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December 13, 2011 1:49 PM   Subscribe

"If I Were A Poor Black Kid" by Gene Marks. "If I Were The Middle Class White Guy Gene Marks" by Kelly Virella
posted by griphus (203 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would use homework tools like Backpack, and Diigo to help me store and share my work with other classmates. -- Gene Marks

I'd also use tools of privilege like invisible backpack to condescend to people while pretending to help them.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:54 PM on December 13, 2011 [77 favorites]


The response isn't loading right now, but that original essay is pretty much already a self-parody. Holy privilege, Batman.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:54 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Gene Marks would make an excellent Poor Black Kid. Someone give him the job.
posted by mazola at 1:55 PM on December 13, 2011 [31 favorites]


If I were a poor black kid I'd make sure to start off with the privilege of a middle class white guy too. I mean jesus, why wouldn't you? It's just common sense!
posted by Navelgazer at 1:56 PM on December 13, 2011 [36 favorites]


Fortunately, all the poor black kids reading Forbes will get right on this, right after shooting off a quick buy order to their stock broker via BBM.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 1:57 PM on December 13, 2011 [22 favorites]


The TL;DR takeaway from Virella's piece:
Now, it’s obvious that hard work, intelligence, and assistance from others are necessary to succeed. I grew up in a trailer in rural Alabama and I graduated from Stanford University. I am publishing this blog post at a start-up magazine that I founded with capital that I — along with my African-American husband, a Brown University graduate — saved from our wage earnings. We work hard and our families have always worked hard too (See slavery). The problem is that Marks seems to think it’s okay to require black kids to be “special” to “succeed.” I don’t. [emphasis added]
posted by Wretch729 at 1:58 PM on December 13, 2011 [59 favorites]


Man, I thought the article actually started out alright when he recognized that his kids have it much easier. Hey, somebody who actually recognizes his own privilege!

But then holy shit. It becomes a textbook example of Not Getting It. Wow.
posted by kmz at 1:58 PM on December 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


If I was a poor black kid there'd be loads of books in my libraries and I wouldn't have to walk past drug dealers and muggers to get to school and it would be totally easy to concentrate on my study when I hadn't eaten dinner that day because there was no freaking money.

Or not.

On preview, Wretch729 nails the key point from the second article.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:59 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, that essay is a masterclass in white privilege, condescension, and laughable ignorance.

Jesus, poor black people! I just want to shake you sometimes. If you'd just bookmark Wikipedia and the CIA Factbook, you'd be getting into exclusive private schools and then we'd let you into the honorary rich white guy club! But it's hard, I know *pat on head*
posted by naju at 2:00 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


If I were a poor black kid, I'd have everything go right for me, too. I'd have no ailing parents to care for, no disruptive siblings, no problems getting glasses so I could read the computer screen, I'd sleep well despite the noise and danger of my neighborhood, I'd ignore the pangs of hunger and malnutrition, and I would completely ignore overwhelming peer pressure from all angles. Look how easy that was.
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:00 PM on December 13, 2011 [35 favorites]


Among the poor, it takes a special black kid to succeed.

In the middle class, it takes an average, kind of mediocre kid to make it well enough that she'll never see a ghetto.

And that is what privilege means.
posted by Tarumba at 2:00 PM on December 13, 2011 [187 favorites]


The shame of this is that I am certain Gene Marks was actually trying to be helpful. We must ever be vigilant against unconscious liberal condescension, where we decide for someone else what they need, and ignore their own suggestions about what they need, because we don't share that need, and therefore know better.

Yes, there are tools available to make education easier for the disadvantaged, especially online. That could have been a useful article. But framing it in terms of "this is the stuff that will help extra-special poor black kids get ahead, but only if they are willing to work hard, which is rare" is submarining your piece right at the get-go.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:00 PM on December 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


Gene Marks, I want to live on your planet. Because on your planet, all a kid has to do is get to school and he's got it made. Right.

Let's talk about the reality that most poor kids (black, hispanic, etc) have to solve 6 problems before getting on that school bus.

Is it possible? Absolutely. Should it have to be that hard. Hells no!

Christ, what an.....you know the rest.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:01 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, oh! I do! ASSHOLE!
posted by davidjmcgee at 2:02 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Shorter Gene Marks:

I hope you're one of the good ones.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:02 PM on December 13, 2011 [16 favorites]


I wonder if he were a poor black kid would he get someone to proofread his article?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:03 PM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


I grew up as a poor white kid. I availed myself of the resources available to me, in the 60s and 70s and ended up attending an elite liberal arts college 2000 miles away from home and am now a university professor.

But this is the thing: I had six siblings. Four dropped out of high school. My twin brother is dead- overdose. My second-oldest sister is approaching 60 and has had to move back in with my mom after her husband was sent to prison for life (bank robbery, third strike). My family is a n almost filmic version of impoverished dysfunction among which I am the only one who got out.

I would never, ever expect that all underclass kids- black, white, whatever- would have the incredibly rare amount of ambition I had, combined with a patina of delusion and more than a little narcissism ("why CAN'T I apply to Reed and Oberlin? My SATs are way better than that rich kid from Munster I debate against and he's going to Princeton).To expect poor Americans to be like me- it's incredibly stupid.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:03 PM on December 13, 2011 [48 favorites]


I haven't read these yet but from the titles this totally sounds like one of The Onion's Point / Counterpoint features.
posted by XMLicious at 2:05 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


I wish he'd do a version of "growing up poor white military trash" because I'm pretty sure I fucked it up.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:06 PM on December 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I imagine that Gene Marks isn't so much a bad guy as a hopelessly sheltered one. (And the whole piece feels like something that an editor would look at and kind of cringe, while the writer stands there saying, "what? What?! I said I know they have it tougher! I'm trying to help!")

I guess I'm just hoping that one of Marks' savvier friends gets him The Wire Season 4 for Christmas.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:07 PM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Did he just search for "test prep website" and, upon finding a plethora of options, get his idea for his solution? Because SparkNotes and CliffsNotes have been dismissed by every English teacher I've ever had. Perhaps their websites are better, but those sites look overly flashy to my casual perusal. If someone wanted to "buckle down and learn," I wouldn't turn to those sites.

And a note to Gene Marks: Project Gutenberg doesn't offer much advantage over a school or public library. Just because it's online doesn't make it better.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:08 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: You just have to be a SPECIAL poor white military trash kid. Then you can succeed just like those normal kids, whose parents write for Forbes.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:08 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow. I haven't seen such tone-deafness in an article since that guy who makes $250,000 a year complained about how he was broke. Is Forbes Magazine full of idiots like this?
posted by zardoz at 2:09 PM on December 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


And a note to Gene Marks: Project Gutenberg doesn't offer much advantage over a school or public library. Just because it's online doesn't make it better.

It actually makes it worse, because the less money you have, the less likely you'll have consistent internet access.
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:10 PM on December 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think my favorite part is when he says the most special and smart of those special, smart, hardworking, tech-savvy poor black kids can get scholarships to private schools because "Trust me, they want to show diversity."

I believe the word you are looking for is "token," Mr. Marks.
posted by headnsouth at 2:10 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Reading the comments, Marks just keeps digging the clueless-hole deeper and deeper. It's kind of sad, really.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:10 PM on December 13, 2011


Wow. I haven't seen such tone-deafness in an article since that guy who makes $250,000 a year complained about how he was broke. Is Forbes Magazine full of idiots like this?

Yes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:11 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


From a friend on Facebook: "See what you don't know is he is also an Onion contributor and was just logged in to the wrong account when he posted that. It's just like when you send something to LinkedIn that you meant for Facebook. Except, whereas you might mistakenly tell your coworkers that you really dig Katy Perry, he told the world that he's an ignorant racist twit. What a Monday!"
posted by davidjmcgee at 2:13 PM on December 13, 2011 [28 favorites]


Also somewhere around his 17th usage of the phrase 'I would use technology' I couldn't think of anything but SCIENCE!
posted by shakespeherian at 2:14 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Great response from a great website I hadn't heard of. Thanks OP!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:14 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is what happens when you have someone whose background is in the tech field try and pen a piece about social justice...

That said, I loved Martin Luther King Jr.'s original article on hypertext, it was way before it's time.
posted by tomswift at 2:16 PM on December 13, 2011


Am I the only one a bit dumbfounded at the idea of a Forbes contributor and general business insider being referred to as "middle class" here?
posted by Saydur at 2:19 PM on December 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


I was born a poor black child.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:20 PM on December 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


I made the mistake of reading his profile before reading his ideas: "I admit I'm a short, balding and mediocre certified public accountant (biggest downfall: if it's close enough it's good enough)". This made all the rest of the words snap into a more manageable perspective.
posted by FrankBlack at 2:22 PM on December 13, 2011


The thing I can't quite understand is that he gets it- admits right up front that his kids have it easier. And then even after all the blather in between, admits in the last paragraph that most poor black kids don't know, and have no current reasonable way of knowing, about these opportunities. So he gets it, but he really doesn't Get It.

(I don't see anywhere where he comments on how hard these opportunities might be to pursue, given other distractions/life duties/etc that your average inner city kid might have to deal with, but I would expect he would understand that too.. and somehow would still fail to Get It.).

Sadly I can't read the response article (won't load?) so no comments there.
posted by nat at 2:23 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I imagine that Gene Marks isn't so much a bad guy as a hopelessly sheltered one.
Perhaps he should avail himself of some technology and broaden his world-view then.
posted by fullerine at 2:23 PM on December 13, 2011 [44 favorites]


The response is fantastic. Thank you.
posted by davidjmcgee at 2:23 PM on December 13, 2011


When I read stuff like this (the Gene Marks post) it's not even the content that boggles me. Rather, I find myself wondering what actually goes through someone's head when they're writing it? What is their motivation, what is their purpose?

That anyone can conceive that this kind of writing is well-intentioned, let alone whether its content is insulting or fails-as-empathic, etc. is actually what disturbs me to a far greater degree.
posted by trackofalljades at 2:24 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll bet the Forbes style guide suggests "poor" to describe anyone making a mere seven figures.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:26 PM on December 13, 2011


I think we killed the server on the response.
posted by Phire at 2:27 PM on December 13, 2011


Rather, I find myself wondering what actually goes through someone's head when they're writing it?

Seriously, talk about sheltered. How can someone possibly sit down to write a post like this and think 'This should go well!'
posted by shakespeherian at 2:27 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Correct title: "If I Were A Poor Black Kid, I'd become a Rich White Kid. With Magic."
posted by vidur at 2:28 PM on December 13, 2011 [25 favorites]


The shame of this is that I am certain Gene Marks was actually trying to be helpful.

This is the impression I get, too, but still ... it was literally wince-inducing to see someone speak down from a place of such sheltered cluelessness. I really don't understand what motivates this Great White Hopey behavior. "I really believe in equality and social justice so ... I'm going to tell minorities what they should be doing to step on up"? It does leave a person feeling conflicted - you know the motivations are for the most part in the right place, but the condescension ... it's like watching a guy telling a pregnant woman how to deal with childbirth, based on what he used to do to work out a runner's cramp.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:28 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wait, didn't Steve Martin already cover this, only better ?
posted by k5.user at 2:28 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I really believe in equality and social justice so ... I'm going to tell minorities what they should be doing to step on up"?

Oh, sure. Especially when what he wrote boils down to "If I was a poor black kid, I would be better than a poor black kid, because of THE INTERNET."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:30 PM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm just going to leave this here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfAvQp-Uk5I
posted by Ruby Stevens at 2:30 PM on December 13, 2011


How can someone possibly sit down to write a post like this and think 'This should go well!'

I read the comments yesterday and there's probably more outrage since this blew up, but at the time the majority of Forbes readers were praising him for fearlessly and intelligently explaining how poor black kids can succeed with technology. No, really.
posted by naju at 2:30 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I read stuff like this (the Gene Marks post) it's not even the content that boggles me. Rather, I find myself wondering what actually goes through someone's head when they're writing it? What is their motivation, what is their purpose?
You know they say you get more right-wing as you get older, and I think it may be happening to me.

I used to try to imagine what people like Gene were possibly thinking.
What it must be like to live with privilege so all-encompassing you can't even see it when you are actively looking for it?

I used to think that.

Now I just wish someone would set him on fire.
posted by fullerine at 2:30 PM on December 13, 2011 [20 favorites]


the last paragraph that most poor black kids don't know, and have no current reasonable way of knowing, about these opportunities.

It's not so much that they don't know, it's that they have no reasonable way to access those opportunities. It's not like poor kids generally have computers in their rooms. Or that they have their own rooms. Or that there's a computer in their homes at all. Or that home is a place they can be during much of the day, for a myriad of reasons.

aaaarrrrrgh explode.
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Newt has his running mate!!!

Well as long as he doesn't pick himself.


No, no, that's too harsh.

But I will say every time I pick up, or read something in Forbes I nearly faint from rage.
posted by edgeways at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Technology can help these kids. But only if the kids want to be helped.

- If only he would want to be helped, all his problems will be solved.
- All his problems have not been solved.
- Therefore, he does not want to be helped.

Can't argue with that.
posted by vidur at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


When I read stuff like this (the Gene Marks post) it's not even the content that boggles me. Rather, I find myself wondering what actually goes through someone's head when they're writing it? What is their motivation, what is their purpose?
Seriously. The best thing to do about poor people is nothing at all. You could give them money, but that, well, costs money--and Lord knows I'll never have enough money that giving some to someone else seems like a good idea. Open your mouth about poor people, or put pen to paper, and you'll quickly learn that they don't want your words or your opinions--they want your money. That brings us back to the first point.

So keep your head down, ignore them, do nothing. There's a whole crowd of us doing that, and you won't stick out.
posted by planet at 2:32 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am five months away from a masters degree, and I have no idea what half of those online tools are.

Also, SparkNotes, ewww...
posted by naoko at 2:32 PM on December 13, 2011


If I Were A Poor Black Kid, I would be grateful every day that everyone in my life had mistaken me for a middle class white kid my whole entire life.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:36 PM on December 13, 2011


If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible.

This amused me because as middle class black kid, I did not do this. I passed high school by the skin of my teeth, not because I wasn't capable, but because I was bored shitless and did as little homework as possible while fucking off to the art teacher's room and alternating between drawing and trying to get into girls pants. I aced tests, but alas that didn't matter if I didn't turn in the workbook pages of stuff I clearly knew because tests were being aced.

But anyway, about poor children. They usually have more immediate concerns than figuring out how to get that sweet job in 20 years. Poor black children trying to study usually have to worry about 'acting white".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:38 PM on December 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


Soon we'll redistribute all the copies of Forbes and then everyone will have access to this information.
posted by michaelh at 2:41 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never understood why the limousine drivers of those poor black kids drop them off after school in the ghetto. What's up with that?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:41 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think we killed the server on the response.

If it's a special server that wants to succeed then it'll be okay.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:42 PM on December 13, 2011 [36 favorites]


you'll quickly learn that they don't want your words or your opinions

Particularly when they're dripping with privileged condescension and suggesting things that, for the most part, truly poor children of any race don't have regular access to outside of maybe two or three computers in their classroom.
posted by ndfine at 2:44 PM on December 13, 2011


(I aced tests, but alas that didn't matter if I didn't turn in the workbook pages of stuff I clearly knew because tests were being aced.

The day I found out in Pre-Calc that homework grades didn't count if it would hurt your average was the last day I did homework in that class. Of course habits like that bit me in the ass really hard once I hit college classes where I couldn't wing it on tests.)
posted by kmz at 2:44 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


And libraries and schools have computers available too.

You mean like the neighborhood branch libraries in my urban area that are now only open 3-4 days per week, for only a few hours after school lets out?
posted by availablelight at 2:46 PM on December 13, 2011 [15 favorites]


I mean, I'm trying to imagine how a different framing would make this any better or actually helpful. Like, "If I magically awoke tomorrow to find myself a poor black child, but still retaining my lifetime of experience as a rich white dude, here's how I'd try to make the best of my situation..."

Nah, not much better. But far more honest.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:47 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


if i were a poor black kid, i'd be asking why the world i live in is so fucked up - come to think of it, that would be an awfully good question for ANYONE to ask - especially gene marks
posted by pyramid termite at 2:50 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


from article: “So many kids from West Philadelphia don’t even know these opportunities exist for them.”

So many kids born and raised in West Philadelphia spend most of their days on the playground. So many of them spend their time "relaxin'" and looking "all cool." So many of them spend all of their time shooting "b-ball" outside of the school (leaving no time for school work.) And for these underprivileged, all it takes – all it takes! – is a couple of guys who are up to no good. Troublemakers are everywhere in West Philadelphia, and every day of the year they can be found making trouble in any given neighborhood. These kids get in one little fight... and that's all it takes.

But that's not how it has to be. I know, because I can tell you about one underprivileged young man from West Philadelphia who proved just how special by getting out and making something of himself. And I'm here to tell you about that very talented fellow, now a resident of Bel Air, California; such a strong achiever and a dedicated student is he that he is known amongst his set of friends as a prince of a man.
posted by koeselitz at 2:50 PM on December 13, 2011 [117 favorites]


ethnomethodologist: "imp"

ethnomethodologist: "I grew up as a poor white kid. I availed myself of the resources available to me, in the 60s and 70s and ended up attending an elite liberal arts college 2000 miles away from home and am now a university professor.

