Friday, November 15, 2013

When will In the Ghetto just be another song?

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms


I was driving when an Elvis Presley song came on the radio. I had heard the song many, many times growing up as my parents were big Elvis fans. This time, alone in my car, I really listened to In the Ghetto. In case you don’t remember the lyrics, here’s how it starts

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’
A poor little baby child is bornIn the ghetto
And his mama cries
Cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need
It’s another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto
Later in the song, this happens:
Then one night in desperation
A young man breaks away
He buys a gun, steals a car,
Tries to run, but he don’t get far
And his mama cries
As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man
Face down on the street with a gun in his hand
In the ghetto

In the Ghetto” was first released in 1969. Nearly 45 years ago Chicago was still the place people thought about when they thought about poverty and violence. It’s incredible sad that back in 1969 when Mac Davis sat down to write a song about generations caught in a cycle of poverty and violence, Chicago was the place that came to mind.

The violence in the 1969 song almost seems quaint. A young man steals a car and is killed trying to escape his life. In the 2013 version there would be more gang involvement and retaliation. The end result is the same, though. A young man with a gun ends up dead in the street.

Here’s how Wikipedia explains the song, “It is a narrative of generational poverty: a boy is born to a mother who already has more children than she can feed in the ghetto of Chicago. The boy grows up hungry, steals and fights, purchases a gun and steals a car, attempts to run, but is shot and killed just as another child is born. The song implies that the newborn will meet the same fate, continuing the cycle of poverty and violence. The feeling of an inescapable circle is created by the structure of the song, with its simple, stark phrasing; by the repetition of the phrase “in the ghetto” as the close of every fourth line; and finally by the repetition of the first verse’s “and his mama cries” just before the beginning and as the close of the last verse.”

Sadly the inescapable circle of poverty and violence continues with more rage in 2013. Despite numerous government programs and private attempts, some Chicago neighborhoods still struggle with daily gun violence. Some kids grow up thinking that joining a gang and carrying a gun is the only way to succeed. Too many mothers continue to cry.

When will In the Ghetto be a quaint oldie rather than an anthem for another Chicago generation? It’s a question people have been asking for decades. The real question is: Are we the generation to create the change necessary so that today’s babies don’t grow up to be the angry young man in the song?

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