Getting Ghetto

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By Fred Wagenhauser, 21
Represent, New York

I’m white, I live in the projects, I can rap, and all my life I’ve made friends with danger and deceit.

My roots in “urban culture” started while I was just a kid living with my Aunt Trish and Uncle Lenny. That side of the family was mixed and threw me into a world of hip-hop and R&B.

I liked rap from the jump. I could vibe the lyrics about how hard it was living in the streets, because my family had to scrounge to make ends meet. My family has never been stereotypically white. We don’t have money, we’re not snobs, and some of us have been in foster care or locked up.

My brother bangs with the six (rolls with a crew) and he’s always in trouble. My mother was in foster care when she was little, and when people meet her they know she’s real. One time when I was riding in the car with my mom, I put on Power 105, and a Snoop Dogg throwback came on and my mother started to sing along. She’s gangsta.

When I was 9, we moved to where my mom grew up. When I got to the block, all I heard playing was reggae, Spanish music and, of course, blazin’ hip-hop and R&B. It was noisy and crowded and chaotic. I loved it.

When September came, third grade was cool, but there was one problem: I was a nerd. My family never really had money like that, so I was in Payless kicks and Wal-Mart clothes. I was always made fun of.

The next year, my mom said I was going to a new school. I was happy. Maybe it would be a new start for me. But again, the same things: I had no gear and I was a nerd. What friends I did make wanted me to change.

“Fred, why do you wear such tight pants?” Harry asked one day.

“My mother doesn’t have it like that,” I told him. I felt embarrassed and annoyed because it was nobody’s business, but eventually it started to eat at me.

I asked my mother if I could get new clothes. The next time my family took me shopping, I picked out the baggy jeans. I was so happy because I got more respect.

Then the tables turned. One day at lunch when I was 11, my friends (who were all black and Latino, like most of the kids in my school) told me I was a “wigger.” I didn’t know what that word meant until Harry told me it was a white person trying to be black.

That’s when I realized that some of the things I did to fit in are not just stereotypically black, but stereotypically ghetto.

Then, when I was 13, I beat up a kid in my middle school and was sent to a residential treatment center. Everyone assumed that since I was white and smart I was a nerd. But when they heard my poetry about my life struggles, it wiped the smirks off their faces.

Then I got sent to a lockdown upstate. I don’t like to fight, but I had to get respect. I had to learn how to freestyle and battle rap and keep up on the new slang coming in. All this just so I could watch TV in peace.

One time the whole wing was bored, so a few kids started to battle rap. James said, “Come on, Fred, it’s just like poetry.” I tried and messed up but it was cool, so I practiced. I started to speak what was on my mind in front of people.

Those experiences taught me to use my voice. I’ve always been a really shy person. I’m not good in crowds. In general, I really don’t believe in myself. When I found out I could survive in lockdown and that I had a little flow, my confidence rose.

But now that I’m on the borderline of adulthood, I feel I need to change certain aspects of my ghetto ways. I get into fights on the regular and in the past six months I’ve been to the bookings three times. I don’t have a real job, I’m not in school and I’m on the verge of homelessness.

Sometimes I feel it in my bones that if I don’t get out of my neighborhood soon, someone’s going to get hurt. I don’t want to do that. I want to expand my mind. Learning about hip-hop style and music, and to fight, deal and battle rap – those are not the only things I want to learn in life.

I want the best of both worlds. I want to be able to do my thing on job interviews and amaze college professors with my vast intellect, and on the flip side, walk through the projects because I know mad people from different walks of life.

I want to show people color doesn’t define me. I want to apply the hunger I got from the streets to making a straight life. But dealing and getting locked up? Nah. I have to be able to control my anger and get out the damn ghetto.