But this is the thing: I had six siblings. Four dropped out of high school. My twin brother is dead- overdose. My second-oldest sister is approaching 60 and has had to move back in with my mom after her husband was sent to prison for life (bank robbery, third strike). My family is a n almost filmic version of impoverished dysfunction among which I am the only one who got out.

I would never, ever expect that all underclass kids- black, white, whatever- would have the incredibly rare amount of ambition I had, combined with a patina of delusion and more than a little narcissism ("why CAN'T I apply to Reed and Oberlin? My SATs are way better than that rich kid from Munster I debate against and he's going to Princeton).To expect poor Americans to be like me- it's incredibly stupid.
"

It might be incredibly stupid to expect poor Americans to be like you, but it would be wonderful to encourage all Americans to try to be like you.
posted by 2manyusernames at 2:54 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Among the poor, it takes a special black kid to succeed.

In the middle class, it takes an average, kind of mediocre kid to make it well enough that she'll never see a ghetto.


That ain't the half of it. In the middle class, you can be a myopic condescending technocrat with nothing to say, and they'll still let you contribute regularly to Forbes and the New York Times!
posted by gompa at 2:54 PM on December 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


I'm not really surprised by that guy. I've come to expect it because when I was in college, this was standard reasoning for why the poor are poor. They needed the "intelligence" of upper middle class white college kids from elite colleges to "open the eyes" of poor folks and learn to live a better life from them (the white kids that were born into a white upper middle class existence and had no work or life experience aside from summer camps and private schools).

I did once meet a young man who works in fundraising that his parents told him he would never have to worry about having a job because they'd arranged a trust for him. He told me that they had been "smart enough" to make all the right investments, implying that they were somehow better than everyone else and deserving money as the fruit of their higher than average intelligence.
posted by anniecat at 2:54 PM on December 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


I keep trying to write a comment about everything that's wrong with that idiot's column but I can't even figure out where to start. I did actually come from a poor white trash background and managed to get two degrees from good schools and build a middle class life. Yay, me.

But there are a thousand and one ways that my path was easier than a lot of other kids and if I don't acknowledge that fact then I'm as big an asshole as he is. My school district was very good. My parents were poor but were readers and pretty well self educated, my mother especially. We lived in a safe area. We had a great library. I had a lot of friends from better off families. Parts of my mom's family were actually pretty well off which gave me a view of middle-class life at holidays and such. My parents were always strict about our speech and insisted on good grammar and that speak without a New Jersey accent. Heck, we watched PBS constantly at home, the whole family sat and watched every single BBC Shakespeare play together.

So yea, even though we lived in a tiny house with a scary looking beat-up car in front and were always in danger of economic catastrophe, there were so many fewer road-blocks for me than for other kids. That fact that this guy thinks that the difference between poverty and the middle-class is just a little pluck and hard work really explains a lot of what's been wrong with this country for the last thirty years or so.
posted by octothorpe at 2:57 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Navelgazer, your idea is a potentially uproarious and heart-warming update of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. It'll be the family hit of the holiday season! Featuring Queen Latifah as a sassy yet wise hair-dresser who can do black people magic!
posted by Mister_A at 2:59 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Marks article reminds me of a quote a A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

“Filth, filth, filth, from morning to night. I know they're poor but they could wash. Water is free and soap is cheap. Just look at that arm, nurse.'

The nurse looked and clucked in horror. Francie stood there with the hot flamepoints of shame burning her face. The doctor was a Harvard man, interning at the neighborhood hospital. Once a week, he was obliged to put in a few hours at one of the free clinics. He was going into a smart practice in Boston when his internship was over. Adopting the phraseology of the neighborhood, he referred to his Brooklyn internship as going through Purgatory, when he wrote to his socially prominent fiancee in Boston.

The nurse was as Williamsburg girl... The child of poor Polish immigrants, she had been ambitious, worked days in a sweatshop and gone to school at night. Somehow she had gotten her training... She didn't want anyone to know she had come from the slums.

After the doctor's outburst, Francie stood hanging her head. She was a dirty girl. That's what the doctor meant. He was talking more quietly now asking the nurse how that kind of people could survive; that it would be a better world if they wre all sterilized and couldn't breed anymore. Did that mean he wanted her to die? Would he do something to make her die because her hands and arms were dirty from the mud pies?

She looked at the nurse... She thought the nurse might say something like:
Maybe this little girl's mother works and didn't have time to wash her good this morning,' or, 'You know how it is, Doctor, children will play in the dirt.'

But what the nurse actuallly said was, 'I know, Isn't it terrible? I sympathize with you, Doctor. There is no excuse for these people living in filth.'

A person who pulls himself up from a low environment via the bootstrap route has two choices. Having risen above his environment, he can forget it; or, he can rise above it and never forget it and keep compassion and understanding in his heart for those he has left behind him in the cruel upclimb. The nurse had chosen the forgetting way."

posted by anniecat at 3:00 PM on December 13, 2011 [33 favorites]


I did once meet a young man who works in fundraising that his parents told him he would never have to worry about having a job because they'd arranged a trust for him. He told me that they had been "smart enough" to make all the right investments, implying that they were somehow better than everyone else and deserving money as the fruit of their higher than average intelligence.

When, of course, all they really were was rich enough to gamble on the stock market, and lucky enough to win.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:00 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Daaaaaamn, Kelly Virella. That was a seriously excellent demolishing of a woefully misinformed article.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:03 PM on December 13, 2011


Pluck and hard work are for the lower classes. Upper classes get ahead by cutting the rungs out from under everyone else.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:05 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thorzdad: Reading the comments, Marks just keeps digging the clueless-hole deeper and deeper. It's kind of sad, really.

