Streams

Opinion: If I Were a Rich White Dude

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 01:22 PM

A Response to Forbes columnist Gene Marks

On Monday, Forbes columnist Gene Marks strayed from his usual beat — business technology — to write a column, "If I Were a Poor Black Kid,"  that purports to give advice to poor black youth on how to succeed in life despite the social and economic constraints that they face. Stop what you're doing and take a look.

The column has gone viral, with many decrying it as patronizing and insensitive to the harsh reality faced by lower-income urban households. This is a response to that column, told from the perspective of one of Marks's "poor black kids." Note: Jeff Yang, the author of this response, is not in fact a poor black kid.

President Obama gave an excellent speech last week in Kansas about inequality in America.

"Today, thanks to loopholes and shelters, a quarter of all millionaires now pay lower tax rates than millions of you, millions of middle-class families," he said. "Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1%. One percent. That is the height of unfairness. It is wrong. It's wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker, maybe earns $50,000 a year, should pay a higher tax rate than somebody raking in $50 million."

He’s right. The spread between rich and poor has gotten wider over the decades. And the opportunities for the 1% have become easier to realize, because of the elimination of decades of protective regulations and an endless flood of lobbyist money into our political system.

The president’s speech got me thinking. Rich white dudes are no dumber than similar people their age from the inner city. Rich white dudes have it much easier than their counterparts from West Philadelphia. But they're ignorant to the basic realities of poverty and inequality in America mainly because they had the fortune of being born two miles away into a more entitled part of the world and with a skin color that makes realizing the opportunities that the president spoke about that much easier. This is a fact. In 2011.

I am not a rich white dude. I am a young black kid who comes from a lower class black background. So life is harder for me. But that doesn’t mean that understanding what my world is like is impossible for dudes from the outer suburbs. It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them to learn. Or that the elite few who've made out like bandits in a disastrous global economy have no eyes to see, ears to hear or hands to help the 99% of Americans who are facing the loss of their jobs, homes and retirements. I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has the ability to empathize with those in need. Still. In 2011. Even a rich white dude in suburban Philadelphia.

It takes heart. It takes effort. It takes a little thoughtfulness. And a little help from others — maybe a poor black kid like me. It takes the cultural openness and humility to recognize that "simple solutions" may not be as simple as you rich white dudes think. Like technology. As a person whose parents have no job security, no health insurance and wages that barely cover our rent and food, I can tell you that a computer and Internet access aren't our family's top priority. But maybe that's not so obvious.

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.

Data can be obtained from places like the National Urban League, which publishes an annual State of Black America report — last year's showed that 16.5 percent of blacks are unemployed, double the rate for white Americans; that the median household income for blacks stands at $34,218, compared to $55,530 for whites; that less than half of blacks own a home compared to three-quarters of white families; that blacks are more than three times as likely to live in poverty. Government organizations like the Department of Commerce offer data about the incredible and disproportionate stress being faced by black Americans during this long-term recession, at no cost at all — you might as well use it, because all of our taxes paid for it. (Yes, lower and middle income folk pay taxes too — in many cases, more taxes than rich white dudes. Just ask that rich white dude Warren Buffett)

If I were a rich white dude, I’d use the free technology available to immerse myself in the reality of an American society with a huge gap between rich and poor — a gap that in most cases has white dudes and black kids on opposite sides, and getting farther apart every day. I'd spend hours on Inequality.org, a website launched by the progressive Institute for Policy Studies that puts a lot of information about this gap thing in one place.

I'd read Jonathan Kozol's books, especially Shame of a Nation and Savage Inequalities, to understand that the schools we poor black kids go to don't necessarily have the equipment, human resources and civic support the schools your kids go to have, and that this makes easy access to study sites and TED and Khan Academy and the CIA World Factbook hard for poor black kids like me. (Oh look — Shame of a Nation is even available on Kindle!)

I'd even use antiquated tools like a "phone" to help me reach and connect with real experts on the topic I'm giving all this advice about: Authors, advocates, even other columnists. Maybe Bob Herbert, who used to be an opinion writer for the New York Times and is now a fellow with the Demos think tank. Or Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald, who's written an ambitious series of columns on programs that are actually having an effect on helping poor black kids — giving them support, training and real social capital, rather than just telling them they're doing it wrong.

Is this easy? Well, yes. At least, it's not hard. It's what most journalists who write for a living do all the time — as opposed to people who write columns part-time as a way to generate leads for their own technology consulting practices. But to succeed as a columnist is a lot easier for a white dude from the suburbs than for a black kid from West Philadelphia. It’s very possible. The tools are there. The technology is there. And the opportunity's there.

In Philadelphia, there are nationally recognized newspapers like the Inquirer. You have columnists like Harold Jackson, who's also the editor of the editorial page. He has a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. And he's written eloquently about race and income inequality in the past, drawing from his own childhood as a poor black kid. Maybe he could give you a few pointers. If I were a rich white dude who wanted to write a column about poor black kids, I'd make it my goal to talk to a Pulitzer Prize winning opinion writer who was once a poor black kid.

Or even talk to a university professor. Many colleges are filled to the brim with smart and experienced academics who've done a lot of work on the topic of race and poverty. That’s because these schools offer them tenure, giving them the ability to focus their attention on areas that ordinary rich white dudes with consulting businesses to run maybe don't have time to research for themselves. Of course, if you don't have the time to research something, maybe you shouldn't be writing about it.

