'If I were a poor black kid': 6 counterattacks
A Forbes columnist picks an unpopular way to write about income inequality in America
Inspired by President Obama's speech last week on inequality, Forbes contributor Gene Marks took a break from his business columns Monday to write about the growing "spread between rich and poor." Marks said it's unfair that it's harder for some people to realize the opportunities America offers, because of the color of their skin, or because they're born in an inner city. So far, so good. But then Marks, a "middle aged white guy," went on to say how he would overcome the obstacles if he were "a poor black kid." His recipe for success included getting good grades, taking advantage of free computers and software, learning computer programming, and getting a summer job at "a business owned by the 1 percent" to "show my stuff." The blogosphere was swift to respond, and the reaction was not kind. Here, six biting rebuttals that riff on Marks' original statement:
1. "If I were a rich white man"Marks' "grand sweeping generalizations" are annoying, says Shaka Griffith at Global Grind. So let me turn the tables. "If I were a rich white man, I would go to downtrodden neighborhoods around the country and tell all the teenage drug dealers, stick-up kids, and hustlers to come hang with me on my yacht." I'd "buy them anything they want" then dump them back in the 'hood. That way they'd see there are luxuries out there, and "dust the ghetto dirt off their shoulders and go fulfill their dreams, because it's that easy for poor black kids." All you need, according to Marks, is a computer and a dream.
2. "If I were a rich white man pretending to be a poor black kid"If I were a rich white man out to express my "ungrammatical, tin-eared, sociological meanderings" by pretending to be a poor black kid, says Jess Zimmerman at XOJane, "I might not be able to afford my own computer, because I would be poor. So I would just have my parents buy it for me," even if that meant waiting for my birthday. Then I would use my technology and awesome study habits to get rich. Then I would lecture my fellow poor black kids about how "only a rich white man knows the secret to being a successful poor black kid: Being a rich white man."
3. "If I were a middle aged white man""If I were a middle aged white man, I wouldn't write articles called 'If I Were a Poor Black Kid' for Forbes," says Louis Peitzman in The Huffington Post. After all, "a title like that" would pretty much guarantee that nobody would pay any attention to any legitimate points I might make. I wouldn't say it's crucial to get good grades, because "it's just not as simple as studying hard." And I wouldn't write that technology can help kids who want to be helped. "If solving inequality were as simple as wanting it badly enough, I'd like to think we'd all be equal."
4. "If I were a white, male middle aged Forbes columnist ..."If I were a short, balding, mediocre white guy — as Marks describes himself — I wouldn't take on "the rhetorical style of Miss Grant's 'You got big dreams' speech from Fame Season 1," says Akiba Solomon at Colorlines. I would not put "the onus of hundreds of years of structural racism and decade after decade of class stratification on the shoulders of, drum roll, poor black kids." I would acknowledge that plenty of poor black kids want to study and want to learn — but don't even have a "safe place to live."
5. "If I were a wealthy white suburbanite"I would not prattle on to inner-city children about how they need to hit the science museum, says DN Lee at Scientific American. I would not "completely insult them, their families, and their communities by not acknowledging how much work is already being done by their parents, their teachers, their neighbors, community organizations, or their churches" to send them positive messages — "plus physical, fiscal, and spiritual support." And I just wouldn't have the nerve to rattle off solutions to their problems, as I imagined them, "as if it were as easy as casting seeds unto ground and like magic, new crops will sprout!"
6. "If I were a rich white dude""If I were a rich white dude," says Jeff Yang at WNYC, I'd study up before opening my mouth. I'd read books, such as Jonathan Kozol's Shame of a Nation and Savage Inequalities, to understand that the schools poor black kids go to don't always have the resources of the schools I know. "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." And I'd learn about compassion and sensitivity, so I could write columns that "aren't dripping with entitlement," and might actually do some good.