The first comment made me smile:
I suggest Mr Marks build himself a moon rocket. All the tools and technology are there. There are examples of how it’s been done successfully in the past. All he needs to do is introduce himself to an astronaut or two, and maybe an overworked engineer at Boeing. There are lunar landing simulators all over the Internet. He just needs a little more pluck.
And it made me want to build a so-called "moon rocket."
posted by filthy light thief at 3:06 PM on December 13, 2011 [24 favorites]


Also: kudos to Forbes for having insightful, on-topic, critical comments. Too bad the article was lacking all that.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:07 PM on December 13, 2011


Wow. Look at the folks lining up to throw rocks at the idea that it might be a good idea for a poor person to try to better themselves through smart choices and hard work. You know. Like some of your parents did, or tried to do.

Be careful not to trip over the incredibly low bar you're setting for life.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:10 PM on December 13, 2011


Mister_A: I know you were just making a joke, but now I've tried to imagine a Christmas season release of a movie about Marks putting his money where his mouth is, and going off to teach in West Philadelphia, trying to reach out to these poor black kids and show them how to use Google Scholar and SparkNotes and such, but oh, why won't these kids ask for his help. Of course, there's that one special kid who does, and Marks is able to help him get a scholarship to an ivy league school, and...

And then I realized that movie is too depressingly easy to imagine being real.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:12 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow. Look at the folks lining up to throw rocks at the idea that it might be a good idea for a poor person to try to better themselves through smart choices and hard work. You know. Like some of your parents did, or tried to do.

Wait..where did that happen?
posted by ndfine at 3:13 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


why do you hate my blood pressure griphus?
posted by The Whelk at 3:13 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Many times, 'smart choices' and 'hard work' aren't enough. And lots of people want other people to actually recognize that, instead of saying that through 'hard work' ( a nebulous term, at best) and 'smart choices' (no mention of how people learn to make those choices, or even see the options, or if they even have options) will be enough.

It takes luck, and help too.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:14 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


The problem isn't *quite* that Marks is fairly clueless. The problem isn't his privilege. The problem is, at least in the US, and at least in this decade (still), you DO have to be exceptional to escape grinding poverty.

The mediocre can generally retain whatever class in life they were born into. The lucky and the exceptional (and oftentimes it takes both) are the only ones who will rise significantly above the class they were born into. Marks's privilege isn't the problem, it's a symptom of a society that has abysmal class mobility but refuses to admit that fact to itself.
posted by chimaera at 3:15 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: I appreciate that honest criticism. People have been *lining up* in this thread saying exactly those things and someone had to set them straight. Thanks for your service, and keep up the good work.

Frankly, I'm shocked at the outright promotion of laziness and celebration of apathy that this thread has become.
posted by absalom at 3:17 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that this piece is drawing so much ire here because if you really look at what he is literally saying in the piece he has pretty much anticipated and forestalled all the criticisms being levelled. He isn't saying that it is easy for poor black kids or that they have the same opportunities as middle class white kids or that if they fail to take these opportunities they're lazy or any of those things--which are, after all, staples of right wing thought in this country. He very explicitly says that it would take an especially gifted and dedicated "poor black kid" to take this route out of poverty, and that that isn't true of his own kids.

Compared to what you'd expect the typical Forbes reader to think on this issue, he's a positive bleeding heart liberal.

Not that I disagree with the general sentiment in the thread, there is something insufferably smug and thoughtless in the tone of the piece. One imagines a whole series: "If I Were a Russian Hooker Whose Pimp was Holding Her Passport and Who Was Hooked on Heroin" and "If I Were A Child Warrior Recruited Into The Lord's Resistance Army" which would all end with a quick and easy path to middle class comfort: "Well, first thing, I'd stop taking that nasty heroin! I mean, Duh!"

But I imagine the author a little bemused at the scorn he's attracted--he probably thought he was striking a blow for empathy and social understanding in the context of Forbes magazine.
posted by yoink at 3:17 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: "Wow. Look at the folks lining up to throw rocks at the idea that it might be a good idea for a poor person to try to better themselves through smart choices and hard work. You know. Like some of your parents did, or tried to do."

Huh?! The issue isn't that it's a bad idea. It's the implication that poor back people don't know any better and that's why they're worse off.

"Good grades you say? Hard work? Good heavens, why didn't I think of that before?"
posted by brundlefly at 3:17 PM on December 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


Wow. Look at the folks lining up to throw rocks at the idea that it might be a good idea for a poor person to try to better themselves through smart choices and hard work.

No one is doing that. You imagined it. We are rightfully skeptical of the idea that the things outlined in the article are possible (example: the article assumes extensive computer and internet access), broadly achievable (example: the article assumes part-time jobs are readily available, when statistics show otherwise), likely to work (example: scholarships and acceptance to colleges are easy to come by, because of tokenism), and the complete lack of acknowledgement of the huge number of everyday barriers faced by actual poor youth.

It would be absolutely trivial to break this article down into its composite parts and show that each step basically assumes the best-case scenario at all times (example: getting a summer job at a law firm? what?). The fact that the author basically says "If I were poor, the best possible things would happen to me because of MY OVERWHELMING VIRTUE" is what's at issue here.
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:17 PM on December 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


The thing I can't quite understand is that he gets it- admits right up front that his kids have it easier. And then even after all the blather in between, admits in the last paragraph that most poor black kids don't know, and have no current reasonable way of knowing, about these opportunities. So he gets it, but he really doesn't Get It.

I'm reminded of the Conrad Stargard series by Leo Frankowski. It's interesting if schlocky scifi, but it revolves around a fun/fantastic premise: what if a mechanical engineer from the 1990s were sent back in time to 13th century Poland? Why, he would revolutionize the world just because he'd know how to invent all kinds of stuff! Concrete, basic hygiene, more efficient navigation, stronger materials, better military tactics...