But here's the secret: Academics love to talk to columnists. Trust me, they want the attention. It helps them get funding for to do more research. They want to show clips and coverage from many different publications on their grant proposals. If I was a rich white dude, I'd be using technology to research economics, social studies and public policy programs on the Internet too, and using things like email to let them know that I exist and I write for a magazine for rich white dudes and want to talk to them about certain things that I'm totally ignorant about.

And once I've reached one of these programs, the first person I'd introduce myself to would be the department head. This is the person who will probably be most eager to get his program in a magazine for rich white dudes. This is the person who will know which of his faculty members is best suited for talking to me about poverty, economic inequality, the history of racism and the social dynamics of the inner city. This is the person who may also be able to give me quotes himself. You don't get to be the head of a department if you don't know how to self-promote to institutions that are controlled by the 1%.

If I was a rich white dude I would be compassionate. I would learn sensitivity. I would learn how to write columns that aren't dripping with entitlement. I would seek out opportunities to immerse myself to the real world rather than just surfing the Internet. I would make sure my cultural competency and knowledge of current events is up to date.

Because a rich white dude who puts in the effort on his part time job as a columnist and learns real empathy for those who don't have the advantages that he and his kids have taken for granted could make a difference. He could help his rich white readers understand that the problem poor black kids face isn't a problem of not having the right software, or not working hard enough, or not making the right decisions. He could help them think of real solutions, not indulge their tendency to blame the victims of centuries of social injustice.

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 dudes from suburban Philadelphia don’t even know how few opportunities exist for poor black kids like me. Many come from two-parent families whose mom and dad (or in many cases their second mom and dad) are working two jobs to keep up with the Joneses next door and are just (understandably) too focused on aspiration and personal success to give their families any exposure to the realities faced by those who are less well off.

Many believe that they've figured out how society works, and that it's all about sweat and brains and merit, rather than — in many cases — luck, cultural advantage and the social capital that comes with being born a certain color and in a certain class. Some rich white dudes can overcome this sense of privilege. But only if the dudes want to be helped. 

Yes, there is much inequality. And the opportunity is there for those who run this country to help bridge that inequality — if they're compassionate enough to go for it. 

Jeff Yang, Pop & Politics blogger for "It's a Free Country," writes the column Tao Jones for the Wall Street Journal Online. Follow him on Twitter at @originalspin.

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Comments [55]

Marcus from Phoenix

I'm tired of the excuses. The facts are the facts. Rich white guy has advantages and poor black guy has the whole world against him. Who cares? No one cares. It's time to stop complaining and create a plan to change it around. I am the poor black guy who grew up in the hood. Got a job. Dedicated myself to life of learning and I am proud to say I am at the next level. As long as you complain or make excuses that leaves you no time to change the situation. If I could go back in time I would tell the younger version of me to read more. Buy books. You can find cheap books at the goodwill for 50 cents to 3 dollars. My other piece of advice would be Never get into debt. It will bury you alive.

Jun. 25 2014 06:18 PM

I had the chance to see hundreds of public schools in New York City. You know what is the first thing that pops-up in the eyes in a Black / Hispanic attendance school, versus a White/Asian attendance school ? Vandalism everywhere. Walls with graffiti, broken light fixtures, scratched handrails and furniture, scratched bronze memorial plates (some 100 years old), fire alarm fixtures destroyed. You may say I am biased, until you will have the chance to see it for yourself. Who has to take the guilt, the Whites or the education these Black / Hispanic children get in their own families or in their circle of friends?

Sep. 07 2012 11:28 AM
Steven Voegele from Las Vegas

I found this article entertaining, but you have to realize there is a huge cultural gap between the writer and the subject.
because if the writers argument was valid then with his environment he grew up in he could of invented a cure for cancer on the moon with supermodels. So he has no excuse! hahaha the point is the witter in literate in English but not in that specific aspect of life.

Feb. 22 2012 01:55 AM
alenise

"...by the way, the author of the poor black kid article is not a writer for Forbes. They are a contributor. And the difference being that the contributors are paid per hit, or paid by how many unique visitors they get to their blog site. And therefore, encouraged to write things that get talked about, because that's how they earn their living. This writer, or this tech writer, his only reason for writing this - I got to get some hits." - John Ridley, Director, Red Tails

ALERT, ALERT! Do not support or refer this article! Marks is basically springboarding to fame and finances on the backs of black children by creating a controversial article! How evil, ugly and calculating! The best way to address this clown is to ignore him, and certainly not to link his article anywhere else ... shut him down!

Dec. 28 2011 12:17 PM
alenise

"...by the way, the author of the poor black kid article is not a writer for Forbes. They are a contributor. And the difference being that the contributors are paid per hit, or paid by how many unique visitors they get to their blog site. And therefore, encouraged to write things that get talked about, because that's how they earn their living. This writer, or this tech writer, his only reason for writing this - I got to get some hits." - John Ridley, Director, Red Tails

ALERT, ALERT! Do not support or refer this article! Marks is basically springboarding to fame and finances on the backs of black children by creating a controversial article! How evil, ugly and calculating! The best way to address this clown is to ignore him, and certainly not to link his article anywhere else ... shut him down!

