-->

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Social Apartheid in America - An Essay


Social Apartheid in America

The book Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol is an eye-opener for anyone who is unfamiliar with the themes of child poverty in America, and the social apartheid that seems to be a great contributor to this degradation of people. We will examine how these children feel like 'other' and who makes them feel that way and how that makes them feel like nobodies. Then we will look at what makes them feel like somebodies, and the role that religion plays in this daily struggle for dignity.

In order to be seen as other, or seeing themselves as other, these children express very clearly in their own words, what they see and how they see it. "The point is that they put a lot of things into our neighborhood that no one wants, the waste incinerator is just one more lovely way of showing their affection." Also we are told, "Why do you want to put so many people with small children in a place with so much sickness? This is the last place in New York that they should put poor children." We are also told that children see themselves as less than human. They state: "I think they look at us as obstacles to moving forward." They also realize that they do not have the schools, social services and medical care that others in New York have. We're told: "Ten thousand people live here in Hunts Point but we do have one private doctor." And the situation will not get better. One pastor states: "We see God as a liberating force who calls us to deliver people from oppression. The apparent consensus of the powerful is that the ghetto is to be preserved as a perpetual catch basin for the poor."

These children feel this way for many reasons, some of which include: "Depression is common among children in Mott Haven. Many cry a great deal but cannot explain why." Also one young boy sees the racial segregation and states: "'Since 1960' says a 12-year-old named Jeremiah, 'white people started moving away from black and Spanish people in New York.'" They also see their situation not only as segregation but much like a prison. "You don't have to be in jail to be in prison." And another little girl states: "It's not like being in a jail," she says, "It's more like being hidden."; or even worse then being in prison. These children also know that they are crammed into a place of sickness, disease and death. "So you took a place of death and added more death, and more danger, and this was intentional and it was spiteful and it was a conscious plan." Kozol predicts that by our time, "the Bronx and Harlem and Washington Heights will make up a vast and virtually uninterrupted ghetto with a population close to that of Houston, Texas, which is America's fourth-largest city." They see themselves as put down by society and by New York City specifically.

That makes them feel like nobodies. In their own words they say: "It isn't the language. It's skin color and it's being poor. This is something more than disrespect. It's as if they wish that you did not exist so they would not have to be bothered." They know that the cards are stacked against them.

Religion is one of the places that helps these children feel like somebodies. One pastor declares: "As a religious man, I see it as my obligation to speak out against this, not to bend the poor to be accommodated to injustice, but to empower them to fight it and to try to tear it down." The children draw strength from each other and from their parents if they have them, and their grandparents, and from religion. For religion plays a large role in this daily struggle for dignity, and in these children's lives. Kozol states of one young boy: "Unlike many children I have met in recent years, he has an absolutely literal religious faith". Kozol also states, about his own time in this area: "Saddened by the streets, I am repeatedly attracted into churches." Finally, Kozol also observes: "Many here are a great deal more devout than people you would meet in wealthy neighborhoods. Those who have everything they want or need have often the least feeling for religion." In a conversation with one woman our author recorded:

"What gives you strength?"
"I Pray."
"Does that really ease the pain?"
"Yes it does."



And this clearly shows how religion is a key role in these people's lives. Lastly, our author states: "The pastor's clear and calming voice fills the chapel of the church, in which six people from the neighborhood have come to pray. It isn't my religion, but it lends a sense of blessed peace and sanity to evening." So religion is one of the few solaces for these children and the people in these communities.

Endnotes:
  1. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.10
  2. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.11
  3. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.39
  4. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.79
  5. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.80
  6. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.4
  7. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.32
  8. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.37
  9. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.38
  10. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.52
  11. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.192
  12. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.41
  13. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.80,81
  14. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.8
  15. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.78
  16. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.78
  17. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.105
  18. Kozol, Jonathan; Amazing Grace Harper Collins, 1995, p.138
(First written for RS 100L Evil Fall 2005.)

No comments: