I found the documentary Poverty in Chicago extremely interesting, partly because I am from the City of Chicago (I write “City of Chicago” to distinguish myself from people who say they are from Chicago when they actually live over 30 minutes away and have never lived within city limits). I saw many landmarks that I have been seeing my entire life. One of them was the Harold Washington Library, where I had been forced to go by my family and schools during my childhood. The documentary also mentioned the location where I was born, Michael Reese Hospital.
The documentary also heavily illustrated another element of my hometown that I am unfortunately too used to seeing, which is homeless people on the streets. Ever since I can remember I have been seeing homeless people in the streets and on the sidewalks begging for money and food. When I was younger I would pay them more attention and think about their situation. My mom would always tell me I would end up just like them if I did not apply myself in school. Just the thought of living in their circumstances horrified me enough to motivate myself in my academics in elementary school. However, as I matured I began to try to ignore the homeless that I would see everyday. I would turn a blind eye to them so I would not have to sympathize with them.
Now, after reading Shklar and Douglass’s readings, I have began to think about the pending citizenship of the homeless. The idea of whether or not the homeless are true citizens of the United States is pretty intriguing to me because, even though I have been seeing the homeless all my life, I have never thought about their citizenship. Shklar would clearly believe that the homeless people filmed in Poverty in Chicago are not citizens since they do not work and cannot vote. Shklar believes that it is crucial that all citizens in a society have the capability to do those two things. Douglass would most likely also believe that the homeless are not citizens. Usually the homeless do not have a substantial income and do not have a solid earning (besides what is given to them when they ask for money from strangers), which is vital to Douglass’ definition of citizenship.
However, I believe that the homeless are still citizens. Although many of them are the main reason why they are homeless (for instance, substance abusers), most of them have not received the assistance from the government that they should have (those that are mentally ill, disabled, veterans, etc.). Also, the majority of homeless people in the United States are minorities. The ratio of homeless people within the African American community is overwhelmingly higher than the ratio for homelessness in the Caucasian population. African Americans only make up 12% of the United States population, yet make up 40% of the homeless in the country. Such a significantly high homelessness rate from the African American community illustrates the oppression that blacks are still facing today due to slavery centuries ago.
Therefore, instead of questioning whether the homeless constitute as citizens, shouldn’t it be questioned whether the United States government is failing their citizens? Similar to how the country abused the rights of slaves and paid them no attention as citizens, once again the country is also doing the same to those that are in need and that unquestionably deserve it.
I wonder how those people, including the mentally ill, disabled, and veterans, feel on the Fourth of July. Douglass refused to celebrate the history of a country that had failed him and his people in such an unforgivable, malicious manner. If I were them, I would feel that the country has failed me too. There is no reason why the most powerful country in the world should allow people that have fought for the country to not have a place to live. The mentally ill and disabled also deserve better from the country.
The failure of the country to take care of its citizens reminds me of the song “Words of Wisdom” by 2Pac. In the song he flagrantly, yet intellectually, criticizes the country for its oppressive nature to African Americans and those in need. The song is from 2Pac’s debut album 2Pacalypse Now, which was his most politically conscious work. Feel free to take a listen. Enjoy.