Dec. 28 2011 12:16 PM
Eric Pleim

Nice article Jeff. But I wonder about a smart Asian guy writing in the voice of a poor black child. That could be seen as condescending too. BTW, I didn't think the original article was really bad, just perhaps insufficiently clued in...

Dec. 24 2011 01:03 PM
Mario Chavez from Cleveland, OH

I read Gene Marks' column, which has caused such a flurry of infuriated responses, after hearing about it on an NPR segment this evening.

Jeff Yang's thoughtful response is on point. However, has anyone noticed that Gene Marks, a technical consultant by his own admission, suggests two sites to buy computers, namely TigerDirect and Dell? That made me chuckle. I know for a fact --because I purchase computers for myself-- that there are better and less expensive places to buy a computer these days.

In short, Gene Marks doesn't even know how to talk technology in a convincing way. That Skype bit also made me laugh. His piece would be funny if it didn't contain such ridiculous, patronizing and naive nonsense.

Dec. 19 2011 08:12 PM

Yes, because Forbes Magazine is the perfect way to reach young, poor children of color. You, sir, are a great example of what's really wrong with the United States; it is full of people who blame victims of injustice while patting themselves on the back for their unearned privilege.

Dec. 17 2011 01:55 AM
PM from Harlem, NY

wow. this is a brilliant response that resonated with me on so many levels. your insights, your research, your empathy and your wit are on point. if i were a presumptuous rich white guy, I think I'd feel pretty humbled after reading your column. but since i'm a poor black artist, I finished your piece feeling grateful for your intelligent and engaging work. thank you!

Dec. 17 2011 12:35 AM
Annie from Brooklyn, NY

THANK YOU! I've read a bunch of the pieces that have come out in response to "If I were a poor black kid" and this one is by far the best.

Dec. 16 2011 03:58 PM
JB from Brooklyn from brooklyn

People here are getting waaaay too worked up about Gene's column. In a way, the article was foolish. I'm mostly from Crown Heights Brooklyn (and still here) so I'm surrounded by poor black kids all day, and Gene's advice is a dramatic oversimplification in many ways. This we know. But I don't think him a bad person for having offered it. He's a tech writer and so he writes what he knows- tech. It's a bit naive, but he never said he had an exhaustive solution- just the tiny corner of it that he knows about- again, tech issues.

And speaking of tech, to be quite frank, most the poor kids around me have iphones and psps and all sorts of toys that I didn't have when I was growing up poor and on public assistance. Not all, but it's not uncommon. In terms of libraries, public computers, meal programs, etc, a poor urban kid has MUCH better facilities and opportunities available to him or her than a poor rural kid on almost every level. I grew up mostly poor and rural, and later moved to a place that is poor and urban- and the differences are striking. The urban poor are actually much less poor than the rural poor and have many more material advantages- except the most important advantage of all- social pressure to succeed.

If I didn't do well in school, or got in trouble, or ran with a bad crowd, or joined a gang, the social and parental pressure to do otherwise eventually set me right. Unfortunately, it's the opposite in urban poor environments. When these kids work hard and stay out of trouble, they're outcasts and face bullying and torment. Most parents are fairly disengaged. Fathers are as rare as bald eagles. Consequently, most pressures come from the negative community elements with no adequate counter-balance. That's the biggest problem right there- access to technology is slight in comparison.

I grew poorer than the kids around me now, but I think I had it much easier.

Dec. 16 2011 12:08 PM
Orinocle from Detroit

Black folks can handle critical and often false perspectives from whites in our nation from both left or the right..

The idea that Black folks should not be sensitive and pile on whites who dare to be candid about the shortcomings of the Black community is of course a deflection and a defensive intellecual cowardly co-opt.

Historically whites have had complete immunity 24/7 to wage war on numerous front against our personhood.

This is another aspect of white privledge which is the posture of only whites get to have an opinion..Sorry today not ever if patronizing clowns like Marks can published underdeveloped fiction and dogma than I can attack his pedestrian nothingness...

And I will 24/7 in any where, any venue

Dec. 16 2011 11:10 AM

It appears that many don't understand the concept of "white privilege"... here is a brief lesson from Professor Robert Jensen:

Here's what white privilege sounds like:

I am sitting in my University of Texas office, talking to a very bright and very conservative white student about affirmative action in college admissions, which he opposes and I support.

The student says he wants a level playing field with no unearned advantages for anyone. I ask him whether he thinks that in the United States being white has advantages. Have either of us, I ask, ever benefited from being white in a world run mostly by white people? Yes, he concedes, there is something real and tangible we could call white privilege.

So, if we live in a world of white privilege--unearned white privilege--how does that affect your notion of a level playing field? I ask.

He paused for a moment and said, "That really doesn't matter."

That statement, I suggested to him, reveals the ultimate white privilege: the privilege to acknowledge you have unearned privilege but ignore what it means.

That exchange led me to rethink the way I talk about race and racism with students. It drove home to me the importance of confronting the dirty secret that we white people carry around with us everyday: In a world of white privilege, some of what we have is unearned...... So these days, my goal is to talk openly and honestly about white supremacy and white privilege.

