But I'm almost painfully aware of the way ratchet operates within society, especially in relation to people of color (POC) and even more so within the black community, where the word is thought to originate from. A quick search on urbandictionary provides me with many different definitions of "ratchet," most of them likening the term to other race-specific insults like "ghetto" or "hood." Ratchet is inherently colloquial, so much so that it's hard to mince its meaning. Every single time I have encountered the word in my life, it is usually used: 1) within people of color spaces, 2) towards/by a person of color and 3) towards a POC who was considered to be "out of line" in either behavior, appearance or some combination of the two. Although ratchet is sometimes believed to be used on an "equal opportunity" status of sorts, the majority of the time I have heard it used, it has been directed at a black woman.
Google assures me that I'm not too off track: a search for "ratchet" images brings us to pages upon pages of the popular video game character, but a search for "ratchet females" and you get pages upon pages of black women. Most of these women are, by society's standards, improperly dressed or improperly behaved.
|You also get pictures like this, but I can't find the "ratchet" in this one. All I see are bad bitches serving face! Credit: crunkfeministcollective.com|
With this in mind, it's hard to think of "ratchet" as insult in the way that "weird" or "strange" can be insults. Although ratchet is used in the same way as such terms to display or point out the "abnormal," the buck pretty much starts there; down the line, ratchet becomes genderized and racialized. I've heard plenty of times that "ratchet" can be anyone, anywhere--but more and more lately, black women have been taking the brunt of the insult attached to the term. If everyone can be ratchet, then why is Google Search showing me pages upon pages of black women who, like all of us, are enjoying their lives and time in the way that they want to?
It's not exactly a shock to realize that black women have an "upspoken" (or sometimes spoken) code of conduct in society. I find that it's often translated on two different levels, inside and outside of the black community. As a black woman, the way I behave inside a POC-dominated space is radically different from the way I talk/walk/behave in a white dominated space; in POC spaces, the way people receive (and thus, approach) me is different from the jump. More of then than not, less of the things I do or say will be taken in an ill manner, because there is a different set of "rules" within the community that allows for more freedom and understanding on my part.
But that doesn't mean that POC communities are absolved of harsh treatment or "punishment," however--and ratchet is a huge example of that. Even with the change of environment and expectations in POC spaces, black people constantly seem to be on the bottom of the totem pole. Anti-black rhetoric can and still does fly within other non-black POC communities, and anti-black misogyny (which can operate within and outside of the black community) runs twice as deep, with a lot more ground to cover and possibly trip on. Although I'm sure there's no real right or wrong way to be or appear as a black woman, women who seem to fail the "test" feel the wrath of this label.
What counts as "ratchet" is a study in progress, though; although the term seems to have similar ties to "ghetto" or "hood," it seems to work as a culmination of both. A person can be ratchet for a hairstyle (keep in mind that the colorful and creative expression of such a style is often revered or acceptable in white spaces or on white bodies), for fighting public, for owning certain types of cars ("hooptis") or eating/drinking certain foods ("40s" or "welfare favorites")--which often calls its classist background into attention too. If literally anything can be ratchet, why do things that are believed to be associated with or are the products of black women the things that come under target the most.
I think it's pretty hard to deny that ratchet is not universal; not everyone can be ratchet. Black women, and black women only, are more likely to be or look or talk ratchet--thus, black women are ratchet. To claim that ratchet is a neutral word is to deny the extremely racist, misogynistic and classist connotations behind it and how it limits and harms black women.
Lately (and thankfully!) there has been a growing movement that views ratchet in a positive light (sometimes, but not always, known as "Team Ratchet" in online spaces) and is working to reclaim the term in interesting ways. For the most part, it shuns the idea that looking or behaving a certain way is "ratchet" and takes pride in all the things it is shamed for. I'm a sucker for reactionary movements, especially those that would rather flip off social limitations than conform to them. Not surprisingly, those I have encountered who use the term "Team Ratchet" or otherwise rep for the crew are black women, myself included.
And I have to ask: who really gives a fuck? Being "ratchet" and being proud means putting all of yourself out there for the world to see (literally or not!) and watching people be uncomfortable. Being ratchet means not being ashamed of what you know or what you used to be. Being ratchet means not giving a fuck, at worst--at best, it's reminding them over and over that you don't and never will. Being ratchet is taking a look at the long line of social expectations and setting them back on the shelf. There are always going to be things that I do or say that will never socially acceptable for as a black woman.
So I ask again: who really gives a fuck?
The more we understand about ratchet and how we expect and want to use it, the more we understand about how interacting with our communities influences how we interact with the world. Ratchet as a term can be poisonous or uplifting, and since POC communities have a long history of reclamation, I feel like we should've already let the ratchet flag fly a year ago. I want to see what becomes of this term and what it can mean for everyone, but black women especially. I want all connotations surrounding us to be positive and loving, because that's what we are; that's what we deserve.