If I were a poor black kid

Forbes writer Gene Marks wrote an article entitled, “If I Were a Poor Black Kid.” In the article, he identifies himself as a middle aged white man and admits that life is easier because of that, but he says that if he were a poor black kid from the inner city, he’d be taking advantage of the amenities that are now available. Check some of it here:

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 then 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.

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.

Much of the AA blogosphere has been slamming Marks for being condescending or racist, and many of these bloggers/posters are friends of mine.

But I strongly disagree. In fact, I think this is a message that black America probably NEEDS to hear, the same way Asian Americans need to hear that Asian kids should study the humanities. It’s the EXACT SAME MESSAGE that Russell Simmons shared in his book Do You!, when he mentions several times that the library is free and costs no money to use.

Now I totally hear the detractors who say that there’s a 20 minute limit on computer usage at the libraries. I hear those who say that kids don’t have money to get computers or even food. But I wonder if that’s really the case. I’ve visited some libraries in poor areas, and there wasn’t exactly a line running out the door to get in. Not to say that I’m an expert on libraries in poor areas…but you get what I’m saying–the place was basically empty. Poverty is a problem, but people still have money for good clothes. They still have leisure time. In some areas like Trenton or Camden, it might take longer to get to the library, but I think it ought to be possible for an entrpreneurial-minded person to get there with group effort. Ying Ma and Jean Kwok managed to rise out of poverty. Of course, they aren’t black and didn’t face the stereotypes, but it should still be possible. As Russell keeps saying, the library is free, so people ought to get there. So much information these days is also free. I think people like Marks ought to be applauded for stepping out of their comfort zone and writing information that could be useful for someone trying to rise from poverty.

What do you all think? Condescending? Racist? Or helpful and valuable?

(On a side note, maybe someone should write an article entitled, “If I Were an Unpopular Asian Kid” and tell us how we can reverse the Trend.)

59 thoughts on “If I were a poor black kid

  1. Where exactly are these kids supposed to find the drive and wherewithal to do all of this if they aren’t in a household that encourages it? Even more importantly, how can an author be so utterly oblivious to the white male privilege he enjoys? Are we really asking poor black kids to navigate some of the most harrowing living environments in the country, hole up in their rooms on a cheap computer, churn out 18 tough years until college in complete social isolation, and still turn out healthy and successful? That’s one of the most delusional and, yes, condescending arguments I’ve heard in a while. Just glad it’s coming from someone with obvious privilege in a magazine for people with privilege, so it’s a little more transparent about what it is (compared to say, yet another bootstraps admonition by Bill Cosby).

    This strikes me as little more than a lazy rehash of Edward Banfield’s “Race: Thinking May Make It So”.

  2. I thought that the article was very condescending. “If I were a black kid…”? But he’s not black! Has never been black.

    Even if he had good intentions his tone in the article makes it sound as if he’s talking down on black kids.

    It would probably have been better to make known these resources via other methods and means than this sort of article. As it is I suspect that it may actually be for white consumption.

  3. Also his article seems very out of touch. Wikipedia for research? Skype to study with class mates?? “Backpack” software to help do homework? What is this?

    These are fictional band aids for deep rooted problems of poverty and culture in the inner city.

    This man seems to really like Obama’s message and what he stands for. I understand the allure. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize before even doing anything. What other man in the history of the human race could achieve such a thing? Not even Jesus Christ.

    So this Gene Marks ends his article with the tone of “yes the opportunities are there, but only if you BELIEVE”…

    I really think people should stop writing articles like these LOL. And yeah, it’s VERY different from the Asians studying humanities article, mainly because of the tone.

    Gene Marks is no Malcolm Gladwell.

  4. I’m surprised you’re agreeing with this dude, Byron? You trying to provoke controversy to get comments? Haha. 😉

    Maybe he was trying to be helpful, but I definitely got the condescending vibe in his article. The whole schtick of “YOU NEED TO WORK TO HARDER, THAT’S WHY YOU’RE POOR” ignores systemic, institutional racism and the many barriers that many children in poverty face, especially those who are poor AND black. Hello, White Privilege.

    Being Asian American, we should be sympathetic to the plight of many children in poverty because while many Asian Americans are also poor (especially immigrants), they can draw upon the social capital of having strong families and a culture that emphasizes hard work and prizes education. I’ve seen it too often in many students I’ve taught in public school – they’re bright, hard-working, but their parents don’t give a sh*t about how they do in school or won’t take their kid to the library, let alone spend a few dollars to buy them a used book. You have parents that never show up to student conferences, never let their kids join activities or clubs…

    Given 2 equal students, both bright and hard-working, being from a strong and active family is a huge advantage.

    So the real, more difficult question is this: how we change an American culture, especially the culture that has taken in root in many families in poverty, that sees no value in education or hard work?

