Formerly, a street or quarter of a city set apart as a legally enforced residential area for Jews. Forced segregation of Jews spread throughout Europe in the 14th–15th centuries. Ghettos were customarily enclosed with walls and gates and kept locked at night and during Christian festivals. Since outward expansion was usually impossible, most ghettos grew upward; congestion, fire hazards, and unsanitary conditions often resulted. Ghettos were abolished in western Europe in the 19th century; those revived by the Nazi Party (see Warsaw Ghetto Uprising) were overcrowded holding places preliminary to extermination. More recently, the term ghetto has been applied to impoverished urban areas exclusively settled by a minority group or groups and perpetuated by economic and social pressures rather than legal and physical measures.
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The term "ghetto" still has a similar meaning, but referring to broader range of social situations, such as any poverty-stricken urban area.
A Ghetto is formed in three ways:
In the Jewish diaspora, a Jewish quarter is the area of a city traditionally inhabited by Jews. Jewish quarters, like the Jewish ghettos in Europe, were often the outgrowths of segregated ghettos instituted by the surrounding Christian authorities or in World War Two, the Nazis. A Yiddish term for a Jewish quarter or neighborhood is "Di yiddishe gas" (די ייִדדישע גאַס ), or "The Jewish street". Many European and Middle Eastern cities once had a historical Jewish quarter and some still have it.
Jewish ghettos in Europe existed because Jews were viewed as alien due to being a cultural minority and due to their non-Christian beliefs in a Renaissance Christian environment. As a result, Jews were placed under strict regulations throughout many European cities. The character of ghettos has varied through times. In some cases, the ghetto was a Jewish quarter with a relatively affluent population (for instance the Jewish ghetto in Venice). In other cases, ghettos were places of terrible poverty and during periods of population growth, ghettos had narrow streets and tall, crowded houses. Residents had their own justice system. Around the ghetto stood walls that, during pogroms, were closed from inside to protect the community, but from the outside during Christmas, Pesach, and Easter Week to prevent the Jews from leaving during those times.
A mellah (Arabic ملاح, probably from the word ملح, Arabic for "salt") is a walled Jewish quarter of a city in Morocco, an analogue of the European ghetto. Jewish population were confined to mellahs in Morocco beginning from the 15th century and especially since the early 19th century. In cities, a mellah was surrounded by a wall with a fortified gateway. Usually, the Jewish quarter was situated near the royal palace or the residence of the governor, in order to protect its inhabitants from recurring riots. In contrast, rural mellahs were separate villages inhabited solely by the Jews.
During World War II, ghettos in occupied Europe 1939-1944 were established by the Nazis to confine Jews and sometimes Gypsies into tightly packed areas of the cities of Eastern Europe, turning them into de-facto concentration camps and death camps in the Holocaust. Though the common usage is ghetto, the Nazis most often referred to these areas in documents and signage at their entrances as Judischer Wohnberzirk or Wohngebiet der Juden (German); both translate as Jewish Quarter. These Nazi ghettos used to concentrate Jews before extermination sometimes coincided with traditional Jewish ghettos and Jewish quarters, but not always. Expediency was the key factor for the Nazis in the Final Solution. Nazi ghettos as stepping stones on the road to the extermination of European Jewry existed for varying amounts of time, usually the function of the number of Jews who remained to be killed but also because of the employment of Jews as slave labor by the Wehrmacht and other German institutions, until Heinrich Himmler's decree issued on June 21, 1943, ordering the dissolution of all ghettos in the East and their transformation into concentration camps.
Other ethnic ghettos in New York were the Lower East Side in Manhattan, New York, which, until the 1990s , was predominantly Jewish, and Spanish Harlem, which was home to a large Puerto Rican community dated back to the 1930s. Little Italys across the country were predominantly Italian ghettos.
In the United States, between the abolition of slavery and the passing of the civil rights laws of the 1960s, discriminatory mores (sometimes codified in law, or through redlining) often forced urban African Americans to live in specific neighborhoods, which became known as "ghettos."