Predictably, Conrad's Poland becomes a massive superpower, he turns away the Mongol hordes, gets the womens, prevents Black Death, and so on and so forth. What's interesting though is how much of it really just boils down to a guy who already has the answers -- because other people did the hard work of living 700 years without them and having to figure them out -- jumping back in time and cashing in on that inheritance. Like gamers who first play through a game, then re-play to squeeze every point from the puzzles and challenges with their knowledge of the 'correct' answers, this kind of play is interesting and engaging.

Because, you know, if I were an impoverished laborer in 1300s Poland, I'd invent disposable lighters and become rich.
posted by verb at 3:17 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Furthermore, he's not "digging the clueless-hole deeper and deeper," he's thanking anyone who supports his article (who are few and far between) and repeats the mantra "there are opportunities for the the inner-city poor, they just need to work for them."

Oh, he did through out some "suspicious quotes":
@1doze – thanks for sharing your story, and for jumping in. I agree that even so-called “disadvantaged” kids have a chance.
Cool Papa Bell: Look at the folks lining up to throw rocks at the idea that it might be a good idea for a poor person to try to better themselves through smart choices and hard work.

Nope, those rocks are for the notion that all an economically disadvantaged black kid needs to excel is the right websites. He's ignoring (or ignorant) of the day-to-day context of poverty, and what impact that has on the option to study. If you have to work to help support your family, when can you watch TEDtalks in the library, if there's a library that will let you watch videos for an hour or two.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:18 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow. Look at the folks lining up to throw rocks at the idea that it might be a good idea for a poor person to try to better themselves through smart choices and hard work. You know. Like some of your parents did, or tried to do.

My advice is to do what your parents did; get a job, sir.
posted by gerryblog at 3:18 PM on December 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


Look at the folks lining up to throw rocks at the idea that it might be a good idea for a poor person to try to better themselves through smart choices and hard work. You know. Like some of your parents did, or tried to do.

The underlying assumption in giving that kind of tone deaf advice is that the poor person is not already trying their best to better themselves through smart choices and hard work. Which is just another of saying that if they aren't able to better themselves, it is their own damn fault for not trying smartly/hard enough.
posted by vidur at 3:18 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


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.

This guy thinks that every household in America has air conditioning/heat, electricity, a computer, an internet connection, a good desk and chair, and enough privacy so every child can turn themselves into an expert on internet research? And all for free? Really?

Even if you say they can "just go" to the library, there's a lot of assumptions right there. Is there free mass transit? Is it safe to travel there? Is it open when they aren't at school? Does it have enough computers for use, or is it already overflowing with adults desperate to find work?

Yes, every child should have those opportunities. But they don't, largely because most of the people making the laws and donating to the campaigns haven't ever gone hungry or homeless, and have spent less time in poor neighborhoods than the poor have spent at country clubs cleaning up after them.
posted by deanklear at 3:19 PM on December 13, 2011 [16 favorites]


Through? Throw. Bother.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:19 PM on December 13, 2011


Another great response, from a scientist who happens to be a black woman, from Scientific American.
posted by Maias at 3:19 PM on December 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


> Wow. Look at the folks lining up to throw rocks at the idea that it might be a good idea for a poor person to try to better themselves through smart choices and hard work. You know. Like some of your parents did, or tried to do.

Be careful not to trip over the incredibly low bar you're setting for life.


Are you serious?

Things are different for young people now, and things are different for poor people now, than they were for "my parents." In the US, it is a very different landscape for young adults and children than it was twenty years ago. The structures of inequity are so dire that 'smart choices' and 'hard work' don't guarantee that a person who was born into poverty will ever live outside of it.

And, aside from that, this article is racist, in that it reflects an effort from at least Forbes Magazine, if not Marks himself, to keep the cloud cover of the impossible promise of self-built class mobility obscuring the structure that enables extreme poverty.

I'm working really hard at not being racist, like, so hard!, and yet the world is still a racist place. I guess that means I'm not working hard enough.
posted by emilycardigan at 3:24 PM on December 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


What does "become an expert at Google Scholar" actually mean? Become an expert at serial denial? Become an expert at fruitless attempts to navigate bureaucratic hurdles? Become an expert at having doors slammed in your face when on the cusp of something great because you don't have the cash to throw down? Become an expert at being satisfied with the meagre crumbs of an abstract when the link to the entire .pdf sits mocking you just out of reach? I'm pretty sure many people of poorness are already experts at that kind of thing.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:25 PM on December 13, 2011 [13 favorites]


I have to interact with a guy like this on a regular basis. I've learned not to engage him, because the twists and turns of his middle class, middle aged white guy logic have a solution and/or explanation for literally everything that is wrong with society, and jeez if only more people would look at things from a middle class, middle aged white guy's point of view then we'd all be so much better off. It pretty much all boils down to, "Hey poor people, why don't you just stop being poor! Look at me, I'm not poor and I'm doing just fine!"
posted by usonian at 3:26 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


"If I were poor, this is the kind of cake I would eat. There are so many different ones to choose from these days!"
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:27 PM on December 13, 2011 [20 favorites]


W.E.B. Du Bois was right.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 3:31 PM on December 13, 2011


Talk about two wrongs not making a right.

The original story was dumb and pointless. But the response, instead of just pointing out how dumb and pointless it was, assumed things that weren't actually in the original story, in order to rant about the past.

>> "The problem is that Marks seems to think it’s okay to require black kids to be “special” to “succeed.” "

At no point does he say anything of the sort!

All Marks states is that there *are* opportunities for the "special" ones, and how he would work to become one of those. In no way did he suggest that the situation as it existed was OK or right.

Marks' suggestions for how he would work to be in the "special" group are, of course, hopelessly naive. He overlooks a ton of factors that work against a kid developing that kind of studious diligence.