    I would argue that popular culture has de-valued both in the current age. How kids think these days thanks to TV: Being smart isn’t cool; dressing in the latest fashion and singing vapid songs from the radio is cool. Working hard is stupid; Mom works 40 hours a week at Walmart and makes crap and I get made fun of by the other kids because they see her work there. I want to be like the people on Jersey Shore, make money while clubbing and acting like a jackass – it’ll land me clothing lines, book deals, and a chance to be on “DANCING WITH THE STARS”. Wooohooooo!!!

  5. I forgot that the few children that do escape poverty thanks to amazing hard work are the exception, not the rule.

    Even the famous neurosurgeon, Benjamin Carson, who grew up poor in Detroit and had a single mother who didn’t finish school and was functionally illiterate succeeded BECAUSE of his mother + hard work:


    Hard work is important… but so are many other factors.

  6. Byron, this guy is stupid and you are stupid for agreeing with him.

    Libraries are free, but they are not a substitute for schools. Neither libraries nor schools in low-income neighborhoods are likely to be well-funded. And libraries are simply not meant to support every low-income kid who needs a good education.

    Imagine if one day, every poor kid in an underserved school came to the public library. The library simply would not be able to support all their needs.

    We need to move away from the myth that a poor kid can just work their way out of poverty without the aid of his society. Poor black kids need textbooks and adequately funded schools, not condescending lectures from out-of-touch, middle class whites and Asians.

  7. I will agree with Byron on this …to a point.

    There are resources out there that are under used. America has a great library system. Go to many other countries and they have very few libraries. Some have libraries but you have to pay (yes we have to pay for them in taxes but they are free to use).

    Libraries generally have computer you can use for 45min or 1hr and ones that are 15min. They have librarians waiting to help you.

    Now look at college libraries. Who do you see inside them and who do you see outside them hanging out?

    Some people blame everything on racism when they don’t even study.

    This being said the author has a few good points but is not acknowledging that it is all good and easy to say study and use the resources around you but unless you have a stable home and people encouraging you to study and disciplining you it takes an incredible amount of effort.

    Most Asian kids come from a married two parent family. Most black kids do not.
    70% of black kids are born out of wedlock!

    It is hard to raise a kind on your own or with only partial help. Trying to stop teenagers from having kids and trying to promote two parent families needs to be the focus.

  8. If Mr Marks had ended the article with ‘ …and i will do what i can to mentor this poor black kid and take him under my wing until he succeeds’.. and then stepped out of his comfort zone to do exactly as he says, id probably agree with you.

  9. GAR said it perfectly so I wont add more. As for Lingyai. I’m sorry people like her exist on this earth. When I was a student growing up the libraries were FULL of black kids. and so was my college library. don’t know why Lingyai is convinced this is not the case. just cuz you haven’t seen it…doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist

  10. If a Black kid started to follow his good Bill Cosby-esque suggestions the cool Black kids at his school would beat him up and call him an oreo.

  11. @Lingyai Not only that, most blacks are only interested in becoming the next Lebron James or the next Snoop Dog, Russell Simmons has lead his people to destruction. I don’t care what anyone say, there’s no excuse for gangsters and crime in the black community.

  12. @fun.

    If you said that during the 90’s, I’d agree. However, it seems like many black youths nowadays are following trends that whites follow (skinny jeans, vans, etc.).

  13. I was willing to consider what the author had to say until he obstinately held on to his ignorance:

    Thanks for your comment. I still stick to what I wrote, and believe that the opportunity is there for everyone if they study hard and get good grades, use technology to help them get good grades, apply to the best schools they can, get help from their guidance counselor, and make sure to learn a good skill.

    As if repeating his tired cliches in a few short sentences makes his point true.

    This woman put it best:


  14. “Pigfried, you don’t know any more about what blacks are interested in, than we know about what it feels like for you to be in a Warner Bros cartoon. It’s time for you to say “That’s all folks!”, and oink your way out of this thread.”


  15. It will sound condescending for someone who has no idea what you are going through to offer advice garnered from an external point of view. However, as someone who unfortunately finds herself classified as “black” thanks to a change of residence to an environment where that appears more important than her name, I feel that the present young generation of “black” kids have their priorities messed up and that is because the present generation of “black” adults have not helped them to set the proper ones.

    I feel that anyone reading the article and thinking that he has no ideas to offer a young person of colour should also be considered condescending. Are you saying the child should not at least try some of the ideas? Is the child in your opinion incapable of succeeding still, no matter the personal interventions? Is anyone else talking to these kids about any existing opportunities in their neighbourhood? Do you have an alternative?

    You cannot imagine my amazement the first time I walked into the DC public library and found out that I could go in there and read a book for free and even take it home for a period in time.
    There are systems in place in this country that, at least in theory, are designed so that its citizens have access to the same opportunities. This is not always the case but if I do not become the greatest at what I want to do, it will not be because I did not try my hardest or explore/exploit every opportunity.
    The MAN has nothing to do with it. I mean that literarily. In my country, my sex makes me a second-class citizen but still I persevere.