Black-White segregation in the US is decreasing fairly consistently in most places due to several factors. Despite these pervasive patterns, many changes for individual areas remain insignificant.. Thirty years after the African-American civil rights era (1955-1968), the United States remains a residentially segregated society in which blacks and whites inhabit different neighborhoods of vastly different quality. Cities throughout history have contained distinct ethnic districts but they have rarely been as isolated and impoverished as some of the African American neighborhoods found in U.S. cities. The racial segregation found in ghettos can lead to social, economic and political tensions.
Due to segregated conditions and widespread poverty some black neighborhoods in the United States have been called "ghettos". Most of these neighborhoods are in Northeastern cities where African Americans moved during The Great Migration (1914-1950) a period when over a million African Americans moved out of the rural Southern United States to escape the widespread racism of the South, to seek out employment opportunities in urban environments, and to pursue what was widely perceived to be a better life in the North. African-American neighborhoods started out well, economically. In the Midwest, neighborhoods were built on high wages from manufacturing jobs. The African-American neighborhoods of the mid-twentieth century appear to have been much less harmful than those of today. However, segregation increased most in those cities with the greatest black in-migration.
In the years after World War II, many white Americans began to move away from inner cities to newer suburban communities, a process known as white flight. White flight occurred, in part, as a response to black people moving into white urban neighborhoods, and remains a significant cause in the spread of urban decay. Discriminatory practices, especially those intended to "preserve" emerging white suburbs, restricted the ability of blacks to move from inner-cities to suburbs, even when they were economically able to afford it. In contrast to this, the same period in history marked a massive suburban expansion available primarily to whites of both wealthy and working class backgrounds, facilitated through highway construction and the availability of federally subsidized home mortgages (VA, FHA, HOLC). These made it easier for families to buy new homes in the suburbs, but not to rent apartments in cities.
In response to the influx of black people from the South, banks, insurance companies, and businesses began denying or increasing the cost of services, such as banking, insurance, access to jobs, access to health care, or even supermarkets to residents in certain, often racially determined, areas. The most devastating form of redlining, and the most common use of the term, refers to mortgage discrimination. Data on house prices and attitudes toward integration suggest that in the mid-twentieth century, segregation was a product of collective actions taken by non-blacks to exclude blacks from outside neighborhoods
The "Racial" Provisions of FHA Underwriting Manual of 1938, included the following guidelines which exacerbated the segregation issue:
Recommended restrictions should include provision for: prohibition of the occupancy of properties except by the race for which they are intended …Schools should be appropriate to the needs of the new community and they should not be attended in large numbers by inharmonious racial groups.
This meant that ethnic minorities could secure mortgage loans only in certain areas, and it resulted in a large increase in the residential racial segregation and urban decay in the United States. The creation of new highways in some cases divided and isolated black neighborhoods from goods and services, many times within industrial corridors. For example, Birmingham’s interstate highway system attempted to maintain the racial boundaries that had been established by the city’s 1926 racial zoning law. The construction of interstate highways through black neighborhoods in the city led to significant population loss in those neighborhoods and is associated with an increase in neighborhood racial segregation. By 1990, the legal barriers enforcing segregation had been replaced by decentralized racism, where whites pay more than blacks to live in predominantly white areas. Some social scientists suggest that the historical processes of suburbanization and decentralization are instances of white privilege that have contributed to contemporary patterns of environmental racism.
Despite mainstream America’s use of the term "ghetto" to signify a poor, culturally or racially-homogenous urban area, those living in the area often used it to signify something positive. The black ghettos did not always contain dilapidated houses and deteriorating projects, nor were all of its residents poverty-stricken. For many African Americans, the ghetto was "home" a place representing authentic blackness and a feeling, passion, or emotion derived from the rising above the struggle and suffering of being black in America. Langston Hughes relays in the "Negro Ghetto" (1931) and "The Heart of Harlem" (1945): "The buildings in Harlem are brick and stone/And the streets are long and wide,/But Harlem’s much more than these alone,/Harlem is what’s inside." Playwright August Wilson used the term "ghetto" in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) and Fences (1987), both of which draw upon the author’s experience growing up in the Hill district of Pittsburgh, a black ghetto.
