Editor's Note

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 | 16 Comments

Note From The Editor, Jam Donaldson, 2014

 I started HGM in 2004.  Yes, it’s been around that long.  Seems life a lifetime ago.  While the site has become a bit of an internet institution, few people know the story behind the birth of HGM.  And probably fewer people actually care.

At this time I was in law school and my dad was dying so I spent a lot of time studying, drinking and escaping into the glowing screen of my laptop.  I started to notice a disturbing trend. Well, truth be told, it wasn’t disturbing at first. It was funny as hell. Many of my friends, and everyone else within six degrees of separation (except Kevin Bacon), began to send around “ghetto pictures” for fun. And like the rest of my friends, I typically would laugh my ass off. The girl with the hair weave done in the shape of a helicopter, color coordinated pimps and ho’s, prom students in pasties, bedazzled pimp cups, cars with chandeliers and Burberry-pattern paint jobs. Although they are now popular internet classics, back then they were novel and great material for folly. It’s what we did for internet entertainment before YouTube. People would create elaborate Power Point slide shows titled, “Wedding in the Projects”, “Fight at a Funeral,” and the oft used “Look at Your Mama.” Everyone would try to one-up everyone else with the funniest “ghetto” picture. And we just had a ball with it. A bunch of professionals and students sitting at computers all day passing these pics around like a virtual blunt, and laughing just as hysterically as if the weed was real.

            And one day, it just wasn’t funny anymore.

I think it was somewhere between the woman in the t-shirt which proudly read “Pregnant Pussy is the Best Pussy” and the 8 year old boy simulating sex with a grown woman that I suddenly stopped laughing. All of a sudden, I couldn’t believe that I ever thought any of this stuff was funny (even if it was just 11 minutes ago). I stopped everything, shut down the laptop, and asked myself, “what in the hell is going on in our communities… and why are we laughing at it?” Because although I may not have understood the law against perpetuities, I did know one thing for sure—those pictures were not funny.

And so it began. My intense renewal of my “relationship” with my people, our images, our culture, our behavior, and what role we play in how the world views us and how we view each other.

            I was suddenly seeing everything about us in a new, though admittedly dim, light. I was confused. It seemed that all my ideals and assumptions about my people and our struggles were being challenged. There was an uncomfortable paradigm shift taking place in my mind. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t quite understand how what I was seeing in my community was somehow society’s (read: “white people’s”) fault. And if it wasn’t their fault, whose was it? (Cue dramatic music here.) It was ours. And only we can fix it.

            Sure the economic disparities and educational inequality that exist among the African American community  today can certainly be argued as the vestiges of Jim Crow and slavery, but I couldn’t, never mind the amount of intellectual gymnastics I tried, figure out why we weren’t responsible for the images I was seeing every day. We’re talking about basic decency and values here. I mean, did Whitey send your daughter to the prom with her tittays hanging out? No, you did. And the rest of us just stood around, and laughed.

            The argument that the current pathos in the black community is the result of white racism and the systematic oppression of the Negro is a tricky one. If the precarious state of black America today is a direct and continuing result of a white supremacist government, then can someone please explain to me why my parents’ generation was so damn classy? Why, in a generation that was closer in proximity to slavery and segregation, did the community exhibit more of a work ethic, more of a focus on education, more focus on family, and more pride in their image? We have more opportunities than they could have ever dreamed of today, yet we are failing in all these basic tenets of a strong community and success in America.

            How could I argue with any integrity at all that my generation has suddenly lost its way because of slavery and the white man? Oh God! Was I becoming a conservative? Was I becoming a Republican? Was I becoming (gasp) Herman Cain? Were there others who thought the same way I did? I felt compelled to start the conversation.

Being an eighties baby, the world of the civil rights movement seemed an eternity away. That had been the Golden Age of Protest. A master class in civil disobedience. The goals were clear and common, the people generally united, and the cause noble. It was a time when there were causes greater than oneself.

