One of my many current undertakings is Ghetto Nation by Cora Daniels. Through the introduction and the prologue, she asserts that ghetto has moved from being a place, most notorious for housing Jews during the Holocaust then for being where the poor Blacks lived, to being a mindset - a set of thought processes that cross cultural boundaries and has eeped into the mainstream.
People use the phrase "that's so ghetto" with the same frequency that they use "that's so gay." I think because ghetto doesn't refer to a specific group of people anymore, that it's become part of everyone's everyday, people aren't insulted by they derogatory use of the word as frequently as they are for the other assertion.
When I think "ghetto", I think AAE but it's called Ebonics. I think Kool-Ade on the front steps either in cups or on popsicle sticks. I think streetball and trash talk. When I think "ghetto" I think going to the movies with my sister and my cousin or being in a theatre with a whole slew of Black folk and how they holler at the movie the entire time. I think fried chicken and bar-b-qs.
And it's interesting to live in a small town and hear them talk about ghetto. Daniels says that every area has "ghetto" on lock. Theirs is what ghetto really is. Everywhere, it's the same and it's different, even though Atlanta gave us crunk.