White privilege, like any social phenomenon, is complex. In a white supremacist culture, all white people have privilege, whether or not they are overtly racist themselves. There are general patterns, but such privilege plays out differently depending on context and other aspects of one's identity (in my case, being male gives me other kinds of privilege). Rather than try to tell others how white privilege has played out in their lives, I talk about how it has affected me.

I am as white as white gets in this country. I am of northern European heritage and I was raised in North Dakota, one of the whitest states in the country. I grew up in a virtually all-white world surrounded by racism, both personal and institutional....

I have struggled to resist that racist training and the ongoing racism of my culture. I like to think I have changed, even though I routinely trip over the lingering effects of that internalized racism and the institutional racism around me. But no matter how much I "fix" myself, one thing never changes--I walk through the world with white privilege.

What does that mean? Perhaps most importantly, when I seek admission to a university, apply for a job, or hunt for an apartment, I don't look threatening. Almost all of the people evaluating me for those things look like me--they are white. They see in me a reflection of themselves, and in a racist world that is an advantage. I smile. I am white. I am one of them. I am not dangerous. Even when I voice critical opinions, I am cut some slack. After all, I'm white.

Dec. 16 2011 02:55 AM
Robyn


Here's what white privilege sounds like:

I am sitting in my University of Texas office, talking to a very bright and very conservative white student about affirmative action in college admissions, which he opposes and I support.

The student says he wants a level playing field with no unearned advantages for anyone. I ask him whether he thinks that in the United States being white has advantages. Have either of us, I ask, ever benefited from being white in a world run mostly by white people? Yes, he concedes, there is something real and tangible we could call white privilege.

So, if we live in a world of white privilege--unearned white privilege--how does that affect your notion of a level playing field? I ask.

He paused for a moment and said, "That really doesn't matter."

That statement, I suggested to him, reveals the ultimate white privilege: the privilege to acknowledge you have unearned privilege but ignore what it means.

Dec. 16 2011 02:45 AM
rbuckins

love your responses Marc Brazeau from Hartford CT and A Black Kid From Long Island City from Queens

and to all who get it, I love your responses too and boo to all of you "white privileged" folks who don't get it.. also look up the concept of "white privilege" start with Peggy McIntosh (feminist theory initially), then I believe Robert Jensen might educate some of you and then there is Tim Wise... Also the jerkweed wrote this crap as well http://www.forbes.com/sites/quickerbettertech/2011/10/31/why-most-women-will-never-become-ceo/2/

Yep "Why Most Women Will Never Become CEOs"... it seems as if Mr. Marks is just full of "isms"

Dec. 16 2011 02:42 AM
B. Wang from Dallas, TX

To the commenters wondering if Gene Marks really made those responses to this article: the person posting as Gene Marks here was quoting actual comments made by Mr. Marks himself in response to another article written by The Onion's editor Baratunde Thurston. You can read Mr. Marks' entire response at the link below, and yes, it is more astoundingly condescending than even his original article.

http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/15/forbes-if-i-were-a-poor-black-kid-writer-gene-marks-responds-to-baratunde-thurston/

Dec. 16 2011 12:25 AM
Alyssa

This is mainly a response to Alex T:

1. The main problem with Mr. Mark's argument is not that success shouldn't be based on intelligence and determination. I don't know anyone who would argue otherwise; the point is success is NOT based on those things.

2. Mr. Marks "formula for success" doesn't adequately take into consideration all the dynamics at play in being a "poor black kid" and therefore the solution comes across condescending, especially considering the source. I don't think it is "racist/prejudiced" to disregard someone for speaking on something they have not experienced or even done minimal research on.

3. While I commend your personal success, to assume that what worked for you works for everyone is faulty thinking, especially when race is at play. The reason why people are so upset at Mr. Mark's article is because there is no guaranteed road to success, regardless of ones ambition and talent. To say that all one needs to do to succeed is (fill in the blank) doesn't fix the problem, it only makes it worse by blaming the victim and justifying a flawed system.

4. I think your assumption that a white man who enters a black community with the intention of learning more and uplifting the community is going to be immediately rejected is wrong. In MY experience (I cant speak for all black communities, only my own) whites who genuinely care, want to learn, help, recognize their own privilege, don't claim to know all the answers, or think they can "save the poor blacks" are almost always embraced by the black community. It's the whites who come in thinking they're going to be superman and save the world and think they have all the answers who are chewed to pieces. Unfortunately, I've only met 3 or 4 of the former white people, and I've met countless (countless!!!) of the latter, which probably explains where this misconception of yours comes from. Additionally, how does Mr. Marks, or any white know that the black community would reject them if they have never even tried? To assume that because many white communities reject poor blacks, that black communities must therefore reject rich whites is illogical and untrue.

Dec. 15 2011 05:16 PM
Alex T from West Hollywood

First, I agree with Gene. Success in life should be proportional to intelligence and determination. I see no fallacy in his argument.

Second, I think a rich white dude coming down to the ghetto to talk to a black family will be just as welcomed as a smelly wanna-be-rapper from the hood trying to make his way into Bel Air to talk to a rich white family.

Third, I'm an upper-middle-class white dude who grew up in a family of 5 living on $15k / year (on welfare; way below poverty level) and I got to where I am by exhibiting good behavior and success in academics and technology. I never took a hand-out and wouldn't let any rich person help me.

