Yesterday, British street artist Banksy announced a piece in the South Bronx—a stencil piece with the words "Ghetto 4 Life" written next to it. Some Bronx residents were rubbed the wrong way—especially Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
Diaz, who checked out Banksy's Ronald McDonald piece last week, released a statement denouncing the work, "Many Bronxites are upset at Banksy’s choice of words, and they are right to be upset. We are not ‘Ghetto 4 Life,’ we are a vibrant borough of diverse communities. We are a place where people are living the American Dream. To 1.4 million people we are home, and Banksy would do well to remember that before he traffics in ancient stereotypes about our borough."
The Bronx Art Exchange's Jeffrey Guard, wrote, "What Banksy, who is presumed to be both white and English, may not have realized is that in American culture, a white person using the word, “ghetto” can be perceived as racially charged, in that it suggests a not-so-subtle pejorative towards people of color meant to implicitly infer low-class, uneducated and criminal in nature. It’s analogous to people of color using the word “gentrify” as a racially charged pejorative to subtly infer that white people are greedy, untrustworthy and lack a social conscience.”
And Eduardo Garcia Conde, of Welcome2TheBronx, said, "If Banksy did something big in the South Bronx, it’s that he opened up an important dialogue between the locals and the outsiders. Many, myself included, challenged a number of the visitors to come back for some truly local artwork and see what we’ve been doing for decades before Banksy was a household name. A number were eager to see more. Almost every single one had never been to the Bronx other than maybe Yankee Stadium or simply just driving through. A few admitted that they were scared of coming up here having been brainwashed by the media and were pleasantly surprised to see that the Bronx was not this monster waiting to chew them up and spit them out."
Here's Diaz's full statement:
Last week, world-renowned street artist Banksy brought his five borough exhibition to the Bronx for the first time, in the form of a traveling Ronald McDonald statue. At the time, I told those who asked that I was happy that our borough was a part of the exhibition, that we were not left out of a major worldwide news event. I was happy that people from all over the city, and travelers from across the world, were coming to the Bronx in search of this art.
New visitors offer the Bronx a chance to show off the great progress we have made. In fact, when we found Banksy’s statue last week, I was able to discuss the history of Charlotte Street with several individuals who had never been to that area before. I was able to tell them how that neighborhood, which had once been a symbol of urban blight, had now become a model of homeownership and community spirit. I was able to showcase the continued growth of the Bronx, the ‘New Bronx.’
A major reason we showcase the ‘New Bronx’ at every turn is to break the destructive stereotypes and images that the Bronx has been forced to deal with for decades. We have been pushing back against an unjust, and often untrue, narrative since the 1970’s, and some people do not seem to want to give us any credit for our growth and improvement, no matter how obvious it may be.
Our borough has taken huge leaps forward. Crime is down. New businesses are coming to the Bronx. Everywhere I go I hear from Bronxites that they are proud to live here, and are proud of the renaissance our borough has seen and continues to see.
And then, Banksy spray paints ‘Ghetto 4 Life’ on a Bronx wall, drawing those aforementioned visitors to the Bronx to gawk and throwing a wrench in our efforts to rebrand our borough. Many Bronxites are upset at Banksy’s choice of words, and they are right to be upset. We are not ‘Ghetto 4 Life,’ we are a vibrant borough of diverse communities. We are a place where people are living the American Dream. To 1.4 million people we are home, and Banksy would do well to remember that before he traffics in ancient stereotypes about our borough.
Unfortunately, hundreds of people will travel to the Bronx today to look at a wall that says ‘ghetto’ on it. I would ask that they visit ilovethebronx.com to learn about all the great things that are happening in the Bronx, and I invite them to take in one of our many cultural attractions or world-class restaurants while they are here.
As for Banksy, he should be aware that graffiti art and graffiti culture originated in the Bronx. Perhaps it would be a better use of his talents to help us tell the story of the ‘New Bronx,’ rather than recycle outdated negative stereotypes.