Gwyneth Paltrow obviously thinks highly of her friend, designer Stella McCartney, whose transformation from “free spirit to such a kind of beautifully conventional, hard-working life as a wife and mother” she touted in a New York Times magazine profile about her rise in the fashion industry. However, Gwyneth followed that sweet sentiment with a peculiar choice of phrasing to pay her pal another compliment. After praising McCartney for being “shockingly honest,” the Oscar winner added, “I always say there's this kind of hidden ghetto side to Stella. She's tough. She doesn't back down from someone who might have less to lose than her.”
Do you hear that, y’all? It’s the sound of the word "brave" crying in the corner shouting, “But that’s my thing!” The words "courage" and "edgy" are out back throwing things in anger.
Some are amused by Paltrow’s selection of that adjective to describe Stella. One writer for Stylecaster said, “Only Gwyneth Paltrow would say that a fellow rich white girl was ghetto, and that's why I love her.” Others have been less forgiving for obvious reasons.
As the daughter of an actress and Hollywood director and producer, it’s within reason to assume the closest Gwyneth Paltrow ever got to the ghetto was that verse from “Straight Outta Compton” that she was able to spit on command on a British talk show. Or maybe even story time with her friend, Jay-Z.
When asked about Paltrow’s choice to use the descriptor “ghetto,” which reporter Rachel Nolan told her seemed “a bit much,” New York Times fashion critic and writer of the McCartner profile, Cathy Horyn, defended the actress.
Horyn reiterated mentions of Stella’s “wild” days along with “the fact that she had gone to state schools where they didn’t treat children with kid gloves.” Moreover, despite being the daughter of Paul McCartney, Stella’s family “had a normal environment with no security around.” In other words, Horyn knows even less about the life associated with that term than Gwyneth does.
I don’t believe Paltrow meant any malice, similar to the time where she talked about her “kitchen (no, not the one you cook in).” Even if it’s somewhat overly sensitive for me to feel this way, there’s something annoying about the idea of one wealthy scion referring to another as “ghetto.” The same goes for the verbal orgy many have with the word “ratchet” by way of social media.
And it’s ultimately inconsequential if she meant it as a compliment considering it reads as something largely rooted in a stereotype all the same. Toughness doesn’t equate ghetto and there are a number of other ways Gwyneth could’ve explored to tribute her friend’s strong willed ways – ones that don’t compare to a specific experience people of their privilege can’t fathom. A ghetto is a neighborhood of people from a similar, often depressed, socio-economic class. And if anyone, anywhere has a "ghetto" thing about them, it isn't the daughter of Sir Paul McCartney. Nor is that attribute to be readily identified by an heir to Hollywood royalty who's only connection to the 'hood is her friendship with a ghetto expatriate rapper.
So again, I get it; she meant well, and it’s not as if I’m hoping Beyoncé loses her number and starts rolling with Reese Witherspoon instead. At the same time, Gwyneth Paltrow is the very person who once claimed, "I am who I am. I can't pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year.” Let’s not start pretending now.