Commentary: What Exactly is ‘Ghetto Parenting’?
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It turns out that people living in low income neighborhoods are sometimes the lousiest parents. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, herself an African-American, recently ignited a heated debate when she coined the phrase “ghetto parenting” to describe the bad parenting she has witnessed in the ‘hood. In her column “Ghetto Parenting Dooms Kids,” Mitchell describes this new style of parenting (new, because most parenting experts have long decided on four types of parenting styles: Authoritative, Authoritarian, Neglectful and Permisssive) as such:

  • Ghetto parenting is cursing around, and at, a child.
  • Ghetto parenting is brawling with your man or your woman in front of your child.
  • Ghetto parenting is letting your child roam the streets until somebody else’s mother has to tell the child to go home.
  • Ghetto parenting is putting your child off on friends and relatives because you want to hang out in the street.
  • Ghetto parenting is getting so hooked on substances that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has to remove your children and place them with strangers.

These behaviors are hardly unique to the Black parents in the inner-city. (Has anyone bothered to watch “Cops” and “Jerry Springer” lately, if only for sociological purposes?) To be fair, Mitchells’ column was in response to Derek Lemon, a 23-year-old young man who witnessed his baby brother, Eric Morse, being thrown out of a 14th window when he was eight. Sixteen years later, and Lemon has been found guilty of killing his aunt’s boyfriend. Mitchell takes Lemon’s mother, Teri Morse (who was a drug addict), to task for her son’s decisions and for being a bad parent. She places Morse’s children’s fate at her feet. “There was no one to argue that the biggest share of the blame belonged to the mother who allowed her young sons to wander around the notoriously dangerous housing project unsupervised,” she writes. “No one to say straight out that had Toni Morse fulfilled her obligation to parent her children, Eric Morse would not have ended up in that apartment.” Mitchell doesn’t think the word ghetto is offensive and prefers to look at it as a state of mind that leads to “disgusting” behavior. “You also don’t have to be poor to be ghetto… the most high-profile example of someone who could be accused of “ghetto parenting” is pop star Britney Spears,” she writes. Point taken, but while Mitchell may have meant to do nothing more than call out bad parenting, in the world we live in, using the phrase “ghetto” more often than not means you’re talking about Black, Hispanic and poor people. No matter how you coat it, it is often ascribed to low-class mentality and behavior, and in certain circles, used to belittle. Added to that, the underlying narrative in Mitchell’s column is that of Toni Morse, Lemon’s mother, whose drug addiction resulted in the removal of all seven of her children. “Here is a mother who failed her children in every way,” writes Mitchell. But where are the fathers (or male figures) in this blame game? Not excusing Morse’s behavior in any way, but did she birth those seven children on her own? No. How convenient is it to make a Black mother the poster child of “ghetto parenting”? As observed by Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell the history of depicting Black mothers as “monstrous” and abusive — a practice dating back to slavery — is still relevant in this day. In my eyes Morse, her family and her community failed her children. I would even go so far as to say we all fail children like Derek Lemon every day by not stepping in to offer sustainable solutions. We fail by dismissing them as destined to a life of crime, by not being outraged and taking action at statistics that show that Black boys are suspended more and are overly represented in Special Ed. Doesn’t it take a village? I need not remind anyone of the endless examples of extraordinary parenting found in inner-city neighborhoods (ahem, Michelle Obama was raised in the same city streets as Derek Lemon), so it seems particularly hurtful that instead of offering solutions for parents who let “the streets raise their children” (as Lemon’s mother did), Mitchell opts to do what the rest of the world already does to poor parents: point a judgmental finger. What do you think?

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