So now, here I am in the twenty-first century. Common goals have morphed into individualism. Brown v. Board is the distant past for most. Unlike our parents, we grew up integrated and watching the Cosby Show. Wanting more for us than they had, our parents heralded us with tales of opportunity. We were told we could be whoever we wanted, there were no limits. Generations before us had sacrificed their lives so we could live the American Dream. This generation doesn’t know protests or sit-ins or lynchings. We know House Party movies and Good Times and hip-hop. The Rodney King beating seemed like an aberration; racial profiling an inconvenience. Most of us never had to fight for anything in our lives. Generally, life is pretty good.

This certainly isn’t to say that we aren’t aware of racism, but do our protestations over cab rides denied, Mumia, and crack sentencing touch our collective black souls like integration and civil rights? Unfortunately not. Sure we can talk until the cows come home about hip hop and the N-word and Driving While Black and the ignorance of the Housewives of Everywhere, but it all seems so ethereal compared with the civil rights movement. And this lack of a common condition, a common enemy, a common cause, has fragmented our communities into oblivion. We were so quick to celebrate what we gained, we never stopped to think what we lost.

Believe me, I wasn’t doing this to be some kind of asshole or to be provocative for provocative’s sake. I really thought that the solutions to some of the problems plaguing our communities might be found in the conversations we could have about our role in how the world sees us. Our role in the state of our communities. It’s like on Soul Food. I just wanted the whole family to come to the table with some collards and ribs and talk honestly with one another.  Because my mission was not about trivial fashion mistakes. It wasn’t about being ageist or classist. It was about recognizing what was in front of our faces, and that is a community that has become dominated by negative influences, and the effects are devastating.

 I decided to use our own images to challenge our notions of ourselves. Not Hollywood’s images or the music industry’s images, but images we take of one another, images we pose for and display with pride. These pictures are like a hieroglyphic tale of our downward spiral. These images show the hypersexualization of our young women, our obsession with thug living and ho life. The images that came across my computer screen were walking, talking, booty-shaking examples of a generation that has lost its way. And I was determined not to let us get away with it. They show our vapid consumerism, our lack of focus on work and family, and just a general losing of the damn mind. Like the test to see if pasta is done, I was gonna throw all these images on the wall and see what stuck.

No matter what Eric Holder  says, I’m no coward about race. But he is right. Everyone is so scared shitless to have honest discussions that involve race, that the conversations end up dominated by the loud mouths at the extremes. We tap dance around race, afraid someone will think we are a racist or an Uncle Tom. But too often you will be called a racist or an Uncle Tom if you express any opinion besides the one that happens to be politically correct at the time.

So must of us just say the hell with it and relegate our conversations to hushed tones among friends in church basements, beauty shops, college campuses, and on the Internet. And the conversation continues to be dominated by those on the far left or the far right, when most of us are somewhere in between. Meanwhile, the concerns, issues, conflicts, solutions, and analyses that we come up among ourselves in “private” just continue to smolder because they are never given the oxygen of a public forum. It’s a virtual race gag order. Certain things just cannot be spoken of in public (read: “in front of white people”). But anyway, life was short, my dad was dying, and all of a sudden I didn’t care about the gag order anymore.

I decided the Internet, which has managed to replace money as the root of all evil, would be my conduit to a conversation I wanted to desperately have with my beloved people. I would give a public voice to all those cell-phone convos and DMV line venting sessions and IM rants. The gag was coming off.  Hotghettomess.com was born.

My new mission: using images that we promulgate and promote of ourselves to start discussions about the state of our communities. See, these weren’t images I scrounged around finding under people’s beds, raiding their box of private photos to get. These were photos that individuals had placed on the Internet with pride. Men and women posed for these pictures or took them of themselves. And the fact that these were images that people, especially young people, were proud of, was an indication that there was definitely trouble in River City.

How can we rail against negative stereotypes in the media and at the same time choose to perpetuate these images ourselves? HGM is my way of talking about it.