But the author of the rebuttal is re-framing it into a silly "white man says it's OK for average blacks to struggle". Her statements about the imbalance are not *wrong*, but it is wrong to frame them as a response to Marks.
posted by legion at 3:31 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why can't a woman be more like a man?
Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historic'ly fair;
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Well, why can't a woman be like that?

s/woman/little negro boy
posted by Fnarf at 3:31 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I were an Untouchable-Caste Indian Kid

If I were an Untouchable-Caste Indian Kid, the first thing I would do is be unafraid to approach my idols. No matter what the circumstances, I would take the opportunity to meet my heoroes and get guidance, or at least an autograph. Heroes are aspirational.

I would keep my head down during strife, but make sure to pay attention to my surroundings, and soak in every detail I could. This would be a good rule for life, really. I would look to those willing to offer help, and take those opportunities whenever they arise.

I would find work wherever I could. India has numerous tourist attractions, and there is money to be made by catering to the tourists there. I would learn how the financial markets operate. Money is everywhere. One can at least pay attention to the look of different kinds of currency.

I would get an entry-level job at a call centre - it's a booming industry, after all, and keep paying attention to everything I could. When the opportunity presented itself, I would get myself onto a highly-rated game show, and use my knowledge from paying attention to the world around me to know enough answers to win my way out of poverty once and for all.

The technology is there. The opportunity is there. It's clear to me that the problem is ignorance.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:31 PM on December 13, 2011 [28 favorites]


Sure, I'm 6' 3". But if I were short, I'll tell you what I'd do. I'd start by doing stretches every day. We can all agree flexibility is critical. Then, I'd head to the store and buy some larger shoes and pants with a 36" inseam. Good nutrition would also be very important. I would also delay puberty by a few years as this is known to result in greater height. After a few years of stretching exercises and holding my head high, I'd be up to at least 5' 11", if not more.
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:35 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is predicated on the assumption that you have easy access to clean water and sugar. Otherwise, you're stuck with sour lemon juice.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:35 PM on December 13, 2011 [44 favorites]


If I was a poor black kid, I would use my iPad to start a change.org petition to get improved wifi access at the school and a locavore menu in my cafeteria.
Some of these comments, it must be said, are pretty amazing.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:38 PM on December 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is predicated on the assumption that you have easy access to clean water and sugar.

Psh. Like the corn lobby is going to let you use cane sugar over HFCS.
posted by elizardbits at 3:43 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I was a mountain climber, I would be the kind that starts out two-thirds of the way up the mountain, and I would be smart enough to climb a path that had been well cleared by my family; one where they had carved steps into the steeper sections with handrails and rest stops every so often with food and water. The path I would choose would of course be covered with an awning to shelter me from rain and snow and shade me in the summer.
When I got to the top I would feel rightly proud of myself, because I climbed the mountain all by myself. Then I would look down at the little people near the bottom, clambering over boulders or scrambling up through the mud or the loose gravelly slopes, sliding back six feet for every five they climbed, and I would want to help them with the benefit of my achievements (I'm charitable that way).
"CLIMB HARDER!", I would yell. "CHOOSE A BETTER PATH AND CLIMB HARDER!"
Surely they would follow my advice. After all, everyone knows the way to the top is through hard climbing and skilled mountaineering and having the personal responsibility to choose the right path. Most of them wouldn't though...they'd just stay down there struggling with their mud pits and rock slides.
I guess there's no helping some people.
posted by rocket88 at 3:44 PM on December 13, 2011 [38 favorites]


The underlying assumption in giving that kind of tone deaf advice is that the poor person is not already trying their best to better themselves through smart choices and hard work. Which is just another of saying that if they aren't able to better themselves, it is their own damn fault for not trying smartly/hard enough.

A different data point: I've got a friend who grew up poor and black and from a problematic family and escaped, first to the military and then to excellent universities. He acknowledges that racism has left lasting and serious marks, but places the bulk of the blame for current poverty in black communities on poor values, irresponsible decision-making, and a culture of victimization. He feels most hard-working, responsible kids could have risen.
posted by shivohum at 3:45 PM on December 13, 2011


@legion,

The Forbes article implies it. That much is clear; at least it is to me.
posted by RedShrek at 3:47 PM on December 13, 2011


@shivohum

I'm glad for your friend but his story isn't the same for the rest of us. It's not like the poverty that some black folks live in suddenly appeared out of thin non-racist air, right?
posted by RedShrek at 3:49 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


What I don’t get about this, and the whole Right-Libertarian fantasy world, is this; The expectation that everyone should be exceptional. How does that work? And what do we do with the ones who aren’t? Why is that painfully obvious problem with their stupid theory never addressed?

Let’s be completely selfish for a minute and forget about caring what happens to other people because we’re human. Most people, by definition, are not exceptional. If you set up a world where those people don’t do well I still have to live with them. Even if I’m doing well, the guy who could have been the neighbor I wave at or talk to over the fence might now be the guy who robs my house. How do people not see the totally selfish advantages of Socialism? How do you expect to succeed in business if there is not middle class to buy from you?

It’s not just the condescending part of this article that bugs me, it’s that glaring whole in the idea that everyone can be the best, and if they’re not they just disappear and never affect the rest of us.
posted by bongo_x at 3:50 PM on December 13, 2011 [16 favorites]


Best tweet on the matter:

"if i was a poor black kid from west philadelphia I'd move to Bel Air #duh"

Ta-Nehisi Coates is aggregating some gems on his Twitter right now, by the way.
posted by emilycardigan at 3:53 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


What I don’t get about this, and the whole Right-Libertarian fantasy world, is this; The expectation that everyone should be exceptional.

If I were a poor black kid from Lake Wobegon...
posted by one_bean at 3:54 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


bongo_x: if you're not exceptional, then you should really look at that in yourself and become exceptional.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:54 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I still got there first, emilycardigan.
posted by koeselitz at 3:55 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow. Look at the folks lining up to throw rocks at the idea that it might be a good idea for a poor person to try to better themselves through smart choices and hard work. You know. Like some of your parents did, or tried to do.

Be careful not to trip over the incredibly low bar you're setting for life.


