Sunday, September 14, 2014

Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol

It's often hard to step outside of your own shoes and to fully comprehend what’s going on in less fortunate parts of the world.  We can offer our sympathy to their despair but it is not until we are fully exposed to their realities that we are able to understand how bad it really is.  Jonathan Kozol’s Amazing Grace was that type of piece that was truly an eye-opener for me. Kozol wrote about his experiences in Mott Haven, a neighborhood in South Bronx. Those that reside in Mott Haven are considered the poorest of the southern Bronx area and most are dealing with drug addiction, terrible living conditions, and disease.  But what it is the most disheartening of it all is the children who are living in these conditions.
Children who live in Mott Haven are exposed to every element of their poverty at a young age.  When Kozol meets Cliffie at St. Ann's Church, he shows him all around the neighborhood. Cliffie is only a young boy but he acts in such a mature way, “Cliffie, who is listening to this while leaning on his elbow like a pensive grown-up, offers his tentative approval to his mother's words" (11). Cliffie has seen so much by living in this area that he is almost forced to grow up. He knew about the murders that took place and the prostitutes on Jackson Avenue but it’s as if they do not faze him.  This quote shows how the children living these areas are not sheltered from much.  Their lifestyle does not exactly allow them to be protected from these terrors.  They have to be fully aware of what is going on. To me it seems that the maturity is almost a method of survival. 
Another quote that I found to be important was pertaining to the incinerator that the parents did not want in the neighborhood. These parents had opposed it to be built just like the “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” (7). The same argument was made by the Mott Haven parents, so why were they unsuccessful? They were unsuccessful because of where they are ranked in society.  And that is not acceptable.  Just because they are living in poverty does not mean it is justifiable to deny them of their safety.  They should have done the opposite for that reason alone. Their voice was heard but was instead pushed aside. They did not have the power to make a difference because they are not privileged enough.
The last quote that I think is the most significant to the piece was mentioned in the beginning of Kozol's work,  "do they think they deserve this?" (5).  And after reading the entire piece,  I think that society has pushed these children into thinking that this is what their life is meant to be.  I don't think this what they initially felt but as Cliffie's mother said "you get used to the offense" (10).  After being put down so many times by society, I believe that these children have become accustomed to having such low standards of living that they have accepted it. And it is truly sad to think that these young children have to go through their life thinking this way. 
Jonathan Kozol and an inner city student


  1. The quotes you used from the text were perfect to show how children have to grow up with "drug addiction, terrible living conditions and disease". I also really liked the part where the parents opposed the building of the incinerator. You talked about how the families weren't ranked that high in society so no one would listen to them, and that connects to Delpit's thoughts on power. You chose perfect quotes to show how the children have to face everyday life in Mott Haven and it made me look at my life in a different way.

  2. It's so true what you said; that it's hard to for people not in that situation to remotely fathom what it's like to grow up in such a destitute community. First person pieces like this really do slap you in the face sometimes, it was an eye opener for me also.
    I really love your point that Cliffie is very mature for his age, I picked up on that too, but missed the quote that stated it so eloquently! His maturity is really underscored I think on the last two pages, where he reflects about evil, analyzes the risks his race faces, and contemplates why it is that the drug dealers hate him.

  3. I thought your blog on Kozol's text was very insightful. It is amazing how some communities have to fight not only acts racism, but acts of classism as well.
    No one should have to "get use to" a repeated offense of any sort.
    I agree with your comment, "Just because they are living in poverty does not mean it is justifiable to deny them of their safety. They should have done the opposite for that reason alone." The community of Mott Haven is obviously already crippled by poverty, why would we allow construction of a place that will now add in health concerns along with disparity? It is almost like the governments own twisted act of Darwinism, played out on a national scale.