it were a first cousin. For it is Black love that you witnessed a “die-in” on your college campus.

They say, “It’s a Black thing, you wouldn’t understand.” But I refuse to let that be the excuse for another generation. On many college campuses where students profess themselves to be the presupposed enlightened, we have the blind leading the blind with few willing to truly challenge their preconceived notions, ill-informed assumptions and familial upbringings that are the arguable devoid of cultural realities. 

What happened to the value of the lived experiences – as opposed to the ones that just hail from the hierarchy of academia?

You see, “The paradox in education is precisely this,” James Baldwin (1963) wrote, “that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” This is the quintessential philosophical undertaking that we must seek as a nation that will have more non-whites than whites attending our higher education institutions in the not too distant future.

We must understand that it extends beyond just race to a culture that has manifested unjust and undo suffering and harm to our women, our children, our Black, brown and yellow bodies, our LGBTQ communities, our elderly folk and our people of lower socioeconomic and political plights. But most importantly of all – to you if you are unconscious and/or defensive to what I am saying.

If that is you, I apologize ‘to you’ as you have been deprived of the truth. But in no way, shape or form do I apologize ‘for you’ and your unwillingness to engage this conversation by thoughts and/or your actions – as Brotha Dr. Cornel West will tell you “that the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak.”

So speaking it is.

I witnessed students unflinchingly attest that “those are rioters and looters in Ferguson – there’s nothing but hate filled in those communities.” Those comments were mournfully reminiscent of the ones I trembled upon hearing during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as a high school student. 

But wasn’t it just a year ago around this time, that all of the University of Dayton faithful took to the streets of Kiefaber, which current students and generational alumni alike call the “Ghetto” as a term of privileged endearment, much like the other 14 universities (and counting) that call their student neighborhood some variation of “The Ghetto” – as students jumped on cars, burned a couch on Frericks and were then met by SWAT teams during a scene that produced imagery in the likeness of militarized police forces in Ferguson?

Wasn’t it just two years ago that a St. Patrick’s Day riot occurred on the campus of the University (whether from UD students or not) that caused damage to 11 cars, including a police cruiser? 

I don’t think so – I know so.

The difference was white bodies celebrating victory or cultural heritage as opposed to Black bodies fighting for justifiable survival on the basis of the first law of nature (i.e., self-preservation). Justifiable survival on the basis of not just a single isolated incident, but rather on the basis of a habitual pattern of systematic oppression and racial discrimination, which was outlined and depicted in the exhaustive 104-page DOJ Ferguson Police Department Report.

What makes Ferguson a riot instead of an uprising, anyway – political views? But if a riot is a riot, why don’t we depict them all as such?

But I guess its all good when the riot is for the love and affinity of your school’s March Madness Sweet 16 victory, right?


But what happens when that University campus is your neighborhood city blocks, or Michael Brown is your teammate in the form of a family member and/or friend? What happens when the urban area, in which you were born and raised, may very well be the only campus you have ever known due to the cycle of systematic generational devastation at the hands of “white flight” and gentrification?

I humbly ask, where have we gone wrong with our depiction of Blackness and urbanities that we as folk of people have made Black pride simultaneous with Black violence and self-destruction?

The contemplation of contradiction is flesh deep just like Kendrick Lamar’s Blacker the Berry. 

To those of you that say why is it just about whites killing Blacks – what about Black on Black violence: well contrary to popular belief – we do address said issues of KKK – Kin Killin Kin in our communities.

Further, to those of you that raised such questions throughout the duration of this educational opinion piece, or change #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter, you have simply missed the boat – one us Black folks wish we didn’t have to aboard.

Consequently, it’s hard not to lose a piece of your spirited soulfulness every time you have to drain yourself to justify your actions and/or thoughts to prove that racism still exist, even before you can actually start the conversation and/or work on diversity. 

As I sat in the office at ArtStreet and wrote this piece, I asked one of our student employee’s about said University riots, and she stated that “it was relatively peaceful besides a few individuals.” Was that not the case in Ferguson, or did you just believe the often times unchallenged journalistic integrity of news reporters that glorified the violence of contemporary ghettos, yet again?

Irrespective of race, gender or creed, as a nation that has mass incarcerated more souls than almost all other civilized nations combined, how have we managed to create and sustain a system that at best – is economically prosperous, and at worst – morally bankrupt?

More on, one must make the invisible, visible – as cultural context in society is largely lost as stories of the ghetto are depicted ‘for’ the ghetto, not ‘by’ the ghetto. Historically and traditionally, there has been and foreseeably always will be an Avante-garde approach to examining Black culture – you must not look any further than the overflow of Hip Hop to suburban America for that.

Given the former understanding of Black love and Black life, is it not Black love and Black life that America seeks to have access to at all levels of commercialized, commoditized and exploited levels? Whether it’s from Cabrini Green to the latest “I Can’t Breathe” fashion trend, the realities of Black woven cotton threads of storytelling are continuously trivialized.

As a young Black male, it may very well be that very moment when I show up to class with my sleeves of “ink” exposed that I become the very thing that does not belong in those privileged spaces – as an authoritative professorial-like figure.

I go from being the culturally intellectual and creative Black graduate educator to a recognizable popular cultural Black image – as the epitome of my existence as a street intellectual is arguably paradoxically situated as a young Black scholar in the Akademy and a “tatted” Black racial portrayal.  

We must all challenge the righteous notions of the late great Biggie Smalls, whom said, “Stereotypes of a Black male just misunderstood – And it’s still all good.”

As a result, it is one’s purpose to advance the common good of common people, in uncommon ways, by way of unconventional wisdom, but ordinary thought – as only the most courageous individuals can show where they are headed, while still embodying where they hail from.

As I drop the mic on this proverbial freestyle, which is conversed for an educational cypher of open discussion, I leave you with this – To free Black children that are caged birds and that have faced lyrical mortality by way of a lived silence, one must think of oneself as the teacher, the world as their classroom, and the individuals they encounter as their students – as literary, cultural and artistic devices are the keys to unlocking said cage, that withholds endless amounts of fruitful potential – as you can’t teach the children, let alone love the children, if you’re afraid of the children.

GHETTO: A Retail Art Installation will be on view at ArtStreet's White Box Gallery through March 31. ArtStreet is located at the intersection of Lawnview Avenue and Kiefaber Street on the University of Dayton campus. ArtStreet is open 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday. For more information about ArtStreet events, call 937-229-5101 or visit udayton.edu/artstreet.

Previous Post

GHETTO: A Retail Art Installation

ArtStreet presents a provocatively compelling, radically designed exhibition in the White Box Gallery.

Read More
Next Post

Neighborhood. Not ?Ghetto.?

Kiersten Remster '17 discusses her change in perspective as a result of ArtStreet's GHETTO: A Retail Art Installation.

Read More