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The South Bronx, in New York City, is the poorest congressional district with in the United States. Drugs and violence are an enormous problem making living conditions next to impossible. In Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol we are taken inside this forgotten place through eyewitness accounts and personal stories, we learn just how troubling poverty really is, and the problems that have created such poverty to begin with. The issue of poverty is much more complex than can be understood at surface level. Amazing Grace breaks through that barrier and shows that it is government injustices, separation of classes, and lack of opportunity that are the contributing factors to extreme poverty not only in the South Bronx, but worldwide. I agree and argue with the fact that poverty is due to government neglect, and the lack of opportunity that is given.
For starters, Mott Haven, which is located in the South Bronx, is the most racially segregated area of poor people in the United States. As Kozol points out, is comprised of a two-thirds Hispanic and one-third black population (Kozol 3). The average annual income in the South Bronx is $7,600 for the typical household. In addition to the low income and poor education, drugs such as crack-cocaine and heroin plague the neighborhood. Nearly everyone in Mott Haven is infected with the HIV virus. The South Bronx, according to Times Magazine, was nominated "the deadliest precinct" in the United States. For example, in 1991, eighty-four people were murdered, half of whom were the age of twenty-one. Many people here suffer from depression, anxiety, and asthma due to their living conditions and neglect from the conscience of the society.
Life in the South Bronx is no place anyone wants to live; constant shootings, AIDS, and prostitution are only a portion of what make living conditions in the South Bronx so difficult.
Some conservative critics might argue that poverty and the 'breakdown of the family' results from laziness, personal irresponsibility, or a lack or morality. The critics argue this point because they believe "if poor people behaved rationally, they would seldom be poor for long in the first place."(Kozol 21) While this may be true in some cases, Kozol clearly shows that many people who are poor suffer more from a lack of opportunity, oppression, and injustice than from behavioral problems. I agree with Kozol's main claim that systemic injustices and middle and upper class complacency perpetuate an unnatural condition: poverty.
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To argue the critics idea about 'irrationality', I like to give an example from Kozol.
Alice Washington was born in 1944 in New York City. Alice, like many other normal people received a high school education and even continued to secretarial college. During her marriage she contracted AIDS from her husband. She eventually left her husband after he began to beat her. She later found out that she had contracted cancer in her fallopian tubes and then cancer in the uterus. Trying to keep up with two full time jobs, with several surgeries, she was forced to resign and turn to the City of New York for support. Soon after she was forced to live in a homeless shelter with no plumbing. From this example I yet to figure out what she has done that was irrational.
Where were the support programs Mrs. Washington need? Where was the irresponsibility by Mrs. Washington? But ultimately where was the Government? How do you expect to help yourself when you have no control over anything? Many of the people in Mott Haven took place in the 1960's segregation movement but failed. The people of Mott Haven lost because of their lack of influence and voice they have over New York. As Kozol states, " a dream does not die on its own. A dream is vanquished by the choices ordinary people make about real things in their own lives."
A nine-year-old boy named Cliffie takes Kozol to the waste incinerator. The waste incinerator located in the middle of the town, as Cliffie describes to Kozol as "a place where they burn bodies." Kozol later finds out that the incinerator was supposed to be located along the East Manhattan, but of course the residents purposed the incinerator residing in East Manhattan because of the risk of cancer. Even if the residents proposed the incinerator, it doesn't give the government the right to put the incinerator in the ghetto. We need to raise the consciousness of our nation if we are to combat this situation in the first place. If we want a "good society" - like many philosophers, preachers and politicians have fought for - then we must care about humanity and quit separating people as "other." That is, Kozol wants the middle and upper classes to their similarities to people who are poor - we are, after all, a human family
Kozol talks with a small woman, a former cocaine addict who now helps the parents of children. She informs Kozol that the government relocated more than 3,000 homeless people in the South Bronx. She then asks " Why do you [they- government] want to put so many people with small children in a place with so much sickness?" (Kozol 11) She later finishes her thought by asking us why they would want to clump so many people with all the same symptoms and the same problems into one crowded place with nothing they can grow on (11)? Place all the sick and "unclean" people in a closed off space and wait for them to die off or kill each other from insanity. This proves, as a great example of how people with no money or stature are treated in this so-called "land of opportunities." As Mrs. Washington states it, " we are living in a bad time"(13)
How are they expected to live a long and prosperous life when there is little to no health care?
A Hospital called the Bronx - Lebanon is a privately run hospital, but it is a very uninviting place. Mrs. Washington has to wait as long as 6 hours before any doctor or nurse could see her. Meanwhile, after being admitted into a room, Mrs. Washington walks in to see the beds not made and blood on the walls and floors. She tells us that you are better off making the beds yourself, or else you will have to wait several more hours. The staff at Lebanon Hospital means well, but they are just so understaffed that they cannot tend to everyone's need. Like Mrs. Washington states, " I know most of the nurses. Some are like old friends" (15). Where is the irresponsibility in that?
It is appalling to hear critics talk about lack of irresponsibility, when the government cannot fund the most basic public service: School. The children of Mott Haven attend a school that is ranked 'dead last' in reading scores of all elementary schools in New York City.
How are the poor expected to rise above poverty when there are so many forces holding them down? The government has the greatest influence on what people can and can not do. If you don't believe that statement, go to China. I believe that the only way to even start to envision a solution is to show love and compassion toward the less fortunate. If we show them to give instead of take and help instead of ignore problems, they can show their children and eventually view an optimistic outlook in such a hopeless society. I still argue that poverty is from the government and lack of opportunity. So who is right? Does Kozol's claim hold up against the critics argument that poor people live in poverty because the lack of responsibility, or does the critics argument hold up against Kozol's? You be the verdict. Give them a hope for one dream: Peace.