The word nerd in me always gets a snarky thrill from reading Topshop's shoe names. Delightfully nonsensical, yet vaguely evocative, I like imagining the copywriter's small joy when they land upon the consonant beauty of "Fang Flatforms," the misty-eyed nostalgia of "Nowadays T-Bars," or the thoroughly inaccurate "Rodeo Snake High Heel Sandals." But this morning, on my weekly Topshop cute-heel hunt, I came across a whole different type of nonsense. Ladies and gents, meet the so-called "Ghetto Court Shoe."
Unless our inner cities are suddenly filled with folks teetering in ankle-strap pumps, I can't figure out for the life of me why Topshop would choose to name this shoe "ghetto." Perhaps it's a sophisticated critique of institutionalized racism and poverty? Underfunded inner-city schools? Stop-and-frisk policies that unfairly target minorities? The denial of bank-lending services based on race known as redlining? Maybe in England, ghettos are different: just chill places where ladies rock killer pumps. The website's spartan product description remains mum on the topic, but we've reached out to the brand for comment and will update this article when we hear back.
Of course, Topshop's use of the term "ghetto" is meant to be neither descriptive nor interrogative. The retailer used it for the same reason that most people who have never lived in one do — because they think it's a cute and edgy thing to say. Same reason the friends I made in college called the supermarket near my childhood home "so ghetto" with wrinkled noses. Same reason my white friends in L.A. seem to relish calling the police helicopters that fly overhead at night "ghetto birds." Same reason people loved calling nameplate necklaces and gold chains "ghetto fabulous" 10 years ago — although now we've moved on to "ratchet," a term that's slightly more coded and thus gives its user even more insider cred.
There really isn't any good reason to name a shoe "ghetto" or to use it as a throwaway adjective at all. This is not about being PC or on a linguistic high horse. This is about the fact that ghettos are real places, right now and in every city, where generations of people are stuck in institutionalized poverty. Ghettos are a serious human rights problem, not a cutesy dismissive descriptor for anything vaguely "urban." So, you know, can we just...not?
And, just to head off the inevitable apology at the pass, we don't think the intent was to offend here. But, that doesn't matter. And, neither does the fact that the word "ghetto" isn't being used descriptively. It's being used thoughtlessly, the way it always is, and that's the underlying problem.