    I don’t know what the fuss is about.

    I guess that’s because I am not black either. I am Yoruba.

  16. Gar,

    Okay…condescending attitude notwithstanding (and to be honest, I didn’t actually read it this way), is the author right? Is this good advice? I’m debating some people on Facebook, and it seems to me that their objection boils down to a reverse Tone Argument, where they simply don’t like the tone or speaker.

    I agree with EVERYTHING you say about families, and I do think that that is an advantage that most Asian kids (including Jean Kwok and Ying Ma) have. That being said, might not the advice Marks gives still be good? It’s the exact same advice that Russell Simmons, Bill Cosby, and Elijah Muhammed (the guy who taught Malcolm) have shared.


    I agree with everything you say. Certainly it’s harder without the family support, but if you don’t have the family support, you’re still best off trying to “stop frontin’ and start today.” (to quote Russell.) In other words, the path may be difficult, but it’s still the same.


    Imagine if one day, every poor kid in an underserved school came to the public library. The library simply would not be able to support all their needs.

    We need to move away from the myth that a poor kid can just work their way out of poverty without the aid of his society. Poor black kids need textbooks and adequately funded schools, not condescending lectures from out-of-touch, middle class whites and Asians.

    Sure, but is overcrowding a problem with inner city libraries? I’ve not heard of this happening anywhere outside of Flushing, New York, where the old Chinese ladies and smart-ass youth fight with rude security guards over their place in line.

    Also, I agree that society is important, but to simply say that it’s a myth, I think, is wrong. What about Ying Ma and Jean Kwok (whose posts I linked in the OP)? Granted they had supportive families, but the path is still the same.

    Ms. Catwalq,

    That’s exactly what I’m thinking! It’s good advice. When I look at the people who have risen from poverty, including Oprah, Jean Kwok, and Ying Ma, this is the same advice that they have used in their own lives. Even Herman Cain, who would be a terrible president but is a good businessman, has championed the idea of getting one’s education from a country that provides it.

    I’m a total liberal, but when it comes to certain things, I think people just need to go ahead and do it. Of course it’s not easy (which is the point the author made again and again), but the path is still the same.

  17. I’m just not getting all this. I’ve seen at least three articles by minorities slamming Marks (here’s one with lots of jokes but no real rebuttal). It makes no sense. Look at what went through Oprah’s mind when she started her school in Africa vs. the U.S.:


    As for critics who’ve said she should focus her efforts on the U.S., Winfrey, who has contributed to many American charities, says she was moved by the South African children’s desire for an education.

    “I really became frustrated with the fact that all I did was write check after check,” the media mogul, 52, tells Newsweek of her previous charitable giving. “At a certain point, you want to feel that connection.”

    Winfrey, who devoted five years to creating the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls outside Johannesburg, also said of the assistance she has given at home, “I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there.”

    In America, she says, “If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don’t ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school.”

    People say they don’t have enough money in the inner city…but they could’ve had it! Oprah could’ve started her school here. But because not enough people are doing what Mr. Marks (and Elijah Muhammed and Russell Simmons and Bill Cosby) suggest, she decided to move her investment elsewhere.

    I’d LOVE for someone to devote $40 million in the Asian American community to help us battle Pinkerton Syndrome or make better leaders. But the more we minorities deny that problems exist, the less likely we’ll be able to fight them.

  18. Marks should have framed it as a poverty problem. He could have saved himself a lot of trouble. Just leave race out of it cause blacks don’t really want to hear it from whites.

  19. Why do all the interesting topics always come up when I have a lot of work stacked up?

    There are two issues, as I see it. First there are the suggestions/observations themselves. Many of the points that Marks brings up are good advice. The second issue is the context in which these ideas are framed, and that, I think, was done rather clumsily. I’ll demonstrate what I mean:

    “If I was a female rape victim, I’d use social networking to try and connect with other women who have gone through the same experience. I would also blog about my feelings and emotions related to rape, it’s important to vent one’s feelings and not keep the bottled up inside. Now it may be hard for many female rape victims to do that, but it’s important, if they wish to ever live a normal life. As a man, it may be easier for me to talk about rape, but hey, it’s not impossible for women to get what I’m saying too. There are many websites, blogs and groups available online these days as well as books in the library. The rape victims of today have much greater opportunities to overcome the results of the crimes imposed upon them than did the women of past generations. That is why if I was a female rape victim, I would do things quite differently.”

  20. Haha! King, I could’ve waited a day to post it! (Actually…maybe not. My fingers were burning at the keyboard for this one!)

    Okay, about the rape victim thing. I see the analogy, but I think it’s different, and the reason it’s different is because it crosses gender.

