“Insignificance”


“The child was diseased stricken at birth, stricken with a hereditary illness that


most vital men are able to shake off. I mean poverty---the most deadly and prevalent of all diseases.”- Eugene O’Neill. The poor will remain poor unless significant change occurs. Significant change does not occur, thus the poor are doomed to be poor and so are their children and their children’s children. It is a never-ending cycle that is described in Jonathan Kozol’s Amazing Grace, a documentary about living in one of the wealthiest city in the world and being among the poorest people on earth. But more specifically this book describes the lives of the children who were unfortunate enough to be born into a world described by Kozol as being “one of the largest racially segregated concentrations of poor people in our nation”(Kozol p.3)


“There is often a tendency to see the affluent as meritorious and to blame the poor


for their own degradation.” This is what Murray Edelman states in The Politics of Misinformation, to be the reasoning as to why there is no significant change and the poor remain in the cruel cycle of poverty that they are forced to pass from generation to generation. It is a classic myth of modern society that the poor have made grave mistakes that have placed them in their own desperate situations. For example, ““If poor people behaved rationally,” says Lawrence Mead, a professor of political science at New York University, “they would seldom be poor for long in the first place.” Many social scientists today…hold to 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 p.21) Now this accounts for some of the poverty in The South Bronx but this does not hold account for the countless number of children whose only mistake was to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kozol explains the situation of one of his informants, a woman by the name of Alice Washington. He states that her only fault, if she really did have a fault, was to be doomed by society, because it was society that placed massive restraints on her that did not allow her any social mobility, because as Edelman states the elites (men/women who are in power i.e. politicians) want to maintain power and the only way of doing that is to maintain the status quo. In order to maintain the status quo, elites must rationalize their actions and convince the majority, which tends to be lower middle class and the poor that their beliefs and actions are for the benefit of society as a whole. They also try to convince the majority that change is slow but it is occurring when in actuality nothing is really happening, unless you count the worsening of the situation.(Edelman p.20-21)


An example of the latter would be, “The mayor insists that “all the people of the


City” will be shouldering the human costs of his decisions; but this is obviously not so. The costs of cuts in sanitation…are incurred and felt almost immediately in the South Bronx. Their consequence are significantly diluted in those neighborhoods where sanitation is … purchased…through private means…”(Kozol p.109) Here we have the prefect example of an elite maintaining the status quo. At the time the mayor of NYC was Rudolph Giuliani, who imposed many tax cuts and damaged the city’s health and education programs for the public, especially for the poor. Giuliani at the time took away many city jobs in claiming that this would create future jobs by maintaining the wealthy interested in NYC. Instead what he did was further condemn the poor. He took away many of their public physicians, building inspectors and social workers. He did the complete opposite of helping the city. Giuliani took away jobs and worsened the public education system.


It is a classic American myth that with a proper education and determination,


that we can achieve anything, including pulling ourselves out of poverty. But what happens when the one thing that is the answer to escaping poverty and making a “rational” choice for the first time is taken away. Then the answer is that you are the