Last, it vexes me that in this day and age bloggers and internet users are discriminate against articles solely based on the authors race / skin color and social status. Gene's article gives good advice in my opinion and you are a racist, prejudiced [random derogatory word here] if you disregard it because of where it comes from!

Dec. 15 2011 04:01 PM
Alex T from West Hollywood

First, I agree with Gene. Success in life should be proportional to intelligence and determination. I see no fallacy in his argument.

Second, I think a rich white dude coming down to the ghetto to talk to a black family will be just as welcomed as a smelling-like-piss wanna-rapper from the hood trying to make his way into Bel Air to talk to a rich white family.

Third, I'm an upper-middle-class white dude who grew up in a family of 5 living on $15k / year (on welfare; way below poverty level) and I got to where I am by exhibiting good behavior and success in academics and technology. I never took a hand-out and wouldn't let any rich person help me.

Last, it vexes me that in this day and age bloggers and internet users are prejudiced and discriminatory to articles solely based on the authors race / skin color and social status. Gene's article gives good advice in my opinion and you are a racist, blind s-o-b if you disregard it because of where it comes from!

Dec. 15 2011 03:56 PM
Orinocle from Detroit

Why must Black folks always be compelled to react and response to the nonsense of white bigots and racists?

Mark's comments will not impact nor add value to one Black child in America..Yet because of his predictible white privledge and pathologies comments like his are nothing new..

The only value to his garbage comments is we get to read the rich views of Jeff Yang..

Dec. 15 2011 03:50 PM
Umar

Even though Gene's article had good intention s it did come across as condescending and clueless. Jeff does have a point. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and preaching why not go out and do something about it? Concept and application are worlds apart in this case....

Dec. 15 2011 11:41 AM
clara

I am glad you wrote this, not because I think this piece is compelling, but because you are able to write your piece and express your opinions and thoughts, just like Gene Marks. Thank God for America.

Dec. 14 2011 06:28 PM
joenca from Oakland CA

I recently had a bout of being poor... well, not so much poor, but earning a small fraction of what I had been earning. In pursuing a business opportunity, most of my compensation was "deferred"... about 80%+ of it, meaning I was only earning about 1/6th of what I had been for about 18 months. I hadn't earned that little since my early 20s.

It was an eye opening experience. All of a sudden I was worried about being able to buy food, to pay rent, worried about making a car payment or getting it repossessed (and it once did), and ultimately having to live on the street. And I had it -easy-. All I had to do was get out and go back to what I was doing and I was at full salary again.

What utterly surprised me was how much it consumed me. I absolutely could not concentrate on work. I was so worried about surviving, how I was going to come up with bare necessities, how I was going to cope with getting such basics, I was utterly unable to concentrate on anything better. When survival is your focus, thriving takes a back seat.

I eventually quit, leaving all future opportunity and forfeited all 80%+ of that compensation. As I said, I had it lucky. I had an out. I could just pull the cord and get out at anytime. Most don't have it so lucky. But I did learn a great deal to see it from someone else's point of view. And very much so, I'm not so smug in assuming that everyone just need to "work harder" and everything will be fine.

And in my business, we have a saying. The less you know about something, the easier it is. It's completely easy to say "Why can't you just" when you have absolutely no knowledge of the challenges people face. It's a statement of ignorance. Gene, put your money where your mouth is. Go two miles over and try and put your plan into action. Because until you realize what the real issues, you have no idea what you're talking about.

Dec. 14 2011 04:48 PM
Kressel_H from Rockland County, NY

I guess I'm just hopelessly white and privileged because I think the article was excellent. Yes, education is the key to climbing out of poverty. And yes, to all the critics, the challenges against these kids are overwhelming. I understand that much because even though I am white and privileged, I went to high school in Jamaica, Queens.

Some of you mentioned that Gene Marks ought to contribute to some of the efforts combatting poverty in this country. Here's one in his native Philadelphia, modeled after the work of the 19th century London philanthropist Octavia Hill. Notably, she too was criticized for being patronizing in her lifetime:

https://www.octaviahill.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=58&Itemid=2

Dec. 14 2011 02:35 PM
Colin McEnearney

Marks' post is great for when you finally can't hide from the truth any more but haven't figured out yet how to make the icky uncomfortable feelings go away. There *are* opportunities. All the underprivileged have to do is leverage tech. Not all can succeed, but the the smart and the special will. The system *does* reward merit. Gosh, I really like that idea - I wonder if I like it because I've been rewarded...

Dec. 14 2011 01:20 PM

Gene Marks, even your response here is entitled and smug. Boo.

Dec. 14 2011 12:58 PM
Zeke from Florida, U.S.A.

I'll bet $10,000 that "Gene Marks" is Mitt Romney's pen name.

Dec. 14 2011 12:18 PM

Let's keep it civil, folks!

Dec. 14 2011 11:20 AM
Joyce Tesar

"Or that the elite few who've made out like bandits in a disastrous global economy have no eyes to see, ears to hear or hands to help the 99% of Americans who are facing the loss of their jobs, homes and retirements "

I take exception to the ableism of this sentence. Helen Keller was blind & deaf, & she understood plenty, as demonstrated by her graduation from Radcliffe long before the Americans with Disabilities Act. I am disabled also. Disability does not equate incomprehension or incapability.