    In the book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, John Gray talks about a common issue that couples have. Women will complain to men about this problem or another, and men will try to solve the problem. “Your boss was mean to you? Well, complain to HER boss!” Women want to vent, Gray says. They aren’t looking for solutions. It’s the same deal with your hypothetical victim. It’s about coming to grips with the issue, not about solving it.

    In this case, we’re talking about male-to-male advice, or at the very least, male-to-both advice. We’re talking about a problem that (I hope) everyone agrees needs to be solved.

  21. How many of you who feel Marks gave good advice have ever lived in an environment of endemic poverty, under the thumb of violent gangs?

  22. Byron>”I agree with EVERYTHING you say about families, and I do think that that is an advantage that most Asian kids (including Jean Kwok and Ying Ma) have. That being said, might not the advice Marks gives still be good? It’s the exact same advice that Russell Simmons, Bill Cosby, and Elijah Muhammed (the guy who taught Malcolm) have shared.”

    You’re right that part of the advice is right – there is a connection between hard work, a desire to learn, and getting a successful education. The problem is that Marks article approaches the problem of poverty and education from a purely INDIVIDUAL level without addressing the significant factors that lie outside the power of the “poor black kid”.

    Marks’ recipe for success is just ummm… “work hard” and “use technology”. No mention of the privileges I’m sure his kids enjoy of an active father, a strong family, economic resources, etc. If we reduce the problem to one merely of individual responsibility, it’s like saying there’s no other factor of significance except the individual. And we know that’s definitely false.

    Bill Cosby caught flack for espousing the same thing I’m saying – how many Black FAMILIES would rather spend several $100 on sneakers for their kid, but wouldn’t use the same money for educational materials like “Hooked On Phonics”. So where does this obsession with materialism come from? A terrible combination of generational poverty, kids raising kids, and American materialism.

    As the rapper Jay-Z put it:

    “Rap critics that say he’s “Money Cash Hoes”//
    I’m from the hood, stupid… what type of facts are those?/
    If you grew up with holes in your zapitos (shoes)
    You’d celebrate the minute you was having dough!”

    The responsibilities of families, communities, and society cannot be absolved. We need change both on an individual level AND a macro-level. Let’s not blame all the “poor black kids” for their lack of success when many of them have been shunned by not only their own families, but by deficient public school systems, teachers, politicians, and writers like Marks.

  23. BTW, as a teacher I definitely don’t coddle any of my students, especially my students who are Black, Asian, Latino, etc. I got kids from Liberia & Kenya, Vietnam & Philippines, Mexico & Guatemala… I’ve pulled more than a couple of them aside privately who were messin’ up and said to them directly lectures like this:

    “This world we live in isn’t going to give you anything. You’re entitled to nothing, and because of the way WE look (referencing myself and them), we have to work twice hard to be successful, because any time we mess up, we’re judged harder than anyone else.

    You know my expectations for you in this class and I know you can do it. So are you going to choose to work hard and be successful, or are you going to choose to perform below your abilities and embarrass not only me, but yourself?”

    Usually fixes them up in 1-2 doses.

  24. @King

    Another analogy I can think of is a rice-chaser giving Asian guys tips in dating Asian Women. Sure some of his points might be correct, but what are his intentions and what is his tone? And it definitely doesn’t stop him from being a racist ****.

  25. Why do all the interesting topics always come up when I have a lot of work stacked up?

    There are two issues, as I see it. First there are the suggestions/observations themselves. Many of the points that Marks brings up are good advice. The second issue is the context in which these ideas are framed, and that, I think, was done rather clumsily.

    It’s not only clumsy, but it seems less about helping than about pontificating. One point several commenters brought up is why is he bringing this up in a magazine like Forbes. How many youg people in poor neighborhoods read that magazine? Heck, how many young people anywhere read Forbes??

    The general problem I see with the article is that he is handwaving away his own privilege. He has the luxury to conduct his thought experiment from his writer’s desk without actually living in the shoes of the people he’s talking down to. A good number of commenters, poor latino, black, and white people, who went on to make it already mentioned all the roadblocks they faced.

    Now, the author himself says:

    I admit I’m a short, balding and mediocre certified public accountant (biggest downfall: if it’s close enough it’s good enough).

    Given this admision, a person might wonder: If all Gene Marks could achieve was mediocrity even with his privilege, how well would he fare under the circumstances of poor, at-risk youth?

    @Byron: I think a better music video for Gene Marks would be Dynamite Hack’s: Boyz In the Hood

  26. @Raguel:

    How many of you who feel Marks gave good advice have ever lived in an environment of endemic poverty, under the thumb of violent gangs?

    Just a little tangent, I’m actually reading a book called “Street Wars”, by Tom Hayden. It’s about street gangs like the Latin Kings, the Crips, Blackstone Rangers, etc, and so far, he does a lot to humanize those folks. They’re no angels, but a lot of the reasons for gangs can be traced back to endemic poverty, he says.

