|Children from the Martinique Hotel by Matt from here.|
"Success within the lives of those I’ve known for all these years is as much a matter of their inward growth—in decency, in character—as of their outward victories. And, at the end, uncertainties remain..." Jonathan Kozol, (Kindle Locations 2001-2002).
"History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." I've often puzzled over that line that Joyce penned--until today.
It is the stories Jonathan Kozol tells that makes each and every work by him stay with me and well after I finish the actual reading reveal ways of seeing that I almost knew before. I finished reading Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children and am feeling anger, sadness, impotence, and gross incompetence. The history of poor children living in Manhattan and then later in the South Bronx that Kozol writes about occurs while I am an adult. This is a history and yet it is not one from a distant time. It is from the time I have lived. As such, I feel an ownership that comes alongside such neglect.
Neither geography nor time can distance us from what happened and failed to happen in the lives of the children and families Kozol chronicles. In the end of the 1980s while children were living at the Martinique Hotel I was living just across the river, falling in love, teaching, traveling, and beginning a doctorate at an uptown university. The distance between that life and the one being forged at the Martinique gives me pause.
What Kozol describes feels like a nightmare--a distance that those there could not claim.
We spend an inordinate amount of time discussing education in the United States and very little time, if any, discussing the economic injustices that give rise to poverty and make it feel inevitable. Since the rise of right-wing conservatism that was fully ushered in via Ronald Reagan the conversation about shared sacrifice and equity which framed the conversations coming out of the 60s and 70s have been silenced so that we might argue about family values, education, marriage, health care, abortion while ignoring those among us who are forced to do without even the basics.
In 1988, Reagan when asked about U.S. homelessness said this:
“Well, it’s been so exaggerated. Millions, there aren’t millions. Real research reveals probably 300,000 or less, nationwide. And a lot of those are the type of people that have made that choice. For example, more than 40% of them are retarded, mentally deficient people, that is the result of the ACLU. Look at the girl in NY who went to court after Koch had ordered her to get off the street and be put in a shelter. She went to court and actually fought, under her Constitutional rights, to go on living in that cardboard box on the street.“ (from here).
This is the same man for whom airports, libraries, and other monuments have been built to honor. I didn't see it then and I certainly don't understand it now. The meanness of Reagan's rhetoric continues today and is stunningly unapologetic as it finds voice in conservatives who claim to love. I don't doubt they do love, just that such love is awful stingy. Just consider how Mitt Romney can say this without hesitation even as he tries to gain your confidence in the way of a vote:
“I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it." (from here).
If poverty is in need of repair? As an artist, I have been making images of people down and out in America for the last few years. Here's one look:
Kozol, Jonathan (2012-08-28). Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.