This week, Forbes tech (!?) writer Gene Marks wrote “If I Was A Poor Black Kid”, a bold exercise in white privilege myopia, detailing what he would do to teach African-American children how to succeed in life, like “learn Google scholar.”
Marks, a self-described “middle-aged white guy” wrote this ill-advised article in response to President Obama’s speech about middle-class struggle in Kansas. Nowhere in the President’s speech is race mentioned, but Marks took it upon himself to actually go there.
“Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia” can succeed in “2011,” Marks writes, as if he’s a volunteer at the local Boys and Girls Club.
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.
Those down-on-their-luck black kids of West Philadelphia must thank Marks for these chestnuts of wisdom.
It’s mind-boggling in the way that Marks completely ignores all external factors — that these kids won’t have to overcome any obstacles relating to their race, just buckling down.
But here’s the kicker in his piece — Marks then lectures them to know how to turn on their computers:
If I was a poor black kid I’d use the free technology available to help me study. I’d become expert at Google Scholar. I’d visit study sites like SparkNotes and CliffsNotes to help me understand books. I’d watch relevant teachings on Academic Earth, TED and the Khan Academy. (I say relevant because some of these lectures may not be related to my work or too advanced for my age. But there are plenty of videos on these sites that are suitable to my studies and would help me stand out.) I would also, when possible, get my books for free at Project Gutenberg and learn how to do research at the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia to help me with my studies.
Marks ignores that many of these urban school districts suffer from serious economic shortfalls and red tape. Many lack the essential resources necessary to help kids of all races succeed. As a quick aside — SparkNotes? Really? Come on, when I was a high schooler, I used those as slacker tools, not because I genuinely wanted to learn the material.
Poor black kids aren’t blind to the realities that surround them. They have to deal with them every day. Many of their families are struggling to put food on the table. Marks should stick to bashing smartphone apps and leave those kids alone.
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