Professor Terry Thuemling
5 November 2004
Behind the Walls of the Ghetto
Commenting on the famed Los Angeles ghetto in which he grew up, gangster rapper Ice Cube asserts, "If you ain't never been to the ghetto, don't ever come to the ghetto" (Cube, Ghetto Vet). But why are American ghettos filled with so much violence, drugs, and inopportunity? In John Singleton's powerful drama Boyz N the Hood the harsh reality of youths growing up in South Central Los Angeles, a place where drive-by shootings and unemployment are rampant, is brought to life. Shot entirely on location in South Central LA, Boyz N the Hood presents its story with maximum honesty and realism. The movie is a prime example of how American ghettos are dead end environments with minute chances for survival. If we are to put an end to the destitute, prison-like ghetto environments, we first need to take a look at what goes on there.
One can point to many initiating factors from racism to property owner's aspirations of gentrification that create ghettos. Furious Styles, the strong and intelligent father of the film's main character Tre, addresses the issue of why these areas are in such a dire state when he says: [ ] How do you think the crack rock gets into the country we [black people] don't own any planes, we don't own no ships we are not the people who are flyin' and floatin' that shit in here [ ] why is it that there a gun shop on almost every corner in this community? [ ] For the same reason that there's a liquor store on almost every corner in the Black community, [ ] they want us to kill ourselves. You go out to Beverly Hills you don't see that shit, the best way you can destroy a people is if you take away their ability reproduce themselves. (Singleton) In this passage, Furious presents ideas of white property holders looking for the best way to exterminate the Black and Hispanic communities in their area. The late rapper Tupac Shakur once declared, "We [Black people] ain't meant to survive cuz it's a set up" (Shakur, Keep Ya Head Up). As far-fetched as these notions may seem, they may hold more truth than one thinks. Questions arise as to the relation between the ghetto and the upper class areas. Oddly, these communities, though only miles apart, are completely detached. In a study on ghettos in America, Ed Glaeser writes that: These districts commonly called ghettos,' function culturally, intellectually, and economically apart from the busy downtown. The distance from Wall Street to the South Bronx, along these dimensions, is greater than that between New York and London or Tokyo. (Glaeser 1) The isolation of these areas seems to be the main element that is fueling the influx of violence, drugs, and unemployment. The area of Los Angeles in which Boyz N the Hood was filmed, deemed South Central, is a mere 12 miles from the downtown area. It's hard to believe that only 12 miles from one of the cities that virtually defines American culture; gunfire, drugs, and retched living conditions, are commonplace. The upper class provinces of LA such as Beverly Hills and Bel Air, which are quite differently a prime area of opportunity and big business, are the first thought of when describing the cultural make-up of the Los Angeles area. The structural characteristics of the ghetto are a reflection of its situation. Fortification appears to epitomize the ghetto in America today, just as back alleys, crowded tenements, and lack of play areas defined the slum of the late nineteenth century. In an essay dealing with the fortification of ghettos, Camillo Jose Vergara points out: Even in areas where statistics show a decrease in major crime, fortification continues to escalate, and as it does, ghettos lose their coherence. Neighborhoods are replaced by a random assortment of isolated bunkers, structures that increasingly resemble jails or power stations, their interiors effectively separated from the outside." (Vergara 1)...