Opinion: Berkeley should continue to use the term ‘Gourmet Ghetto’

The use of the word ‘ghetto’ has evolved. If its use is prohibited from further evolution, then it forever will remain as a demeaning reference to the circumstances of a group of people living in a defined location.

There are two compelling reasons to continue using the term “Gourmet Ghetto.” One is technical and the other is political.

The technical reason to reject calls to ban use of the term is the fatal flaws in the logic used to rationalize the ban. Said logic is so flawed that it cannot form the basis of a public policy. The political reason for keeping the term is that discontinuing its use would undo a neutral or even positive step towards achieving “a more perfect union” of disparate elements in our community.

The crux of the argument for discontinuing use of the term “Gourmet Ghetto” as reported by Berkeleyside is, “the racially charged connotation of the word ghetto, a word that has evolved over the years to be a pejorative way to describe aspects of black culture.” This argument fails on the following technical grounds.

Despite its acknowledgment that language evolves, the rationale erroneously suggests both that the word “ghetto” has landed on the definition given and that the definition or use of the word ghetto cannot further evolve. The opposite is true. Use of the word “ghetto” has evolved. If its use is prohibited from further evolution, then it forever will remain as a demeaning reference to the circumstances of a group of people living in a defined location. This is an unacceptable outcome.

As an aside, the description of “ghetto” as an “aspect of black culture” is ill-advised. Since there are plenty of well-to-do predominately black neighborhoods, the word “ghetto” logically is associated with poverty rather than race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other descriptor of groups of people. Equating (black) races with impoverished classes is a common error that the policy-proposer has made while making what he seems to think is an effort to advocate for blacks.

Furthermore, banning use of the word “ghetto” astonishingly would fail to notice that those who created and propagated the term “Gourmet Ghetto” applied it to themselves and not to some “other” people. Therefore, they cannot possibly have meant it to suggest anything negative.

Finally, this area has been called (by some) the “Gourmet Ghetto” for several decades which negates the claim that the definition of “ghetto” is settled and immutable. If you doubt this point, Google “Gourmet Ghetto” (using the quotation marks) and review some of the 363,000 results.

This brings us to the fact that the proposed banishment fails on political grounds. Berkeleyites (or Berkeleyans if you prefer) actually did expand the meaning of the word “ghetto” to also mean an area where similar businesses (in this case “gourmet” restaurants) are located. Anyone genuinely concerned with taking actions that might help marginalized people feel a little more included in our community should applaud this accomplishment. In this arena, every little bit helps.

Let’s go forward with the assumption that the term “Gourmet Ghetto” included the “word” ghetto to knock some of the stigma of exclusivity off of the word “Gourmet” and to signal that all who can afford to are welcome to dine at these establishments. If this assumption is correct, the coiners of the phrase were more concerned about the negative implications of the word “gourmet” than they were about the word “ghetto”. How Berkeley can you be?

Let’s reject the suggestion that we ban this new-ish use of the word “ghetto”. “Gourmet Ghetto” it is!

Long-time Berkeleyite Patricia Mapps is a member of a family of mixed-race children formed by her Mayflower descendant great-great-grandmother in East Texas in the 1870s.