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.)