Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If I Were a Short, Balding, Mediocre White Man I Would Write an Advice Column For Poor Black Kids in Forbes Magazine

The President’s speech got me thinking. My kids are no smarter than similar kids their age from the inner city. My kids have it much easier than their counterparts from West Philadelphia. The world is not fair to those kids mainly because they had the misfortune of being born two miles away into a more difficult part of the world and with a skin color that makes realizing the opportunities that the President spoke about that much harder. This is a fact. In 2011.
Forbes magazine has posted a column by Gene Marks, a middle aged white guy, who wants to give advice to poor black kids about how to be successful in America. Of course, these young black kids read Forbes everyday and will internalize his wisdom. There is no poverty porn, noblesse oblige, white paternalism, compassionate conservative masturbation, navel gazing at work here. No. None at all.

Folks are all over his butt already. In fact, Gene Marks is about to become more popular than he has any right to be, both with the conservative, "blacks have bad culture crowd" (who will hold him up as a brave truth teller), and the anti-racist lecture circuit crowd (who is going to use his essay in Forbes as an object lesson in white privilege for years and years to come).

And like flies on shit, black conservative apologists will soon start hovering over Marks' essay as they instinctively rise to defend any assault on either people of color, or the black poor, by the white conservative establishment. Black conservatives are on retainer and are obligated to shuck, buck dance, and jive to earn their keep. Their appearance is imminent.
I am not a poor black kid. I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background. So life was easier for me. But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them. Or that the 1% control the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind. I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed. Still. In 2011. Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia. 

It takes brains. It takes hard work. It takes a little luck. And a little help from others. It takes the ability and the know-how to use the resources that are available. Like technology. As a person who sells and has worked with technology all my life I also know this.

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...
It is difficult to imagine oneself in the shoes of another person. Empathy and sympathy are difficult traits to practice even under the best of circumstances. I also do not know what Gene Marks' intentions were in writing his Forbes' essay. However, I am mighty curious about the intentions of Forbes' editors in publishing such a problematic piece of work.

Marks is likely a "nice" guy who is so awash in white privilege, class entitlement, and sexism (remember, discourses on poverty are almost always about both race and gender) that it is impossible for him to really imagine himself as the Other; yet, he is so arrogant that he imagines himself capable of understanding all people's experiences, at all times, and in all places. This is the crux of White privilege--a sense of gross universality and normativity, a racial heliocentrism that allows a white person to generalize outward with authority on all things.
If I was a poor black kid I would get technical. I would learn software. I would learn how to write code. I would seek out courses in my high school that teaches these skills or figure out where to learn more online. I would study on my own. I would make sure my writing and communication skills stay polished.

Because a poor black kid who gets good grades, has a part time job and becomes proficient with a technical skill will go to college. There is financial aid available. There are programs available. And no matter what he or she majors in that person will have opportunities. They will find jobs in a country of business owners like me who are starved for smart, skilled people. They will succeed.
Predictably, Whiteness will also make Gene Marks into a victim, as "he is just trying to be helpful" and "how dare those liberals and race pimps tell him that he is wrong!"

Two truisms apply here. One, you should write what you know. As revealed by his Forbes' essay, Gene Marks does not know anything of the experiences of poor black and brown kids in inner city America. He has no access to their internal lives, his article also suggests a blinding ignorance of the realities of structural inequality in this country. Two, a fish does not know that it is wet. Despite his lip service to the concept, Marks does not really imagine himself as privileged (as he would have not written such a piece, in the manner that he so chose), or that the life experiences of a self-described mediocre technocrat, one who somehow found himself a columnist for Forbes and the NY Times, are in any way exceptional or unique.

As we saw with Newt Gingrich's ugly suggestions that poor kids should become janitors in order to teach those lazy blacks about the value of hard work, and Rush Limbaugh's observation that poor kids on school lunch programs are greedy street urchins, Marks is a singer in a conservative chorus whose message is simple: you are poor because you are lazy; moreover, poor people want to be poor; poor black kids born to crappy circumstances can do better if they just tried harder...and are smart enough to show some initiative.
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.
I do wonder what Gene Mark's advice would be to lazy, dim, anti-intellectual, and entitled white kids (and those of the upper classes more generally) who were born on the 3rd base of life and think they hit a home run? Would his advice be the same for the white rural poor? What would Gene Marks tell the "new poor," those formerly middle class suburban types who are couch surfing, living in cars, tents, or hotels? What wisdom does he have to preach from on high?
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.
Technology can help these kids. But only if the kids want to be helped. Yes, there is much inequality. But the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.
I will let Gene Mark's closing comments stand on their own: they are ugly poetry in motion.


Anonymous said...

Hey CD, my cousin sent me the link earlier today; I opened it, saw the title and his pic and immediately thought, "I'm sick and tired of "them" telling people how to be!" I did not read the article and I don't neeed to because I knew exactly what it would say. I know this sounds bad but I am sick and tired of white people and their ignorance!