    One interesting thing he mentions is that White ethnic gangs in the mid 19th century were actually given a sort of amnesty/new deal that absorbed them into the middle class. Basically, once these kids had something to lose, the pool for gang recruitment dried up significantly.

  27. Co-sign with what King said.
    One problem with discussions on race is that there seems to be only room for two extreme perspectives.

    The first perspective, typically held by Republicans, is that the world is your oyster and no matter who you are you can do anything if you really, really, really want it enough, and if you didn’t succeed it’s probably your fault somehow, so stop complaining and start idolizing the rich because they are just awesome.

    The second perspective, typically espoused by radical black activists and their allies, is that the world is so irrevocably stacked against the black man that no matter how hard he strives to succeed, Whitey will always find a way to hold him down and shit on his face; and if a black person or persons engage in activities that damage the progression of themselves and their communities, it’s ultimately the fault of Whitey. This will forever be the case until such time as white people suddenly realize how innately evil they are and have always been, and break down and ask black people for forgiveness and then give them reparations for slavery.

    The truth, as it often is, is somewhere in between. Unfortunately this is hard to communicate without someone wigging out because it’s not one of the two aforementioned established perspectives.

  28. “The second perspective, typically espoused by radical black activists and their allies, is that the world is so irrevocably stacked against the black man that no matter how hard he strives to succeed, Whitey will always find a way to hold him down and shit on his face; and if a black person or persons engage in activities that damage the progression of themselves and their communities, it’s ultimately the fault of Whitey. This will forever be the case until such time as white people suddenly realize how innately evil they are and have always been, and break down and ask black people for forgiveness and then give them reparations for slavery.”

    Who are these “radical black activists” and their allies you’re talking about, bro?

  29. @ Notty,

    Yeah, I think that gangs and organised crime pretty much springs up at anywhere the conditions are right, regardless of race. I shall be checking out the book you mentioned for sure. 🙂

    “One interesting thing he mentions is that White ethnic gangs in the mid 19th century were actually given a sort of amnesty/new deal that absorbed them into the middle class.”

    Do you have any additional info on this? I would like to look into it further.

  30. N,

    Not sure if the rice chaser analogy is a good one. White CPAs have to still work hard to get an education and pass the test. It isn’t just given to them. It’s a hard test. On the other hand, certain members of the AFCC go wild when confronted with a lack of color. Rice chasers get the world handed to them. A Chaser can sweat and smell like Siggy and still be popular in the Club.


    Let me first begin by defending Marks’s platform. He’s a Forbes columnist, and therefore writes for Forbes, probably nowhere else, and so while it might be nice for him to write for a publication that caters to poor kids, he’s got what he’s got. He’s not really writing for poor kids, he’s writing for people who read Forbes and hoping that his message will filter down. He’s also subject to Forbes’s guidelines. When I wrote that piece on Heterosexual Asian Men, some people asked, “Well, why didn’t you say X or Y?” And the reason is simple–I had a predetermined word limit and needed to work within that.

    That said, it looks like we ALL agree that the advice is good. It’s just that (if I’m interpreting correctly) some people think that there are other issues in the community that should have been mentioned. The thing is–he did mention that he’s had it easier because he’s middle class and white. He writes:

    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.

    He’s essentially saying what Gar is saying above. It’s harder, but you’ve gotta do what you can do.

    My take is the same as Catwalq’s and lingyai’s. He doesn’t have to harp on the issues with parents and poverty. He’s acknowledged them, and that ought to be enough.

    Think about what kind of advice one would give to a person, any person, trying to start a business. There’s startup capital, licenses, marketing, etc. It’s a huge undertaking. There are always a million reasons why one CAN’T succeed. But if you focus on those, you WILL fail. He’s asking them to focus on why they CAN succeed. And there are many reasons: FREE libraries, FREE internet usage, FREE school, schools looking to diversify. There is no reason why kids shouldn’t be working towards getting ahead. Sure, it would be nice if he had a nice, caring tone, but in the end, what difference does it make? The advice is still good. And–this is probably the most important–if they don’t follow his advice, they’re almost certainly doomed to fail.

    I also know that he’s been saying the same stuff as others. But the message isn’t being heard/followed. Oprah took $40 million and put it somewhere on the other side of the world because she felt the kids here weren’t interested in learning. What was sad in the wake of her announcement was that people got angry at her rather than looking at the reality of what is going on. Certainly parents are responsible, but if parents aren’t living up to that responsibility, kids have to help themselves as best they can. It’s sad, but the alternative is to throw up one’s hands and give up. And that most certainly wouldn’t help anyone.

  31. Byron, you can’t just feed people beliefs and then expect them to take care of themselves. That’s just a tactic lots of people use to convince themselves to stop caring, and maybe even start looking down on who they’re talking “at”.

    What struck me the most about Gene Marks and the people who agree with him is how they actually stop taking feedback from the very people they claim to want to advise, and the very same people who’ve worked for years in these neighborhoods, and not just written feel good articles.

