By Arturo R. García
Just when you thought Satoshi Kanazawa had wrapped up Tone-Deaf Article Of The Year honors for 2011, Forbes’ Gene Marks sauntered his way into consideration Monday with “If I Were A Poor Black Kid,” which spun a speech by President Obama on economic inequality into a privilege-fest with bon mots like these, emphasis mine:
If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible. I would make it my #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently. I wouldn’t care if I was a student at the worst public middle school in the worst inner city. Even the worst have their best. And the very best students, even at the worst schools, have more opportunities. Getting good grades is the key to having more options. With good grades you can choose different, better paths. If you do poorly in school, particularly in a lousy school, you’re severely limiting the limited opportunities you have.
Somehow Forbes chose not to tag the bit about good grades as BREAKING NEWS. But maybe Marks’ editors didn’t want to overshadow the moment when he breaks it down even further than the President. That whole Occupy business? Totally barking up the wrong tree:
President Obama was right in his speech last week. The division between rich and poor is a national problem. But the biggest challenge we face isn’t inequality. It’s ignorance. So many kids from West Philadelphia don’t even know these opportunities exist for them. Many come from single-parent families whose mom or dad (or in many cases their grand mom) is working two jobs to survive and are just (understandably) too plain tired to do anything else in the few short hours they’re home. Many have teachers who are overburdened and too stressed to find the time to help every kid that needs it. Many of these kids don’t have the brains to figure this out themselves – like my kids. Except that my kids are just lucky enough to have parents and a well-funded school system around to push them in the right direction.
You know, it occurs to me that you don’t even live in America. And I’ve got to know, what the heck are you doing living in Sri Lanka? What do they have there? Camels? Rugs? Well, I can tell you one thing they don’t have: 100 percent grade-A American opportunity.
America is the land of milk and honey. You can probably catch a flight here from Sri Lanka for as little as $2,500 if you shop around. So what’s keeping you? Okay, I can imagine how it is: you live in a back alley and you eat garbage. And maybe you don’t have the liquid capital to outlay $2,500 on a luxury-like first-class airfare to the U.S. Well, you can always fly coach for about a third of first-class fare, and if worst comes to worst, put it on the plastic. As long as you pay it off as quickly as you can, the interest won’t cramp your style. (See Tip #1.)
Women also have more personal and social pressures than men. And this affects their ability to further their careers and get the experience they need to become good managers. It’s common today for families to have two working parents. But let’s admit it, when little Johnny gets sick at school who’s the first person that’s usually called? When a child is up at night coughing, which parent is staying up with her? When the plumber has to make an emergency morning visit, who’s generally staying at home to deal with it?
It’s usually mom. And even if she has a full time job too.
When my wife and I were younger and our baby would cry in the middle of the night I would put a pillow…over my head. That stopped the crying for sure. My wife (who was working full time by the way) was the one who got out of bed to care for the child. Yes, I was an ass. I’m not saying that many dads don’t pitch in or try to do their fair share. But as much as women have achieved in earning their equality, there are still some age old cultural habits that won’t die. Children need their mommies. And most moms I know, whether they have a full time job or not, want to be there for their child. I know plenty of women who admit they struggle with this instinctual tug on their gut. Men don’t have this kind of instinctual tug. Let’s face it: unless there’s beer involved, men don’t have many instincts at all. We figure our wives will ultimately handle these things. And in many cases, they just do.
I could go on and on, and but, you know – beer. More reaction from around the ‘Net under the cut.
In other words, there’s more to getting a foot-hold in middle class than simply knowing how to use Google Scholar. There are a number of complex and tangle-ly mazes to maneuver when one is climbing up the socioeconomic ladder. Working hard is important; but let’s not be naïve. Gene Marks gives no real mention of the hard road ahead it will be for this kids like – access to a full range of technology, transportation to these those fancy-pants magnet schools. And what about supplies, equipment, oh and perquisite education just not offered at those lousy public schools. You see, no matter how hard a kid tries, when the smartest student from a poor-functioning school district walks into my freshman biology class, I can tell. And from day one, she or he is playing catch-up with the kids who attended those private or suburban school districts.
- DN Lee, Scientific American
Everything about Marks’ stupid, stupid essay assumes as unchanging truth that a poor person will have to work ridiculously hard in order to have a future where they are not poor, and this is the root of the problem that Marks not only doesn’t address but asserts is just not that big a deal in his preamble when, after applauding Barack Obama for talking about income inequality, claims that the superrich aren’t getting vastly more than their fair share. Because there’s nothing wrong with expecting someone to work hard to rise above their current status. But there’s plenty wrong with expecting kids to load themselves to the bone with work in order to have a chance to rise above their current status.5 He’s willing to pay lip service to the idea that inequality is wrong, but he’s not willing to suggest that something be done to address the problem of inequality. It’s just another hurdle for poor black kids to jump, and he’s ever so gracious to admit that he, Gene Marks, did not have to jump these hurdles – and that’s just how it is. Tough luck, poor black kids! Those of you who cannot do these incredible and amazing things to struggle upwards, well, there’s always McDonald’s.
- Christopher Bird, MightyGodKing.com
We Negroes are familiar with this particular brand of help. The #WhiteLove™ style of caring. Movies love to show how, when a white person with an open mind shows up and deals with poor blacks, their lives are magically changed. As I read this piece, I sighed to myself and mumbled, “White liberals.”
Please stop your furious typing. I’m not claiming that all white liberals are as completely clueless as Mr. Marks. I’m not even sure that Mr. Marks is, in fact, liberal — but this brand of “help” normally comes wrapped in an “I’m here with you, man! I understand your pain” bow that is purchased at your nearest “Awesome Liberals Totally Get It” gift shop. It’s the “Let me help you help you” brand of awesome.
- Elon James White, The Root
Excuse me Mr. Marks, while I understand and somewhat agree with your position, when was the last time you heard of Black kindergartners in inner-city Chicago receiving iPads? I’ve got all day.
He goes on to say that poor black children need to try their hardest to research nationally recognized magnet schools in hopes to attend. The accelerated learning material will put them on the track to college and higher learning.
Um, once more. I don’t know a child– white, Black, or otherwise– researching schools to attend in hopes of a better tomorrow. They would much rather be out playing with friends or watching cartoons, ignorant to the fact that the educational gap is indeed widening.
- Camille Travis, Uptown Magazine
If I was a rich white dude I would first and most importantly work to make sure I actually saw what it’s like to live as a poor black kid myself before I wrote a condescending column about how we should solve “our” problems. I would make it my #1 priority to spend some actual time with a working-class black family. Obviously, I wouldn’t know any personally, but I’d outreach to a social services program or an inner city school for help finding one willing to let me talk to them. Even the most privileged and obtuse person can look up the name of a charitable nonprofit in the phone book. And if you’re a technology columnist and business consultant, you’ll have even more resources: You can use Google!
Getting firsthand insights is the key to writing an informed column. By seeing and talking to actual people facing the actual situation you’re covering, you can choose to pen a different, better piece. If you choose to give advice about poverty from the comfort of your heated office, behind your expensive computer, in your ergonomic Aeron chair, you’re severely increasing the chances that you’ll look like an arrogant, condescending jerk.
And I would use the contacts available to me as a columnist for a magazine for rich white dudes. My school teacher says that columnists usually have or can find all kinds of stuff online these days. That’s because (and sadly) it’s oftentimes the only way that lazy columnists who don’t want to do their own reporting can get data to inform their opinions.
- Jeff Yang, WNYC