Dec. 14 2011 10:56 AM
parviz

I don't understand the problem here...?

It is true that Gene's solutions are not as simple as he makes them sound, but obviously hard work and ambition are an important part to achieving success. Yes he might sound condescending, but he is not completely wrong. I feel it has more to do with the feelings of the people he describes being hurt than the contents of his article. He sounded sincere and wishes black people to overcome their troubles, so why all the nitpicking and sarcasm?

Dec. 14 2011 10:46 AM
Chika from New York City

I'M BLACK AND I'M PROUD. I did NOT see anything at all condescending about the "If I Were A Poor Black Kid" column at all.
Black people, we need to face reality and solve our problems and stop getting mad when non-blacks offer solutions!

Dec. 14 2011 10:30 AM
Leah

It's called a column for a reason. You can agree with it or not, but dude isn't gonna go do loads of research before he writes his OPINION column. He's gonna write his opinion as it stands right then. He'd need a whole lot more than a 20 inch hole of space in a paper to cover everything necessary to satisfy everyone on the internet, and even then there would still be someone bitching.

Was his column narrow-minded? To some extent, yes. Was his title a shot at controversy to get you to pick up the paper and read it? Totally. But your advice for what he should do before writing the column is about as practical as his advice that you should go out and buy an expensive computer when you don't even have money for dinner.

I love how when a "rich" white guy doesn't understand poverty, or the "hood", there's outcry. But when people that want to scream racism and point out bias don't take the time to subsequently understand the person their attacking, do your arguments really hold water?

Dec. 14 2011 10:09 AM
Pushkar

If I were Gene Marks:
1. I would commend myself for my attempt to think about a poor black kid.
2. Then move on to find that some things only seem better on paper and putting them to practice is very difficult.
3. I will find a poor black kid, and then expect him to know the road to success from a very young age. Without almost ANY guidance. That seems very fair and the kid doesn't deserve a better life anyway, not being already rich or white.
4. I will find some actual research papers on how social complexes and attitudes affect people and their way of thinking and life. ( I can do that myself, just like a poor kid can find information on his own )

Dec. 14 2011 01:28 AM
Reda StCyr from Las Vegas Nv

What's not talked about is the massive efforts of some super rich white Americans to make sure The iniquity for black folks continues
It's no mistake they currently trying to destroy civil rights laws that protect black folk
It's no mistake the hard fought voting rights of Black folks is under massive attack
It's no mistake 6 super rich White guys have been allowed to purchase air waves that belong to the public I might add, that deny people of color a voice at the table
It's no mistake they want to privatize City, County, State an Fed employment, where many blacks have been successful, including myself
All this screaming about big Govt is not truthful an it's no mistake
It no mistake we have the First Black President that has been demonized, disrespected as none ever
And it's no mistake all of the failures, problems of Black folks are our own fault We have no freaking write to ask that some of the tax dollars we spend, actually go to things important to us

Yea I guess you could say I was one who got away but it is because of those few of us who did get away They now back to closing the doors , terrorizing r only affordable public education system Attacking any employers, especially the above mentioned to make sure We Black folks stay in our place
When you get ready to call White America out for their dirty deeds, towards people of color (not talking all whites, there are some very good ones) Then it's ok to hold Black folks to account for not taking advantage of opportunities that are denied

Dec. 13 2011 11:59 PM
Tanya from NYC

If Oprah is not up for a Forbes's smackdown, perhaps it's time for a "Shame on you Steve Forbes" facebook page. Would someone with more time than a working mom please put the fb page up?

I grew up poor and white in America (and I've done quite well - so, no Gene I don't have a chip on my shoulder.) But not only do I think that Gene Marks' article is embarrassing, ignorant and offensive, but also nefarious.

I would love to see Oprah come down hard on Steve Forbes (editor-in-chief of Forbes) for his choice to waste ink on Marks' drivel, thereby letting ignorance out into the world in the pages of a highly circulated magazine. If not Oprah, then the "shame on you Steve" facebook page is in order.

Hundreds of articles are rejected every month by Forbes, yet "Poor Black Kids" makes the grade. Has this article been good for your ratings and page hits, Mr. Forbes?

Thank you Jeff Yang for writing this excellent response.

Dec. 13 2011 11:05 PM
Katrina from Detroit from DETROIT

I don't have the strength to write the real commentary right now but I will be sending a personal note and response to this. All of that sounded good on paper but if you had to endure circumstances that most adults can't you would have chosen another topic. Everyone wants to talk about the hood but unless you lived it...truly is best to keep your suggestions to yourself

Dec. 13 2011 09:56 PM
the OTHER race from reality

The rich white boy in the burbs are TRYING to understand the inner city life. They've been making rappers rich since Public Enemy debuted.
You think that's superficial? Boy, you're giving the white boys club way too much credit, this is about as deep as they get. Ever.

Dec. 13 2011 09:24 PM
Nia Malika Dixon from Beverly Hills, CA

Thank you, Jeff Yang, for a well-written, thorough, and truly empathetic rebuttle to a horrible, condescending, narrow-minded article.

