Un-associating words

People may want to reconsider the association of words like “urban,” “suburban” and “rural” with race and economic status. The word “urban” now seems to be associated with words like African American and city dweller

People may want to reconsider the association of words like “urban,” “suburban” and “rural” with race and economic status.

The word “urban” now seems to be associated with words like African fatiakasumu American and city dweller and has evolved in the minds of some people in a negative way. Some think that only black, poor, illiterate people live in urban areas – when that is not true.

“The first official use of ‘urban’ that was explicitly connected with African Americans may have been the National Urban League … which was founded in 1910 by a white woman and an African-American man to address issues facing blacks who had moved from the rural South into northern cities,” wrote copywriter and creative consultant Nancy Friedman on her blog, Fritinancy.

Today, there is a lot wrong with the attribution that, for example, all black people live in urban areas – a stereotype that must be dispelled to the ignorant individuals who deem it true.

According to results of a study by Lois M. Quinn and John Pawasarat of the Employment and Training Institute at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Continuing Education, marketers regularly use racial stereotypes to depict “urban” neighborhoods.

“On its website [CACI International Inc.], an international data firm, stated that African Americans in Milwaukee ‘splurge on fast food and spend leisure time going to bars and dancing.’” This was illustrated in a study done by marketing firms who use racial and class-based stereotypes, according to the study.
Another international data firm cited in the report, Claritas Inc., “described the residents of northside African-American neighborhoods in Milwaukee as ‘very low-income families [who] buy video games, [and] dine at fast food chicken restaurants…”

Marketing firms frequently use racial and class-based stereotypes, but not all black Americans are poor, just as not all white Americans are racist.

The entries on the website UrbanDictionary.com say even more about the colloquial use of the word: “The term is exploited by corporations such as MTV to refer to black music/culture, without mentioning race,” and “1. marketing term used to hide the fact they are focusing on a racial group / 2. black people or other minority …”

It is even more troubling in example sentences on UrbanDictionary.com.

At the end of the definition lists, one example reads, “Suburban Kid 1: Dude I’m totally Urban, Check these new Timbalands, homie.” Another reads: “Ok, Coke lets focus on how we can reach the urban markets. [SIC] Let’s sell Coke with fried chicken!”

These sentences are not only poorly constructed but also inherently ignorant in the image they attempt to convey.

People should generally look at the word “urban” not from a racial standpoint but rather an educated one. The words “urban,” “rural” and “suburban” all describe an area’s land density.

Rural areas are usually farmland areas in small towns. Suburban areas are places with school districts and commissioners. Most urban areas are filled with buildings, businesses and skyscrapers and have a lot of working- class citizens.

The bottom line is that the next time someone uses the word urban as a synonym for “largely populated with black people,” that individual should be politely corrected. Although black Americans live in these areas, not all reside here. And those who do deserve to be treated with dignity.

Fatia Kasumu can be reached at fatia@temple.edu.

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