Monday, December 26, 2011

On "If I were a poor Black kid"...

[VIDEO] Joe Hicks discusses the controversy over Gene Marks' blog post at Forbes entitled "If I were a poor Black kid". Basically he asks, "Why can't white people contribute to the national dialogue on race and racism?"

It does seem like a cop out to just tell someone that they have nothing to say because they're not a poor Black child so they can't relate in any way. I've had a white geography teacher in high school - GO FALCONS - who said that he could relate because he was poor. Of course the conclusion could be that he thinks all Blacks are poor, but that's only a thought and not necessarily based on reality.

All the same Marks bounces off of a recent speech by President Obama in Kansas where he discussed the gap between the rich and the poor:
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.

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. 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.

And I would use the technology available to me as a student. I know a few school teachers and they tell me that many inner city parents usually have or can afford cheap computers and internet service nowadays. That because (and sadly) it’s oftentimes a necessary thing to keep their kids safe at home than on the streets. And libraries and schools have computers available too. Computers can be purchased cheaply at outlets like TigerDirect and Dell’s Outlet. Professional organizations like accountants and architects often offer used computers from their members, sometimes at no cost at all.
You will see at the end of this posting links to several rebuts to Marks' comments. I will add my two cents just as Hicks and those other links have.

I didn't go to the very best schools in Chicago. I'd say my old elementary school was an average at best school and my old high school - when I attended - was one of the worst. My marks weren't that great in elementary school but for some reason my marks in high school were often in the honor roll range. With that in mind though I consider that a fluke today.

My time in high school wasn't a time to seek out options. I never thought of my grades as a ticket mainly because they were had too easy. It was never a challenge academically and who knows how that would've been weathered. The serious challenge was in college where I struggled to keep up.

If only I had the tools back then that the young people have today to help me study and understand the various subjects. I wouldn't just be ahead of my peers but it would be light years ahead of them. But when I was in public school most of those tools did not yet exist.

In spite of the nay sayers - and I will get to one in a moment - Marks isn't wrong. Make the best grades you can where you are take advantage of all the tools you can. Don't have a PC at home go somewhere to use one, especially the library. At that there are people at your school who if you establish a relationship with them will help you move forward.

This nay sayer, well is making more of this than he realizes:
No believer in Bell Curv-ish nonsense about black intellectual inferiority, Marks makes clear that the children about whom he speaks are no less capable than his own kids. Of course, one wonders just how much of a compliment Marks really intends for this to be, given his strange habit of dissing his offspring, on more than one occasion, as rather unintelligent, unmotivated, promiscuous and even inclined to petty criminality. Not sure what kind of asshole says things like this about his children in print, but I suppose we can leave that discussion for another day.

No doubt Marks would say that he was simply encouraging poor African American kids to take personal responsibility for their success. He might even say that by acknowledging unfair and unjust structural inequity (and even, indirectly, white privilege), he was doing so in a politically ecumenical way. Certainly Marks would perceive his words and intentions as quite different from those of right-wingers whose hectoring of the poor so often involves blaming those at the bottom of the nation’s economic hierarchy for their station in life. To Marks, poor black kids are not to blame for the position in which they find themselves, but they nonetheless hold the keys to their own liberation, and if they would simply follow his sage counsel they could surely make it, like anyone else: even the cerebrally challenged and oversexed spawn who slumber each night just down the hall from he and his wife.

There is much one could say about Marks’s advice — rather typical bootstrapping fare about studying hard, coupled with a more modern emphasis on becoming a techie like him, and thereby, presumably, an irresistible college or job applicant — and most of it has been said already. Like, for instance, this piece, or this one, or this one, or maybe this one, all of which eloquently critique the privileged and naive mindset displayed by Marks, and explain how even when poor kids of color do everything right, the structures of society are too often set up to help them fail anyway.
And it’s this last point that we might do well to explore further. Fact is, Gene Marks knows his readership at Forbes. He knows that it includes virtually none of the people to whom he is ostensibly offering advice, which means that he isn’t really giving them advice at all; rather, he is inviting his mostly white, mostly affluent audience to engage in a perverse moralistic voyeurism at the expense of impoverished African American youth, almost none of whom that readership will ever meet, and whom they will, in fact, go out of their way to avoid. He is offering a kind of secret white-male handshake to others in the club, assuring them that the problems of urban poverty are not theirs to fix, that they are off the hook as it were, and isn’t that a relief? That Marks may not be as vile in his desire to blame the poor for their status as some, hardly acquits him of the charge that by pandering to the biases of his readership, he has, with some 700-odd simple (and simplistic) words, managed to reinscribe all the worst of their prejudices, many of which one can see on grand display in the readers’ comments section of the original article. Make no mistake, Gene Marks’s column is contempt cloaked as compassion and bigotry dressed up as benevolence. And it can do nothing but contribute to the indifference and even antipathy towards the poor that those who rely on Forbes for insights already possess in ample supply.
Starting with that last paragraph it's true, Forbes may not have a significant audience in poor inner city communities. Without having to purchase a subscription you can always go to a library to access past issues of magazines. Also with internet access you can access magazines as well and blog posts such as this one which surely don't require a subscription.

As for Mr. Tim Wise who wrote the above excerpts, how is he going to call that man out for what he refers to his kids. Yeah it may be wrong to say your kids are very bright, but somewhere out there some parent is doing it. I also recognize that Marks is merely a commentator who is definitely using his platform to say what he wants to say.

The main point surely Marks is making is that his children are not much different than poor inner city children. Just that they have different opportunities living in a different part of the Philadelphia area than the inner city children. Perhaps even different expectations from parents, perhaps different staff and different schools. He didn't write the "poor black kid" piece to denigrate his children.

I think what he wrote was real. It shouldn't be impeached merely for that reason. That alone is weak! Although to Mr. Wise's credit he is at least has some suggestions for Marks to put his money where his mouth is. Marks could always help get the information out aside from using his platform at Forbes.

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