Dec. 13 2011 08:58 PM
Greg from Twin Cities, Minnesota

Was that really Gene Marks? I'm guessing not.

Everybody's got Priv. Some just have a LOT more than others. The important thing is to check it now and then: http://freethoughtblogs.com/xblog/2011/12/13/forbes-gene-marks-needs-to-check-his-priv/

Dec. 13 2011 08:39 PM
Marc Brazeau from Hartford CT

What's most galling about Gene Marks' piece is that for all his white middle class skills and work ethic, its such a lazy piece of writing. There is no research, no citations about what the studies could tell us about the situation.

David Brooks writes columns I disagree with all the time on a similar theme, but at least he takes the time and effort to look for some relevant and intriguing academic papers that illustrate the point he is trying to make. Marks is just a gasbag. He has some friends who are teachers who told him that internet service is affordable? Way to hit the books Urkel. Somebody show this guy how to use Google Scholar.

Any middle class white kid will tell you: a book report with no footnotes or bibliography gets an F.

Dec. 13 2011 06:35 PM
Christina from tucson

I wanted to tell Gene on his column what a unbelievable tool he was but didn't want to give Forbes my personal info to sell to their advertisers.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to say what I think - and knowing that Genebo is here commenting I am glad to know he will see it.

Gene you just keep digging the hole deeper and deeper. Kids who are looking after their siblings and working part time to help support their families don't find it all that easy to "study" hard when they are "working" hard. That is just the beginning of where you go off your rocker into rich white dude never never land.

Dec. 13 2011 06:28 PM
Upgraded Diddy from Boston

Hmm Gene. Let's see summary of advice we are giving to you post an ignorant article:

1. STUDY HARD (like you preach about in your article) the sociological issues behind poverty, capitalism and social classes
2. USE TECHNOLOGY (like you preach about in your article) to gain actual information to see why you opinion is invalid or even strengthen your argument if you can
3. Look at the acceptance rates and demographics of the schools you are telling these kids to apply for to see why everyone is upset over your claim
4. Consult with different school's guidance counselors (I think you getting the trend here) to see the different issues concerning the students within their schools to see what options are trully out there
5. Apply these skills to form REAL ADVICE supported by FACTs because your opinion of "cheap" and "accessible" seems to definitely not be the same for those in a poverish environment

"Yup...that's my advice...." Is not an ethical excuse for ignorance which is why these racial and social gaps exist still.

Dec. 13 2011 06:10 PM
A Black Kid From Long Island City from Queens

I do not like the tone, diction, or perspective of your article Gene. I live in a poor neighborhood, and I have thousands of neighbors who will never see the opportunities that I have been fortunate enough to see. Is that a fair society? Can you say its easy?

The most intolerable part is that the article is not an attack on poor parents, but rather poor kids. Poor kids who rely on their neighborhoods to get information. I don't know about anyone else raise in an inner-city, but my teachers weren't telling me to be at the top of my class.

Your outsider perspective makes it sound too nonchalant. "This is how you do it" as if there is a recipe and any dummy could do it. The one part where you acknowledge your stupidity is when you say "it takes a little luck". I personally didn't know that you could find luck.

Dec. 13 2011 04:58 PM
Tom Levenson

Marks is a condescending twerp who fails to get the key difference between anecdote and data. Sure, his tools are available to all; why then the income/class/social indicator gap.

If you don't want to go all eugenics here, then the answer is either a noxious culture argument (the David Brooks gambit, frequently debunked) or the actual acknowledgement of social injustice and the impact of discrimination on the poor, the non-white, on the unprivileged. But if you do that, then you have to acknowledge that some redress-- action at the level of society, and not just the individual -- is needed to address the reality of that injustice, the practical loss to our society that results, and the moral obligation that flows when you recognize a wrong being done.

But Marks doesn't want (on the strength of his post, and especially on his mealy mouthed comments here and elsewhere) to obligate himself or his privileged buddies to pony up for such social action. So he chooses to ignore the reality of unequal opportunity.

It's true that hard work and tech are available to most/all. What Marks doesn't get is that for many among us, even hard work and the use of all that lovely internet stuff won't actually overcome the barriers raised by the reality of daily experience for many, many Americans.

Wanker!

Dec. 13 2011 04:12 PM
Maris from New York

Hmmm...Let's see the problem with your advice:

1. Study hard and get good grades.

While this is true, please note that our current President has an exceptional academic record, and the President before him had a barely mediocre record. Both became President, but one had to grow wings and fly to get what the other had to barely crawl for. Please do not be naive enough to believe "good grades" are the ticket.

2. Use technology to help you get good grades

Again, please explain to me where this technology can be accessed. I went to a high school with 300 students and 20 computers. That still used floppy discs. I did not own my first computer until I was 25. And even then, it was a gift. My mother was a teacher, and has never heard of half the programs you listed Exactly HOW was I supposed to find out about them? Through my councelors that were a little busy trying to get to the ever-elusive 1 textbook per student ratio? I am really trying to refrain from the vernacular...

3. Apply to the best schools you can.

My mother was a teacher, but the majority of my peers' parents did not even speak English. I am supposed to do this alone at the age of what, 13? Come again?

4. Get help from a school's guidance counselor.

My guidance counselor is sitting right now with my classmate, who is 14, and is pregnant with her 2nd child. Moving on...