Peace people.

16 Comments

  • kdub says:

    Posted November 1, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Wow…just wow.
  • coffy says:

    Posted November 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    I have to admit that initially I visited HGM because I found the pictures to be funny, especially the “ghetto” proms and fashion faux pas. After a while I became shocked and appalled at some of the photos. I believe that most of us laugh at these photos because it is the easiest emotion to express. Laughter covers up the embarrassment, shame, and disparity we feel for our people and sometimes ourselves.
  • ToddDunning says:

    Posted November 12, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Jim, an excellent article that should be widely distributed.

    I have an answer to the mystery though. Black Americans – unlike Black Europeans, Asians, etc. have fallen prey to a particularly vicious campaign against them.

    In fact, if you set out to deliberately destroy a culture you couldn’t do a much better job than what this campaign has done to Black Americans for at least as long as this 47 year-old white guy has seen. It’s as bad as slavery and Jim Crow, but the difference is that it’s institutional and political.

    It’s called the Democrat Plantation, the revolving door of institutionalized racism that only a few Cosbys, Rices and Cains have spoken against. Poor whites suffer equally from it.

    On the plantation, you get money to vote for those who will get you more.

    But at a devastating personal price that no culture could possibly survive. First you have to call yourself a victim, removing your own choices and responsibilities. Second, you’ll only get money from the plantation if you accept their contention that your race is something to be compensated for.

    But that’s just the beginning. You get even more money for staying jobless, and the most of all for being a single mother. And the more fatherless kids you have the bigger your check.

    Why? Because to keep the plantation running you’ve got to keep voting it into power. And after you and the generations after you are totally dependent, you’ll fight tooth and nail to stay slaves to the Democrats.

    It is a great compliment to Black Americans that they have survived this cancer as well as they have. The messages that black children recieve from the Democrat Plantation are just as horrifying as any, but even more so because they are told that it is the right path and follow it unquestioningly.

    If you told me I was a victim due to my race and therefore deserved special privileges over others, I would end up living under a bridge in days. Why even try? Why take any initiative or personal responsibility at all?

  • gracemircu says:

    Posted November 19, 2011 at 1:01 am

    Brown v. Board … what no ALWD/BlueBook citation? lol Very well written. =)
  • Jamdonaldson says:

    Posted November 29, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    @ Todd — it’s “Jam”

    @ gracemircu : i hate that damn bluebook!!!!!!! :-)

  • KROW says:

    Posted December 2, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    EXCELLENT!
  • sikkmaine says:

    Posted December 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    That was deep Jam. Bravo to that. It is a fact that their are a whole lot of lower class white people out there (poor white trash) trust me I live with them everyday just like there are classy black people in the world. The only unfair difference is that the representation of white people is that of class and intelligents which seems to overshadow the poor white trash of society. Whereas the representation of black americans is that of undereducation and poverty which seems to overshadow the classy, educated blacks of society which has a lot to do with media coverage. But however sad it may be there is no hiding that fact that most black americans I come into contact with wether it be where I live or wherever I travel glamorize and think its a badge of honor to be poor, uneducated, and a burden to society. And being an educated, classy black person who is a contributing member of society is looked at as “selling out” “trying to be like the white man”, or “faking the funk”. Isn’t this what we have been fighting for??????
  • facheesy says:

    Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Even more so, now, I feel very connected to your “politics,” Jam. I started visiting HGM to see what foolishness and stupidity had been captured on electronic celluloid for all of posterity. I still laugh, and often BUST out loud laughing, but now I share your pinnacle experience, Jam. I frequently sit with my jaw slack saying “O.M.G. What am I seeing?” A child covered in money or someone with no self respect… wasteful frivolity or digging a hole to ‘set the bar’ for oneself… it’s all right here on HGM. THANK YOU JAM DONALDSON for bringing these images of what makes a HGM to us out here in the world. Knowledge is power, so keep teaching us through images that speak volumes. Keep ‘em coming!
  • jjordan211 says:

    Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    I could not agree more!
  • wheelnut53 says:

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Reading this post did cause me to see these pictures from a different perspective I was always assuming this was only a small portion of the population and then I ask myself so why is there a new batch every week? obviously its a bigger portion than I thought. Now I’m wondering when did we lose our shame I remember when women would not leave the house in curlers now they are at walmart in their PJs or less.
    Thank you Jam keep up the good work
  • anna_jo85 says:

    Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Please upload more pics jam.
  • Biscuit says:

    Posted September 9, 2012 at 12:35 am

    HGM is an excellent forum for the conversation with our people. All too often we want to pretend that we don’t have a problem with negative images and stereotypical ideologies, and self promoted fodder. We as black folk are the authors of our own foolishness and have the unmitigated gall to cry foul when others disrespect us. What do we expect to happen when we first disrespect ourselves with this kind of negative behavior? You’re only given in return what dish out. If we expect better results, I believe it’s necessary to change the game. The only people who can do that is us.
  • Talk is Cheap says:

    Posted September 9, 2012 at 11:15 am

    How does talking about people on this website help change people? Why don’t people form alliances with community organizations to design interventions that will help these so-called “hot ghetto messes”? If WE need to change, why don’t WE get up from our computers, go out, and do something. It’s one thing to try to spew out big words and sound intellectual, but it is another to actually do something.

    I found out about this website because I saw a group of white young adults in the computer lab laughing at photos and comments on this site. How does this contribute to the plight of African-Americans? It doesn’t. It shows other races that they don’t need to tear black people down because we already tear each other down.

  • mssresa says:

    Posted January 15, 2013 at 12:34 am

    Well said, I have been saying the same thing for years, thank you for that.
  • familyisamess says:

    Posted April 27, 2013 at 6:47 am

    I truely agree also. If ppl put their. Pictures on the internet like facebook or where ever and come out in public like that then they must want ppl 2 see it. I have a picture of some 1 that needs 2 go up on this page now how do I do it?
  • BigMeach1 says:

    Posted October 23, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    It’s one thing to want to start DISCUSSION, but it’s another thing when DISCUSSION becomes DEHUMANIZING, OSTRACIZING, and PERSECUTING commentary that often times the people in the photos have no idea is being said about them. NO RECOURSE for defense or to expand the dialogue/discussion to make the world a better place OR to bring about a better image for our community. Often times, many people who “POSE FOR THESE PICS WILLINGLY” do so in the privacy of their homes with people they trust and because some things go awry, these photos end up HERE and other sites like it…. OTHERS who willingly post on FACEBOOK and other sites, do so in PRIVATE GROUPS with the intent of the pic being PRIVATE or for a closed circuit of people to see….unbeknownst to them, the picture has been snatched from the sight and place on sights such as this to be subjected to the ridicule of people who are JUDGMENTAL, CRASS, and WITHOUT COUTH, thereby creating a frenzy of maliciousness and cruelty that is exacerbated by the salacious comments made by such people.

    I understand your WHY this sight exists, and YES, I used to visit this sight for a cute KEE-KEE, but as I started reading the comments, I see those who are looking to vent their misery are only using this to promote their prejudices and hate which I truly believe is not what you intended for this after skimming through your dissertation above. NOW, being a victim of this cruelty, I KNOW how many others may feel about such a sight…more so the COMMENTS that are being posted!!

    I am not ASHAMED of my pics,HOWEVER, I am not happy of how this came to be because it was not my approval to be slandered or used for target practice, but I am not oblivious to the perils of the World Wide Web either. My pics were for personal PRIVATE use and someone decided they were worthy of being HOT GHETTO MESS, when nothing about me is GHETTO!

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When did “real” become synonymous with uneducated and ignorant? Why did “real” start to mean living up to less than your potential? - HGM Reader “deprogrammed”