A Dumb White Guy’s Even Dumber Advice to Poor Black Kids

Fuhgedditaboutit, kid. You're doomed to be a janitor.

It’s never been easy to be a Black teenager in White America.  It gets tougher when you are on the receiving end of unsolicited and unhelpful advice from White men who obviously know little to nothing about how Black teenagers grow up.

Gene Marks, a columnist for Forbes penned a column in response to President Obama’s speech in Kansas addressing economic inequality in America.   For the most part,  Marks agreed with the president’s remarks.   He just took it a little further and narrowed the focus to the plight of urban Black youth in a way that wavers between being condescending and clueless and the worst example of Great White Father paternalism I’ve read in many a moon.

Marks’ column has to be read in full, but among his observations:

I am not a poor black kid.  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.   Or that the 1% control the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind.  I don’t believe that.  I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed.  Still.  In 2011.  Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia.

Listen to me, Black kids. I'm White!

Thank you for the news flash, Captain Obvious.  Pray tell, bless us with more of your wisdom.

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 than 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.

Hopefully those cheap computers are running software that can use that technology and let’s also hope those students whose schools lack enough books and supplies to go around are attending schools that are wired for Internet access, but I digress with small details.

If I was a poor black kid I would get technical.  I would learn software.  I would learn how to write code.  I would seek out courses in my high school that teaches these skills or figure out where to learn more online.  I would study on my own.  I would make sure my writing and communication skills stay polished.

Because a poor black kid who gets good grades, has a part time job and becomes proficient with a technical skill will go to college.  There is financial aid available.  There are programs available.  And no matter what he or she majors in that person will have opportunities.  They will find jobs in a country of business owners like me who are starved for smart, skilled people. They will succeed.

Honest and for true?  Wowee-zowee, so all those Black working class and professionals need to do is learn how to write computer code and they can be the new Steve Jobs?   Hallelujah!  The

To be young, gifted and Black in America means you are more likely to be unemployed than your White counterpart (close to 50 percent), more likely to be murdered than your White counterpart (according to FBI statistics, in 2007, there were 7,387 Black homicide victims in the U.S, making the homicide rate among Black victims 20.86 per 100,000.  For Whites the rate was 3.11 per 100,000).

More than half of Black males drop out of high school before graduation.  Black and Hispanic women have the highest teen pregnancy rates (126 and 127 per 1,000 women aged 15–19, respectively), though the birth rate for Black women dropped more (45 percent) than the overall teen pregnancy rate (41 percent) between 1990 and 2005.

It’s hard enough to be young and Black in America.   It doesn’t help when people who know nothing about either feel entitled to give advice nobody asked them for.

John Marks says these kids are too ignorant to succeed.

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 kids from West Philadelphia don’t even know these opportunities exist for them.  Many come from single-parent families whose mom or dad (or in many cases their grand mom) is working two jobs to survive and are just (understandably) too plain tired to do anything else in the few short hours they’re home.  Many have teachers who are overburdened and too stressed to find the time to help every kid that needs it.  Many of these kids don’t have the brains to figure this out themselves – like my kids.  Except that my kids are just lucky enough to have parents and a well-funded school system around to push them in the right direction.

Technology can help these kids.  But only if the kids want to be helped.  Yes, there is much inequality.  But the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.

I agree with Marks that ignorance is the biggest challenge we face.  His own ignorance should pose a considerable challenge to him.  Good thing he’s not a middle class White Man instead of a poor Black kid or his dopey suggestions might otherwise be a real disadvantage.  .

That settles it then! Go west, young Black man and woman.  The streets in Silicon Valley are paved with gold and you can overcome your own ignorance and crushing poverty by catching the first thing smoking to California.

Ehhh…maybe not according to a report by the San Jose Mercury News:  …between 2000 and 2008 the number of African Americans and Hispanics working high tech jobs in Silicon Valley decreased from 1.9 percent to 1.4 percent and 5.3 percent to 4.7 percent respectively.  Another such report entitled “Minorities and High Tech Employment”, conducted by the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council found that while high tech companies prospered throughout the last decade, the high tech workforce was neither representative of the diversity of the US population nor the consumers they served.

But how can that be?  How could Mr. Marks be so far off the mark?  If working in high-tech isn’t the magic key that unlocks the future then what is?   How could he be so wrong?

Here’s how:  John Marks doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

Mastering technology and Spark Notes are not enough to save impoverished Black kids.  There is nothing wrong with a kid learning how to write code, but that alone isn’t going to deliver them from poverty and deprivation.  They still need parents that value education and push their children to succeed.  They still need teachers eager to mold and shape eager and impressionable minds.

Marks could have spoken to poor Black kids and asked them what they thought about their goals and how best to meet them.   He could have asked Black parents what their hopes for their children are.

He didn’t do either of those things.   He just sat down and crapped out an amazingly clueless bit of hackery.   Ignorance of the subject apparently is not a disqualifier for Forbes contributors.

If receiving government assistance and a father that made Christmas for five kids on less than $30 dollars qualifies as poor, I guess my family was poor for a time though my parents hid it well from us.   Poor Black kids don’t need the Marks’ pity and they definitely don’t need his worthless and poorly thought out, half-assed advice.

I never thought of myself as a poor Black kid, but if I were, the last thing I’d do is take the advice of some smart-ass White guy who knows little about how people live in poverty and even less about Black people.