"Ghetto Girl": Michelle Obama and the Martha's Vineyard black elite


Are you ready? Here's a quick lesson in African American social history. For more than a century, the East Coast black elite, including prominent artists, intellectuals and financially secure professionals, has gathered on the island of Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, to relax and spend time with one another. By tradition, other ethnic groups do the same, and while the groups mingle socially, they largely live in segregated communities on the island. The black community has always summered near the town of Oak Bluffs, on the Island's northern coast.The idea that rich, smart, black people get together to entertain each other (there is little else to do there) has intrigued the media lately. Why the new focus? Well, this week, the First Family will join that tradition, another socially-prominent, African American family escaping the summer heat on the beaches of the Vineyard.When the news broke, the writer Toure penned an article for New York Magazine about this annual gathering of the clan, focusing on its elite status (generational ownership of homes on the island) and the myriad criteria for being welcomed there, especially during the popular Labor Day weekend.While trying to unlock the mystery of the island's attractions and assess the Vineyard's suitability as a vacation spot for our new First Family, one anonymous, snobby, long-time islander is reported to have questioned Michelle Obama's place in the group's hierarchy, referring to the First Lady as just a "ghetto girl", one who did not belong in the august company of the regulars.Needless to say, this quote has sent shock waves around the country.My friend Abigail McGrath sent me this graphic of a t-shirt she expects to sell a ton of over the next week. Frankly, I didn't know what to make of it.From her press release:The very idea of confusing "ghetto" with negativity rather than historical disenfranchisement is wrong and offensive, says Vineyard resident Abigail McGrath: " Folks are confusing cash with class."Only on the most poorly informed television networks and fictionalized TV series is "ghetto" equated with gum-chewing, finger-snapping air heads and gun-toting thugs.So Ms. McGrath has designed a T-shirt bearing the slogan "Ghetto Girls Rock!!!", listing on it the names of 48 famous women who came from "the ghetto" and made the world a better place. Women such as Mother Theresa, Mother Hale, and Fannie Lou Hamer grace the shirt with dignity and aplomb.(For more information and to order, contact: Abigail McGrath at GhettoGirlzRock@aol.com)There is so much to be said about the history of African Americans at Martha's Vineyard, but it's Abby's t-shirt and the questions it raises that deserve discussion. I'll talk about the list of "ghetto girls" in my next post...stay tuned.