5. Learn a good skill...

...that is not free to learn. I started working at the age of 12 to afford my clothing for school. You find me a place that is teaching coding for free, and I will find you a place with 30 spots for 13,000 applicants.

Yup...that's my advice. From a not-so-rich- white dude.

And here's MY advice. I'll stop assuming you are an idiot if YOU stop presuming I'm just "lazy".

Dec. 13 2011 04:10 PM
Kira

Gene, you just don't get it do you? A "poor black kid" could follow your advise to the letter and still not get ahead. It is not a simple matter of choices but so much more. Does this mean "why bother trying?" No but it is revealing about your lack of understanding about the subject matter of which you speak.

Dec. 13 2011 04:03 PM
Response to GENE MARKS from Los Angeles

Why post your blog in Forbes if you were really looking to help? The obvious answer is you aren't really looking to help.

Dec. 13 2011 03:58 PM
What? from NYC

Are you serious Gene? You could of called the article "How to succeed at a young age," however, you chose to use a racially charged stereotypical title and introduction. Why do "the black kids" need to be poor?

Even the content was absurd: Technology is out of reach for people, sometimes the app fee or sound advice for college is out of reach, even my guidance counselor in a decent private school was awful, and a get a good skill is such an inane piece of advice it makes my head spin.

I implore you to keep writing about technology and leave your asbergian logic out of socioeconomics.

Dec. 13 2011 03:53 PM
Jeff Yang from Brooklyn, NY

Hey Gene,

I hope you understand the disconnect between what you wrote and the reality that the kids you're talking about (not *to* — I doubt very much that there are any poor black kids among the core readership of "Forbes"). None of the advice you gave was bad advice per se. It's just advice that you'd give to any kid — poor or rich, black or white. And it totally overlooks the very substantial challenges that poor black kids would face in following that advice.

Plenty of your commenters have noted that for most poor families of any ethnicity, $250 for a computer + $30 a month in Internet access costs is a huge expense to add to the existing costs of simply surviving. Yes, kids can go to a library (assuming there is one in their neighborhood, and that the equipment isn't broken, and that they can get all of their work done within the 20-minute allotment for public computers).

But even assuming they did, to use a computer to find the resources you're talking about, you need instruction and technical support. You need to know those resources exist to begin with! And the pages of Forbes.com is hardly where that kind of instruction is going to take place.

You also completely (deliberately?) misconstrued the point of the president's speech in Kansas. It wasn't about the importance of radical self-reliance. It was about the critical role that public programs can play in making sure that individuals can succeed. So citing it as an excellent speech, while totally misstating its point, seems to be quite disingenuous.

If you'd written a piece about programs that are working — public, private, or otherwise — to provide some of the services you are currently mandating that "poor black kids" do for themselves, you would have done something good and important. If you'd even shed a light on the ways that low-income youth aren't getting access to these tools and resources, that would have been a service as well.

But instead, you essentially told them and their parents that they need to "lift their game" to succeed. And that's what's wrong with your perspective. Yes, they need to lift their game — but first, we have to make sure the rules are fair, and the equipment and training are in place.

Sincerely,

Jeff

Also, if you look at the numbers, making over $100,000 a year places you in the top 6.28% of the earners in this nation. I'm sure you meet that threshold, so you're rich. The fact that you think of yourself as "not-so-rich" is part of the problem that faces America's drastically unequal society.

Dec. 13 2011 03:23 PM
Barbara Saunders from San Francisco, CA

Gene Marks. I want to leave aside the underlying us-vs.-them of many of the commenters. But I do have a critique.

You take for granted a HUGE, HUGE amount of tacit knowledge in your advice.

How exactly does this hypothetical kid hear about Evernote and the magic of Boolean searching on Google if his parents and teachers don't know? How does he evaluate the guidance counselor? How does he know that he should get a second opinion if the bad guidance counselor tells him he's stupid and advises the local cosmetology school and a high debt load?

What is a "good" school? What is a "good" skill? Notably lots of college graduates get those wrong, too.

Dec. 13 2011 03:16 PM
Sorry Gene

Your advice does not apply to all situations for multiple reasons - reasons that you seem to want to consistently ignore. I would list them, but this article and the comments on your original article have already listed them for you. It's just obvious that you don't feel like reading them - or, if you do read them, you don't really want to spend much time actually thinking about them.

Go talk to an academic. Seriously. Maybe those not-so-rich-white-dudes can explain to you what countless of comments and articles can't.

Dec. 13 2011 03:13 PM
eric henderson from Brooklyn

whew! "I Know Why The Caged Cricket Chirps" in comments on this one. Well done.

Dec. 13 2011 03:11 PM
gaetano catelli from America

if i were a rich black dude, i'd be sittin' on top of the world right now.

Dec. 13 2011 03:08 PM
Clyde Lawrence

Excellence achieved...

Dec. 13 2011 03:02 PM
GENE MARKS from Philadelphia

Hmm, let's see. A summary of my blog post:

1. Study hard and get good grades.
2. Use technology to help you get good grades
3. Apply to the best schools you can.
4. Get help from a school's guidance counselor
5. Learn a good skill.

Yup...that's my advice. From a not-so-rich- white dude.

Dec. 13 2011 02:57 PM

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