    Marks suggestions are impractical. You can’t educate a society out of endemic poverty and social degradation. You must build institutions first, and help them become self-reliant and self-confident, with a sense of destiny. With these things then communities can start to steer themselves.

    There isn’t a real alternative. It doesn’t matter how many black children “rise above” the poverty because the environment dictates that not many do, and the majority of human potential is wasted struggling to just survive intact.

  32. bigWOWO:

    Can you define the term”rice chaser?” If I am correct, it is a label for Black, White, or Hispanic men interested in dating and/or having sex with NE Asian women. Is that right?

  33. Let me re-word that, “doesn’t matter” is a poor choice of words.

    What I mean is that it’s a bigger concern that environmental and institutional factors effectively prevent and weed out all but the most exceptional cases from getting a good education, and saying that “you see you still have a chance” is taking our eyes off the ball and the fact that the majority are still very subject to these forces.

  34. “I also know that he’s been saying the same stuff as others. But the message isn’t being heard/followed. Oprah took $40 million and put it somewhere on the other side of the world because she felt the kids here weren’t interested in learning.”

    You and Marks have not heard feedback from commenters either.

    How do you study from a broken home or when your immediate concern is hand to mouth living? What about when everybody is getting involved with gangs and starting petty feuds? How do you separate yourself from your peers when you live among them and being even remotely an outsider means inviting constant attack and harassment? What about when your guidance counselors and other “well meaning” people ask you to consider being a hairdresser because that’s something within reach… of the same place you grew up in? What if you’re a boy and it’s been drummed into you from the youngest age from everybody around you that without power or money you’re worthless and a nobody?

    None of Mark’s suggestions addresses these issues. He actually thinks that the education of poor children is a solely academic issue. I’m less than impressed. Using wikipedia for research, “backpack” software for homework (what?), tedTV when you might not even have an internet connection, or may have to share a shitty line with your siblings or entire block. Going to the library instead of hanging out with a crew that can actually keep you physically safe and watch your back in case of trouble.

    Hmm I’m not going to continue listing the fallacies he touts as magical solutions.

  35. And you know, look at my posts here, I’ve never been confortable with any pov that diminishes the importance of education and learning. I just dont think Marks does the topic any justice, and in fact, I feel his attempt to leap into the shallow end with such gusto and bravado makes a mockery of the whole thing.

  36. So I wrote a long response then lost my connection a lost it all..
    So here it is condensed (still log)
    Actually I thought Marks did not harp on the lack of family support and basics like security enough. He was rather dismissive of it.
    I agree with most of what you say. There are some republicans/conservatives who can’t seem to acknowledge the fact some groups have higher barriers and more obstacles to success and opportunity than others. Same thing with American foreign policy that can’t admit it has not always been perfect and we have supported coups, dictators, and corruption. Pointing these things out doesn’t mean you hate America.
    This being said, some activist are nothing but negative and cant admit there is opportunity and resources available. Many of them underutilized. Many school and college are actively recruiting Black and Hispanic students.
    I agree there are poor black children that are worried about their own personal safety and with lack parental support and Marks advice is of little value to them. The thing is most black people don’t live in abject poverty. A lot more do than Asians or whites that for sure. There are those who have the attitude that whitey is keeping them down and everyone and every institution is racist. There are college students who are surrounded by opportunity and people wanting to help them but they hangout outside the library.
    I have read some of Marks’ responses to readers, and it doesn’t seem like he is bothering to try to understand their thoughts. It makes him come across as someone who is aloof and doesn’t care that much. He comes across as someone trying to win an argument than actually trying to make a difference and help. This being said those just calling him racist/ignorant are not doing much either. That kind of talk is easy and makes one feel good but it just shuts the conversation down and doesn’t actually create understanding that might create actual solutions . Tone matters for his critics just as much as it does for Marks. Point out how it Marks thoughts are not as easy to do and are simplistic yes, but in way that makes people get it. Saying ignorant white racist isn’t helping the poor black kid.
    We need to encourage Marks to spend time in the “ghetto” showing kids Tiger Direct, Wikipedia, and Khan Academy. It would be eye opening for him and the kids…

  37. Someone more honest and sincere about wanting to help poor children might have done actual research rather than pontificate from his armchair, and he might have responded with a THANK YOU especially to those commenters who took the time to write a little extra about their experiences. That probably would have taken the edge out of a lot of the subsequent comments. Gene Marks intended to start and end with this one article. He never intended to learn or develop ideas or even bring them to fruition. He was never interested in discussion, or the experiences of real lives or actual facts. All he wanted to do was preach some beliefs to Forbes readers. I think this explains everything, from the tone of his article to the flak that he got and even his response to it.

    I dunno, maybe Gene sees this as a black and color problem. I think it’s something that happens all over the world to everybody.

