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Student 24's picture

I’ve grown to be afraid of strong language, strong opinions, and strong, passionate declarations. I’m scared of loud voices, faces tight, sweaty, and red, jaws about to snap off throats bursting with throbbing veins. I am aware of the sensationalist writing style that began the “Apocalypse, New Jersey” article, and I am cautious of it. But I’m also wary of jumping immediately to the reaction of vehemently opposing and dismissing everything this article stated, simply because my very limited, single story of my experience in Camden didn’t reflect what I read here. I can acknowledge the danger of having limited sources of information - my two visits to Camden, the stories and statements made by those at the CFET, the article, and the informative city profile - and that I can never know the full story. But of course, there is never a whole, full story. There are infinite stories that create some sort of poly-sided, multi-dimensional shape object thing. But for now I’ll keep away from my usual everything-is-so-complex-let’s-just-give-up-before-our-brains-fall-out.

I’m also scared of optimism. Or rather - and this is more correct - I am scared of announcing my own optimism about something about which I have absolutely no idea, no way of knowing the extent to which it may be justified. Ari’s letter affirming the celebration and cause for hope and optimism towards the positive actions being performed in Camden; the wonderful, positively-energetic, and enthusiasm-filled day with the fifth graders; the sunshine - all of these make me feel happy and hopeful. These are my feelings. My emotional reactions.

There are two bits - well, there are more, but I’ll limit myself to two - of the article I want to respond to and expand on.

"Rather than getting a call of an adult who had assaulted a child, generally you'll get a call to send an ambulance and a police officer to the corner of 7th and York because there's a person laying there beaten nearly to death with chains.”

Last semester I took a class about government policies that address the many, many reasons that poverty and economic inequality exist in people’s lives, and how those policies can eventually reduce that inequality. We spoke mainly about the elderly and about single mothers, who are the most economically poor in the US. One of the topics dealt with mental and psychological health of women who are not able to find or maintain employment. Quite often, these women are suffering from depression or some sort of anxiety because of being sexually assaulted and abused in their childhoods. In class we discussed all sorts of ideas for policies that could help these women, offering them counseling, safe spaces, support groups… things that would help them recover. But not something that prevented the violation from occurring in the first place. And I was just stuck with this question: how do you create a nationally-implemented-and-enforced policy that targets an action that is so intimate, so personal, so private, so dangerously-secret, and so domestic? How do you get a government policy to creep into the lifestyle behaviours within a household? This kind of assault doesn’t immediately leave bodies on the sidewalk with physical evidence for the police to investigate. In fact, it doesn’t leave or leave anything. It stays within the child involved.

“…turning a scene like Camden into a very expensive, very dark nihilistic comedy: a perpetual self-occupation.”

Quite a haunting and stirring image. Jerking, rather. I found it really painful to read, and look at. Comedy. Self-occupation. This is the strong language that really scares me and saddens me with wide eyes. Extreme.

To suggest the projection of nihilism onto the residents and human-components of Camden themselves - Wow. I know this image is in the context of remarking on the frightening alterations of the city's policing and patrolling system, but it's so... defeatist! As if the author's lens of defeatism was unjustly finding defeatism and nihilism in the subject itself. I agree that real life can be absurd when laid out on the table... And now I just have to rethink this. In my visits and personal interactions with the select few residents of Camden, I didn't sense any feelings of defeat. In fact, it was really all the opposite. But I suppose there are many that feel defeated and hopeless. And instead of doing the other extreme, of finding all the hopeful and positive aspects of life in Camden, there can also be an initiative that addresses the pre-existing defeat and hopelessness? Of course, I say these things, and I know that I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm speaking with the fear of having an angled voice and of hearing angled voices.

I have a question. If there exists a problem, but no body is bothered or no body claims there is a problem, does the problem still exist? And if there is no problem, but every body claims to be affected by a problem, does an actual problem exist? Whose voices matter? Whose bodies matter?


jo's picture

I really appreciated this

I really appreciated this post, especially how much you're questioning your own and everyone else's perspectives, because that is one of my tendencies as well. It was interesting for me to scan some of the posts last night and this morning about Apocalypse, New Jersey, because I was suprised at how strongly many people challenged Taibbi's approach and attitude of being so negative. I'll admit that I read it pretty quickly and got distracted several times during the process, but my first response to it was not one of outrage at how negatively he was representing Camden. I was shocked, certainly, at some of his statistics and claims, and didn't necessarily swallow them all without question, but I by no means thought that our sunny, pleasant experiences with CfET and the fifth graders were archetypical of life in Camden. So I guess this all connects to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's critique of a single story. Taibbi's single story laden with negativity is certainly problematic (especially coming from his assumed place of privilege), but perhaps a story based solely on our two experiences there would be equally so.