Sunday, February 2, 2014

Jonathan Kozol: Not So Amazing Grace

Jonathan Kovol's Amazing Grace opens readers eyes to the inhumane conditions of Mott Haven, New York. Home to 67,000 people, Mott Haven is part of the South Bronx where two thirds are Hispanic and one third black. It is an inhumane region that houses prostitutes, drug addicts, people suffering from AIDS and un-privileged families living life day by day. In the reading, Kozol speaks with a young boy named Cliffie. Cliffie is extremely mature for his age but still has the same characteristics of a seven year old boy. Children in these types of neighborhoods grow up fast. Becoming "street smart" is a way of survival. He tours Kozol around Mott Haven, telling him about certain landmarks that could seem normal to the average person. Kozol learns a lot from seven year old Cliffie and learns even more from personal stories of the various Mott Haven residents.

 "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."
The government treats Mott Haven residents as if they are not humans. They are handled like the trash that is thrown into their backyards. If garbage trucks dumped piles of  trash all along the upper East Side of Manhattan, the government or city officials would be getting sued from a local resident. This is a perfect example of the privilege vs. non privileged. If a resident of Mott Haven tried to stop the garbage dumping in neighborhoods, they would be judged by their race and would never be taken seriously.

"If poor people behaved rationally they would seldom be poor for long in the first place." -Lawrence Mead 
This quote made me want to rip this paper to shreds. I completely disagree with the New York University professor that made this statement. I understand that some social scientists can link poor behavior to poverty, drug abuse and prostitution, but for someone to make a general, cruel statement about un-privileged families living in poverty makes our human race look disgusting and completely blinded by our glass wall in front of our own eyes. Last time I checked, wealthy and privileged people weren't behaving that rationally either. "Many social scientists today appear to hold this point of view and argue that the largest portion of the suffering poor people undergo has to be blamed upon their own "'behaviors,'" a word they tend to pluralize" (Kozol 21).

"The waste products of some of these hospitals, she says, were initially going to be burned at an incinerator scheduled to be built along the East Side of Manhattan, but the siting of a burner there had been successfully resisted by the parents of the area because of fear of cancer risks to children" (Kozol 7).

This quote took my mind right to an episode of Gossip Girl. God forbid they put an incinerator on the East Side of Manhattan! The wealthy families cannot be seen in a place where there is an incinerator, yet alone have one in their own neighborhood. The privileged families were able to put a stop to having the pollutants in the air and they decided to send it to the South Bronx where none of their residents could even step up to the battle of removing it.

Discussion Questions:

Has anything in Mott Haven changed since Kozol's research was published? What is the government's reactions to the living conditions of Mott Haven? Why do they think it is okay for so many people with sicknesses live in such close quarters of each other? How do the teachers in the South Bronx public and charter schools feel about Mott haven? Does the "destitute" state of children and families have an extremely negative impact on the students learning? 



  1. Shannon you did a terrific job expressing your outrage. And it is just. No one chooses to be poor. And no one chooses their skin color. Mott Haven has actually made some significant improvements since this article was written. I also wanted to add that in the 60"s (I think) a man chemically darkened his skin to see if how it would affect the quality of his life and how differently society might treat him. He documented his experience in a book, "Black Like Me". See you in class!

  2. I'm glad someone else was as outraged by the "rational behavior" quote as I was. Of course no one chooses poverty. They can make choices that in turn lead them there, but no one wakes up one day and decides to be poor. Not to get political, but these kinds of attitudes are what lead to the widening gap between rich and poor in this country and the continued mistreatment of those are at an economic disadvantage. You did a great job of picking out a handful of the more shocking and poignant quotes from this article. Great work!