Henri B. said...

I'm on tenterhooks for his essay on what he would do if he *was* a woman. I could be here all day picking this crap apart but the thing that really told me that he needs a clue is that he thinks by sheer virtue of being the best student in the worst school you will automatically have the knowledge base required to keep up at a top 10 university. That your education in and of itself isn't lacking (resources, consistency) just the effort put into it. Amazingly short-sighted given that many of his white conservative colleagues are educated and don't know basic facts about US history, government, and what was the third one?

Plane Ideas said...

What is the answer for Black folks in face of this reality a society of white folks who simply have a cultural dna that is adverse to our very being??

I had a conversation today with a white person and I suggested to him for decades white folks have been under the belief we are genetically inferior perhaps there is a gene for white folks pathological racial condition..

Marks does us a great service by reminding us at any second in America to white america we are zeroes...Knowing that alone liberates and makes me a ICON of course a FREE BLACK MAN 24/7 doing whatever/whenever/whereever..

I have ignore white folks for decades now and my life is quite rewarding

Paul Sunstone said...

According to Gene Mark, "It takes a little luck. And a little help from others."

I adore the way he downplays just how much luck and how much help from others typically goes into succeeding in any society.

A friend of mine is a self-made millionaire who worked every day of the year for years to get where he is. That's no exaggeration -- if he took time off, it was for half a day only. He did that for at least a decade.

When he talks about that period in his life, he doesn't emphasize how much he worked. He acknowledges it, but he doesn't underline it. Instead, he emphasizes how lucky he's been. And he means it.

But I think most people are like Mark. They don't have a clue how much luck plays a role in their success.

ms_svelte said...

i soooooo hate to say this, but mark is right - due to the nature of the industry. IT is just as racist as any other industry, so im not suggesting that it doesnt exist. its there every time i consult for a company near a metro area and there are 5 blacks for every 200 employees. that said, however, skill sets matter most. many companies are hard-pressed to find java programmers or various types of other developers. these are a few of many skills that one can technically learn on their own. armed with a certification and fortitude, the doors to employment can be pried open.

why mark felt compelled to write his article and submit it to forbes is still incomprehensible. his action reeks of condescension. if he was truly concerned about urban black youth, he would have submitted his comments to a medium directed toward them.

ive concluded that while still accountable, uncoloreds simply dont have control of their racist ways.

Jim in St Louis said...

Svelte asked the same question I did. WHY is this article in Forbes magazine? Are issues of Forbes being passed around inner city schools?

As far as the content of the article- starting out by admitting that you don't know anything about the subject of your essay is a honest admission, but giving answers when you don't know the questions doesn't work.

Well meaning and mostly harmless.

Anonymous said...

No, not mostly harmless.

Because it gives the people who read Forbes a pass from getting rid of housing segregation and horrific schooling inequalities.

Like someone on Isis's thread said, being the top student at a cruddy school won't help you compete at a top college.

On top of that, if you're smart and hardworking, it might be hard to be that top student given how, in my experience as a tutor in an inner city with poor schools, often the teachers are factually and conceptually incorrect about things.

And are we really succeeding if only the brightest and hardest working kid of one race succeeds while the mediocre and worse of another race excels? Too often these arguments focus on the top tail... "This famous woman got tenured at Berkeley, so there must not be sex discrimination... she just had to work 3x as hard as the guys." What we should be seeing is the female or minority who is average has the same opportunities and success as the white male who is average. Until that happens we haven't achieved fairness.

Yes, everybody who is discriminated against needs to work harder to get to the same place... but that doesn't mean society gets a bye on fixing institutional problems that force that extra work.

Plane Ideas said...

Why must Black folks always respond to the various and endless displays of white racism, privledge, insults, yada,yada,yada?

At some point this behavior on our part has to end..Clearly this garden variety patronizing white bigot was posturing for his peers and the readership of Forbes..

What is gained by the Black community in giving these tired repetitive bigots attention and circulation in our networks.. We already know the legacy, pathologies of white racism in America from slavery, segregation, disparate treatment, profiling, etc, etc etc.

I argue, opine and propose that besides ignoring these constant pathological behaviors, events, situations, acts etc, etc,etc..

That we carry on about the nature , development, activities of being Black folks in all manner and incarnations..

Am I wrong? At some point is there a point with playing these tunes over and over and over in the venues of our culture and collective personhood and community??

Anonymous said...

Articles like this make me despair for our polity, just when I thought I had reached the very bottom of my black well of despair.

Jono said...

"And like flies on shit, black conservative apologists will soon start hovering". Really? BOTH of them?

Anonymous said...

Well, I only ask one question, How are we changing and improving education? I understand that Mark's article is what happens when "others" tell our story, but are we finishing the book. My parents even though divorced worked to get me life experiences that helped my choices later in life. I played sports, music, and was forced to take spanish lessions. The spanish is gone but the focus and good study habits have taken me far. The point is it starts at home. If all our kids did better than the parents then that would be a good start.

CNu said...

Svelte asked the same question I did. WHY is this article in Forbes magazine? Are issues of Forbes being passed around inner city schools?

Shouldn't it be? Or is the presumption that XXL is the only appropriate hood periodical?

On top of that, if you're smart and hardworking, it might be hard to be that top student given how, in my experience as a tutor in an inner city with poor schools, often the teachers are factually and conceptually incorrect about things.

Ah, after mining all the whining - a gem of authentic value turns up in the sluice. I wonder if it will elicit proper scrutiny?

How are we changing and improving education?

rotflmbao..., that's the very last thing on the higher academic "ism" chasers' minds. They're only paid to whine professionally and with great erudition (priors) about what other folks do or don't do.

jiggaboos are a neverending source of priceless comedy gold....,

nomad said...

"I would use homework tools like Backpack, and Diigo to help me store and share my work with other classmates. I would use Skype to study with other students who also want to do well in my school. I would take advantage of study websites like Evernote, Study Rails, Flashcard Machine, Quizlet, and free online calculators."

I would have a computer and internet access and money to pay for it. Oh, and enough food to eat.

Plane Ideas said...


You are a high ranking official in our nation's Department of Education why don't you get off your chatter box ass and do something to eliminate these worthless 'ism' educators you love to attack on a web site behind the cloak of your alias..

No but wait that would require courage and conviction on your part...But wait I guess you could post some more happy negro tales about your sons and how they raise money....lol,lol,lol

CNu said...

You are a high ranking official in our nation's Department of Education


Greg Thrasher

2012 Recipient

CNu's Most Clueless Jiggaboo of the Year Award

accept no substitutes!

Plane Ideas said...


Only because I respect WARN I will not out you but in any event appreciate the award before Xmas ...lol lol lol

Anonymous said...

How wonderful of him to care more about por black children more than poor white children, enough to offer them advice on how to succeed. He's not the first to opine on how it is lack of effort that keeps the black youth down. In fact, he's in the majority. Right along with those charged with teaching our young children. This includes those within our own race. What chance do young black youth have when even those who are supposed to be teaching them inherently feel as though they are incapable anyway? And so it goes... Everyday there is a comment that degrades blacks and everyday we go about our lives as if nothing has benn said. Have we been rendered impotent? Are we not able to defend our race anymore? Or will we go out tomorrow and buy that Coach bag, or the latest game to continue to enrich those who demonstrate that to insult us as a people is of no consequence?

What he did get right was that poor black children are no less smart than his own children. I agree with him on that. In fact, anyone who has spent any time around poor black youth knows that they are wise beyond their years. They also work as hard as anyone in whatever it is they have an interest. Unfortunately, there is not enough interest in academics but, in sports, in entertainment, there are an over abundance of smart, poor, black kids. There is where they work very hard at trying to hit the lotto of opportunity. The questions why does this appear to be the only way out for most of them?

Paul Sunstone said...

Maybe I'm wrong, but after reading his piece, I don't think Marks intends to offer advice to poor Black children. I think is intention is to demonstrate to his rich White readers that they have no reason to feel bad about income inequality in this country because even a poor Black child from the inner-city can succeed if he's willing to work hard enough. That is, if he fails, it's his own fault.

That's my take on it, for whatever it's worth.

Plane Ideas said...

@ Paul,

You can't be that dense or serious? I would wager you look like Gene Marks given your hollow and myopic comments..You exhibit quite a cultural blind spot but I understand it is a tragic aspect of the pathological nature of majority bandwidth in America

Paul Sunstone said...

I don't agree with Marks, Thrasher --- if that's what you're thinking.

Plane Ideas said...


I know what I am thinking it is YOUR underdeveloped views and prose that deserves to be challenged and condemned..

Mark's entire nonsense begins with his desired to be a poor Black kid!

Yet you now try to distance yourself and insert some tired fiction about Mark's agenda.. Then you conclude with indicting poor chidren by blaming them for their lot in life..

As I noted earlier and your latest comments have confirmed for me You probably look just like Gene Marks!

Paul Sunstone said...

Thrasher: "Yet you now try to distance yourself and insert some tired fiction about Mark's agenda."

Distance myself? How so?

Thrasher: "Then you conclude with indicting poor chidren by blaming them for their lot in life."

No, I do not.

I can see now how you have concluded that I do, because I said something that could be taken two ways, and you took it in the worse way it could be taken. I apologize for not being clear. But the fact is, I do not believe poor children are to be blamed for their lot in life.

Plane Ideas said...

I am glad you have clarified your comments nevertheless I still have reservations about your content you remind me of many white liberals whose share table space with white conservatives when Black folks are on the menu..