We can discuss the etymology of ‘ratchet’ all we want, but long story short, it is one of the few words in the English language that can equally serve as an adjective (“That club is pretty ratchet.”), verb (“We need play some Fat Trel so we can ratchet it up in here.”), and noun (“This club is wack. Where are the ratchets when you need them?”). It essentially means rowdy and uncouth.
Is ractchetness bastardizing Black culture? I’m by no means suggesting that buffoonery is remotely synonymous to the history of the people of the African Diaspora. However, America’s newfound infatuation with ratchet has created a culture in which ‘Blackness’ is portrayed as nothing more than misogynism, profligacy, drug consumption, and violence. In other words, ‘all we want are big booty hoes for our birthdays’, so we ‘cash out’, ‘pop a molly’, and if anybody tries us we ‘bang bang’. As violence continues to persist unabated in communities of color and rape culture is far too commonplace, we must ask ourselves if the fetishization of ratchetness is changing the way Black youth view themselves and visa versa.
Ratchetness is not just confined to music, we see it on television with shows like ‘All my babies mama’s’ and on websites like WorldStarHipHop. The hipsters of Williamsburg, Brookyln and Mission, San Francisco who listen to Chief Keef because it is ironic may sit back, laugh, and dismiss this as pure entertainment. However, in an age where youtube views, retweets, and instagram likes define your social standing, it is easy to see how some children of color may feel compelled to take on a ratchet persona as a societal-fulfilling prophecy.
While I’m not critiquing anyone’s music choice (I listen to everything under the sun including “Chicago drill music”), I am saying that the popularization of the term in and of itself has increased the stigmatization of young people of color, even by other black youth. We must ask ourselves if popular culture today is any different from the days of ‘black face’ or ‘Amos and Andy’. Some people may see 2 Chainz as a real MC while others see him as a caricature. Those who see him as the latter understand that he spews pure drivel, but are intrigued by the humor of his presentation. Unfortunately, there are many young, impressionable, children of color who haven’t made the distinction. Not because they don’t have the intellectual capacity to do so, but because much of their life experience outside of their immediate surroundings has been limited to television and the Internet. Therefore, they begin to believe and internalize these ideas of foolishness. It is easy for someone like myself to listen to a Tyga song and dismiss it as entertainment due to my privileged background; but that doesn’t necessarily work for a lot of other people who haven’t had the exposure that I’ve had.
As a country we must do some soul-searching to address the all too pervasive existential nihilism or ‘YOLO culture’ (you only live once) within our communities. We must first admit, that we’ve created the conditions in which it possible for a person like Lil’ Reese (who acknowledged beating up a young woman in this video) to become a big time rapper in spite of his blatant disregard for female humanity. We must then critically think about terms like ‘ratchet’ and how it has influenced a generation of young people who’ve grown up on Youtube and social media. Do we want to embrace it and use it for something positive or must start demanding an alternative to our portrayal in pop culture? Whatever the case may be, we must first admit that there is a crisis in our communities and guns, drugs, and misogyny are only byproducts of that crisis.