  38. Busy today, so I have to keep this short, but I actually have a whole new blog post in mind regarding this situation. Raguel, to be fair to Marks, he didn’t say that HE wanted to help poor black kids. He just said that that is what he would do if he were one.

    I dunno, maybe Gene sees this as a black and color problem. I think it’s something that happens all over the world to everybody.

    Like I said, I’ve got more to say about this, but how did this woman work her way out of poverty, where she attended the same bad schools and had the same teachers, libraries, etc.:


    Same deal with Jean Kwok. Same deal with lots (if not all) of the Chinese people I know who grew up in poverty.

    I can wager a guess at the reasons, and maybe I can post about it this weekend or next week, but I think it’s instructive to note that they had exactly the same PUBLIC resources and had to deal with the same violence and gangs. Not the same personal resources, nor the same stereotypes, but they had the same public resources and surroundings, which would indicate that the public resources, at least, are not completely worthless.

  39. Looking forward to your post Byron, as this is something that interests me quite a bit. Public education over here is about to get way worse, I guess more knowledge could help with my anxieties of the future Lol 😮

  40. Well, as I said, I’m not saying that the advise itself was bad. The things that Gene Marks would do with free internet programs, library computers, and the like, are all great resources. There is nothing wrong with pointing them out.

    However, the trouble comes in when he focuses in on a race, and a class of people, of whom he has had very little experiences with, and then supposes that he can put himself in their shoes, and say what he would do if he were them. There is a difference between saying, “Look at these great resources that are available,” and saying,” If I was in your position, this is how I would do things more effectively than you are doing them.”

    You see, the problem is not just one of resources and information but of mindset. And that mindset has ben compounded by a very long history of events, both collective and personal. What Marks is saying (perhaps unwittingly) is that poor Black kids should have a mindset much like his, or else they should be able to overcome the mental obstacles of their own mindset to achieve similar results. But this is like saying that alcoholics should not drink alcohol, or that people who get into bar fights should not lose their temper. These things may be true, but they are also obvious, and making these pronouncements does little to reshape the mindset that stops people from doing the best things for themselves.

  41. ^ maybe he just hates albino eugenics chimps that have outstayed their welcome on asian activist websites. I know I do.

  42. Marks sounds patronisingly ignorant. Obviously. Has anyone been on google scholar? Its a pile of shit. CIA wikipedia, the guy just wants to verbalise trendy buzzwords to try and sound cool

    Basically anyone with some informed search can jump on the internet to find helpful info but they have to know what they are looking for. For someone who has grown up in extreme shit circumstances, such guidance can only be offered as i said by a mentor. As ppl have said above, when you dont have the guidance and only shit circumstances, you have no idea what you are looking for.

    The fact that Marks has no intention of helping any black kids its obvious he’s being patronising. but because he is a successful white (?) man everyone who looks up to people with money have to agree with what he says and worship the ground he walks on.

    the love of money has corrupted our critical thinking. that black kid will never get helped. he will just become a hypothetical point of reference for rich people everywhere , just like people who want a quick snack reference ethiopians in talking about starvation.

    the higher you try to climb the money pyramid there is always someone above you and this self important snobbery learned from climbing this pyramid narrows our critical ability because our opinions can be ‘bought’.

    ironic a poor black kid is referenced for being ignorant. when the only difference is that marks gets kudos for his self-congratulatory ignorance, and the kid gets scapegoated for his.

  43. King,

    I’m in agreement with you.

    The kids aren’t going to read this–even rich White kids rarely read Forbes–but I think what gets me is the reaction of the media and cultural critics. Most of the writers I’ve read have resorted to attacking Marks rather than considering anything he said. And what’s worse–the media, particularly the ethnic media, have focused on why these kids can’t succeed due to the public resources. I think we all agree that the public resources aren’t perfect, but the truth is that they probably ARE sufficient to work one’s way out of poverty.

    I’ve got more to say, but I’m still in shock that an Asian female celebrity actually married an Asian guy. I just need a little time to recover…

  44. Haha! You’re shock is understandable… perhaps its because she’s an intellectual celebrity, not a pop celeb.

    I think most of the ethnic critics are responding to the context rather than the content. They are up in arms that a White, middle-aged, writer has tried to put himself (as is) into the context of a poor Black kid, in a “how to do it better” scenario. It was clumsy, and reflects a certain level of cluelessness.

    As a White guy, he has to remember:

    1) It was White guys who made it illegal that Blacks children be educated at all.
    2) It was White guys who set up a separate and woefully unequal educational system.
    3) It was White guys who refused to hire qualified and educated Blacks for years.

    So when a White guy says, “Hey, this is what I would do if I was poor, Black, and unfortunate,” you have to take in the full context in which he is writing those words.

