My sisters and I grew up in a tough area surrounded by gangbangers, a myriad of illegal activities, underground dog and cock fights and police raids. Drugs and guns were hidden on our property, bullet holes not so hidden. We grew up in a different world than most with our own language, our own accent, our own terminology. We knew what it meant to want to “rap to” someone and what it meant to “break night” trying to “rap to” someone. At a young age my sisters and I were exposed to the violation of having our home invaded, our possessions stolen. We learned that a gunshot doesn’t sound like it does on TV, and real blood pouring from a gunshot wound doesn’t look like TV blood. We were lulled to sleep by the shouts of gang members chasing out rivals who stupidly wandered into their territory and heard of the beatings or deaths on the news the next day. They labeled us “ghetto.”
But we lived “in the hood.” I walked to the bus stop with a butterfly knife up my sleeve which served me well the day a flasher told me he had a big dick … and I looked … he had lied. But that knife never left my person and that made me “ghetto.”
I remember the “Fullerton” girls who were the FIRST to pioneer the faux hawk, taking it that one fashionable step from the mullet by slicking back the long hair on the sides so tight it defied physics, and the rest was teased to extremes that defied reason. I remember door knocker sized earrings that could knock out your “toof” if you shook your head too hard. They wore lipstick caked on so thick on their lips that the boys didn’t know whether to kiss them or use them for tagging! And the pants … the INVENTORS of the original skinny jeans … pants so tight you could see their DNA strand! And these girls were labeled “ghetto.”
In “the hood” you developed survival skills no one who’s not from the hood could understand. You lived in a jungle and you were either predator or prey. You had to dress the dress, walk the walk, talk the talk … you adapted and grew hard-plated scales around your heart, iron spikes on your skin and poison-tipped needles on your tongue. The hood made you tough, defensive, loud, aggressive, cold … and you were labeled “ghetto.”
A lot of us didn’t fit in with “the hood,” but that’s where life had plopped us. I grew up in this labyrinth full of snakes and pigs and rats that eyeballed me and my sisters with hungry eyes so that we all were forced to develop the necessary survival skills to make it out … and we were labeled “ghetto.”
But we did get out … we left “the hood” behind to grow up, to educate ourselves, to become more than “ghetto.”
I, personally, have learned to shed that which would no longer serve me but keep that which would. I’ve learned that leaving “the hood” didn’t mean I was safe. Better to know your predators in the jungle you grew up in than to be fooled by the seemingly harmless berries of a beautiful Belladonna flower. Yet still, I’ve learned to listen, to know who and what to trust, to soften against a softer world but not to give up the “ghetto” in me, simply to put it away. I’ve learned what it meant to become a lady.
I’ve learned to speak and to no longer throw needle-tipped words at people. I’ve learned how to earn respect for myself first before requiring it from others. I shed the outside armor, but kept that butterfly knife up my sleeve, so to speak. The years taught me that tough didn’t have to mean tacky, strong didn’t have to mean offensive, that the measure of a WOMAN came from what I could accomplish with my heart, my soul, my mind and not what I could accomplish with my fists, my long nails or my body.
I’ve learned that I could keep my “ghetto” and still be a lady. I learned that the difference between cLass and cRass is that “L” and “R”, one little letter that’s the difference between “L”ady and hood “R”at. I’ve learned that no matter where I came from or what circumstances, the choice was, is and will always be mine.
I’ve learned that I’m not ashamed that I grew up “ghetto,” that I’m grateful actually. I learned that it’s okay if once in a while the “ghetto” in me peeks out to say hi. It is as much a part of me as my education, my refinement, my drive for improvement. I’ve learned that where I’m from doesn’t define who I am, that the choice of who or what I become is my own. And although where I came from was not what I would have chosen for myself, it was what life chose for me and in return, I have chosen to succeed as a woman, a mother, a daughter, a lover, a LADY–not in spite of it but because of it.