In the Southwest U.S., Mexican Americans had historical low-income urban areas known as barrios located in cities with large Hispanic populations such as New York City, Long Beach, San Diego, Dallas, Texas, Oceanside, National City, Houston, Denver, El Paso, San Jose, Santa Ana, San Bernardino, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Oakland, California. Many of these cities struggled with issues of crime, drugs, youth gangs and family breakdown. However, middle-class and college-educated Hispanics moved out of barrios for other neighbourhoods or the suburbs. The barrios continually thrived by the large influx of immigration from Mexico, this largely due to the explosion of the Hispanic/Latino population in the late 20th century. The majority of residents in these urban barrios are immigrants directly from Mexico and Latin America.
Major cities and towns in Northern Ireland can be roughly divided into ghettos, of Catholic Irish nationalists/republicans and Protestant British unionists/loyalists. This division is less apparent in more affluent areas, but in more working class areas, territory is marked, particularly in loyalist areas, by flags and murals.
In Scandinavia most "ghettos" are concrete suburbs, especially those around Stockholm, Copenhagen, Malmö, Oslo, Århus, Helsinki and Gothenburg. No "ghetto" areas are made up by only one major ethnic-group. The areas are mostly made up by mixed ethnic groups, with few Scandinavians and a high concentration of 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, mostly from the Middle-east, Eastern Europe/Balkans, Turkey, Africa, and Asia. The areas are troubled by gang violence and vandalism, also riots have been seen in the last couple of years. But the criminality is not as extended as in ghettos in the United Kingdom or France.
The most notable "ghettos" are
There are also ghettos in modern France. The poorer banlieues, or suburbs, of France, especially those of Paris, house an impoverished population largely of North African and sub-Saharan African origin in large medium- and high-rise building developments known as "Cités". They were built in the 1960s and 1970s in the industrial suburbs around Paris, especially in the Département of Seine-Saint-Denis (also known from its departmental code as "le 93" or "le 9-3"), and in other French cities like Venissieux near Lyon. They are similar in style and have similar problems as the large inner-city urban renewal projects in the US (like Cabrini Green in Chicago). Social issues that inhabitants of French ghettos must deal with regularly, including racism and police brutality, were famously highlighted in the 1996 film La Haine (which depicts the adventures of three young people from the ghetto: one Jewish, one black and the other Arabic). Although there has been civil unrest (sometimes resulting in rioting) in these ghettos for decades, many people outside of France were not fully aware of the situation until the more internationally publicised 2005 riots, which largely originated within these areas.
A few ghettos have appeared in the Czech Republic. These ghettos are mainly inhabited by Roma who move there both voluntarily or involuntarily (municipalities often try to relocate them from other areas). The majority of the people are unemployed and uneducated, and the crime rate is high. As a ghetto begins to appear non-Roma people move away. The most infamous ghetto in the Czech Republic is Chánov (part of the city of Most). Other cities with neighborhoods slowly transforming into ghettos include Karviná.
During the Second World War, the Terezín ghetto was created to house mass numbers of Czech Jews before deportation to concentration camps (typically Auschwitz), where the Jews would be exterminated. The Nazis sanitized the ghetto to appear like a "joyful place" to dupe the Red Cross during two visits. The Jewish artists of Terezin created memorable artwork during their stay before being shipped out to concentration camps and gas chambers.
In the United States and Britain, the word "ghetto" is often glorified in popular culture and sometimes used as an adjective to describe a certain way of dressing, speaking, and behaving (often referred to as ghetto fabulous).