    Secondly, the advice he is giving is true but not particularly insightful. What he is describing is pretty much what poor minority college students have already been doing. Nothing that he suggests is undiscovered country. Its not as if he’s pointing out new technologies to the world that nobody has ever heard of. And the fact of who its written to seems to be yet another problem. Who is the Forbes demographic? Is it not affluent people, the majority of which just happen to be male and White? So what do the readers take away from this? That Black poor kids could do just fine, if they really wanted to, with the resources that are now available. We don’t really need to make a lot more investment into these kids—they obviously aren’t even taking full advantage of the free resources that are already available.

    And lastly, why can’t it just be “poor kids?” Why “poor BLACK kids?” Are all the poor White kids in coal towns, lumber towns, farm counties, hick towns, and other nowheresvilles, all following what he’s suggesting? Why should his Forbes Magazine article target suggestions only to the poor of a specific race?

    Now, all of that said—Black kids and Black parents do need to hear the message of what’s available and how to best utilize it. Most of the kids in the ghetto have little idea about a LOT of the things Marks has suggested. I agree that what he said may have some value, even though it’s not earth shattering to the general public. The question is whether or not he has ever worked with poor Black kids before? How much time has he spent learning about those who he deems to write about? It may be that by actually spending time with the subjects of his article before writing it, he may have better learned how best to write this article without offending them.

    Or… didn’t he find that bit of pertinent information in Google Scholar?

  45. ^
    Agreed, it would have been nice if it were just labeled “poor kids,” especially because there are more total poor White kids in the USA than Black kids. Although he would have to adapt his writing to include those from the countryside.

    I don’t really think it is fair to blame all of NAM’s problems on Whites, particularly White males. To me, it sounds a lot like how you hear anti-Semites complain how Jews rule the world, are fu*&^%# over the world, are greedy, are holding everyone else down, etc. It’s just vulgar.

  46. “I don’t really think it is fair to blame all of NAM’s problems on Whites, particularly White males.”

    No it’s not, and people who try to blame ALL of their problems on White males are usually simply trying to escape taking hold of their own responsibility.

    However, doing so is different than anti-semetism because White males actually have dominated this culture since it’s inception. Witness the current count of White male Presidents, 41 White males to 1 Half White Male. Witness the current U.S Senate, 83 men to 17 women. Etc.

    For all of this countries history White males have clearly dominated it’s policies, institutions and laws. One cannot simply sweep that aside as if it wasn’t the case and pretend that it’s been equality all along, just to conform to current standards of political correctness.

  47. King:

    “Haha! You’re shock is understandable… perhaps its because she’s an intellectual celebrity, not a pop celeb.”


    What’s particularly cool about this example is the freedom. Much as people love their pop celebs, the truth of the matter is that pop celebs are much beholden to the system. Even if the biggest actress in the world crossed over (from the AFCC to the Community Club), she’d still be reading another person’s lines.

    Intellectual celebs set the agenda themselves. Ai. Still in shock.

    I agree with you on the context. I think these other writers could’ve handled it differently, and I’ll probably comment on that once the shock wears off.

  48. I’m not sure how layoffs are decided upon in magazines like Forbes but I suspect it may have something to do with readership. If the writer’s articles do not serve the purposes of the magazine or if it does not resonate with people enough to get a good number of page views, said writer may have to just vacate his desk.

    With this possibility in mind it can explain the motivations for writers like Gene Marks to reach for something beyond their grasp. Also, journalists don’t operate in a vacuum. To continue writing they have to find inspiration.

    The entire world of media is full of pundits interpreting and re-interpreting events and consequences. This was what “post modernism” was designed to do. It generates a sea of noise that people can then choose to attach themselves to, to float along its currents or add to efforts to paddle their raft.

    Gene Marks mention of Obama may have escaped scrutiny but it makes perfect sense considering that 2012, once widely promoted as the end of the world, is an election year of huge significance, and that shortly before he wrote the article Gingrich and then Trump made remarks about the ability of black people to study and work.

  49. Pingback: Finally, a Community Victory! | bigWOWO

  50. @Raguel,

    Didn’t mean to leave you hanging on the gang research thing. I just finished the “Street Wars” book by Hayden, and while more mentions of the New Deal were made regarding the old White ethnic gangs, the author didn’t really go into depth on that. I’ll have to look at the notes and bibliography again to see if there’s a book that goes into it.

    He does go into a bit of the history of Mayor Daley in Chicago, who apparently was a member and president of the Hamburg gang, and used that to launch his political career. Interesting history there (http://gangresearch.net/ChicagoGangs/vicelords/VLTitlenew.html).

    I began another one called “World of Gangs”, which is about the globalization of them, and the foreword mentioned this site: http://gangresearch.net/.

    If I find anything directly relating to the New Deal, I’ll let you know…


    I was reminded of some of your posts when the author of the second book said this in his acknowledgements section:

    I believe the insights of social science badly need to be complemented by the far richer exposition of life, love and meaning in literature.

    He was thanking a bunch of influence like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Joseph Conrad, Dotosveysky, etc…

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