CPB, do you honestly think people who are in poor neighborhoods want to stay poor? Have you ever spent any time in one?

Let's say you're the proverbial Poor Kid, and you want something different for yourself. You'd like to ask your mom for some money to play an instrument in the school band, but you saw her break down in tears after they shut the gas off last week. You'd like to join an after-school club, but you know she can't afford the gas to pick you up, even if she could afford the $25 materials fee. You want to go to the library, but you can't because then no one can watch your little sister, and your mom can't afford a babysitter. Now are you going to ask your parents for a computer? An internet connection? Your own desk in your own room?

Kids are very smart. They don't want to burden their parents. One of the most devastating things you'll witness in a poor neighborhood is a child lowering their own expectations because they are embarrassed when their own parents tell them that they don't have enough money for the things that every child should have. They learn to stop asking, not because they don't want to achieve, but because they don't want to hurt their parents feelings, or their own. They start to accept that they live in a part of America that nobody seems to give a shit about.

They see other kids at school with clean clothes and laptops, and they wonder what it would be like to only have themselves to worry about. They wonder what they could do if they didn't have to cook dinner while their parents work second jobs, or if they lived in a neighborhood where they could sleep through the night without hearing sirens and worse.

My own experience wasn't quite that bad, but there were some rough patches. A few years ago I realized why my older sister seemed to hate me sometimes: it was because she wasn't allowed to be a kid. My younger sisters and I took away a great deal of her teenage years. Should she have abandoned her family to "better" herself? Why on earth would you want to make a person choose that?

Your advice is made out of ignorance and arrogance, not experience. There are neighborhoods you're afraid to drive through where children are supposed to grow up, so who is setting the low bar? It's not the kids.
posted by deanklear at 3:56 PM on December 13, 2011 [62 favorites]



What I don’t get about this, and the whole Right-Libertarian fantasy world, is this; The expectation that everyone should be exceptional. How does that work? And what do we do with the ones who aren’t? Why is that painfully obvious problem with their stupid theory never addressed?


A decent life is the reward for clawing your way above the rest of the schmucks. How would we convince people to grab the brass ring if just anyone could enjoy their life?
posted by verb at 4:02 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is such a lack of imagination in that article. And in responses like Cool Papa Bell's, which presume to imagine what they'd make if they'd managed to survive nearly every possible disadvantage.

"Make Good Choices!" is an excellent slogan, but "Make the best choice out of several really shitty options and pray for luck!" is all too often the reality.

We look down on people for not thriving in a society that regards them as inferior, if not disposable. And when they do in fact fail, we embrace that as evidence that we were right in the first place. But surely it's their logic that's fucked, and not ours?
posted by hermitosis at 4:03 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


My kids have it much easier than their counterparts from West Philadelphia. 

It is now impossible for me to read the rest of this article without singing "In West Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground is where I spent most of my days!..." in my head.

From memory... In West Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground is where I spent most of my days. Chillin' out max and relaxin' all cool and shootin' some b'ball outside of the school - when a couple of guys they were up to no good, started making trouble in my neighborhood. I got in one little fight and my mom got scared and said "You're moving with your auntie and uncle in BelAir." I whistled for a cab and when it came near the license plate said "FRESH" and it had dice in the mirror - if anything I could say that this cab was rare, but I thought, nah forget it, "YO, HOLMES TO BEL-AIR!" I walked up to a house about seven or eight and I yelled to the cabbie "Yo Holmes, smell you later!" I looked at my kingdom, I was finally there, to sit on my throne as the Prince of BelAir. Phew. Now I can move on.
posted by sonika at 4:04 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I was Gene Marks I'd haul my lily white ass over to West Philly to do some mentoring at the high schools. Specifically how to apply for financial aid, scholarships, grants etc.
posted by snsranch at 4:06 PM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


There are neighborhoods you're afraid to drive through where children are supposed to grow up, so who is setting the low bar? It's not the kids.

Consider my favorite on this comment to mean the internet equivalent of jumping up and down and screaming "this! this! this!"
posted by ndfine at 4:06 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


But the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.

If I were a troll in need of page views, I would post something inflammatory. I would engage my critics by merely repeating the parts of my troll that infuriated them in the first place. My post would comfort my regular readers and confirm their mythology while infuriating outsiders. This will hopefully rally my base to my defense and boost my revenues on a Monday when everyone is probably off shopping for xmas instead.
posted by Sauce Trough at 4:07 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


We look down on people for not thriving in a society that regards them as inferior, if not disposable. And when they do in fact fail, we embrace that as evidence that we were right in the first place. But surely it's their logic that's fucked, and not ours?

Of course, because this is America, the boot-strappingest, manifest destiny-est, frontierin'est country in the whole wide world. We rightly value individualism, hard work, and pursuing one's happiness, but all too often to such a degree that the poor are regarded as just not trying hard enough or simply not caring enough about these things.

Also, kudos to you guys for trying to respond to CPB's drive-by bird-flip, but he's clearly responding to non-existent comments in a whole other thread.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:10 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


@hermitosis

It's like when slave holders refused to have their black slaves educated and then boldly say that these black slaves were stupid and inferior due to being uneducated. Sometimes, the past has a way of shaping the future but the present generation get stuck dealing with that legacy.
posted by RedShrek at 4:13 PM on December 13, 2011


it's like watching a guy telling a pregnant woman how to deal with childbirth, based on what he used to do to work out a runner's cramp.

Fun? Fact - I had a very, very long labor. You could safely call it epic. At hour 3 of my second stage (that would be the pushing stage for those of you who have not launched a baby from your person) I had a male OB enter the room. He was the only man in the room as my husband elected to not actually *watch* our son emerge from my junk. Anyhoo. There are three women with me - my mother (who is herself a former labor and delivery nurse), the nurse, and my doula. Between the three of them, they have helped literally hundreds of women give birth. I have an epidural, so it's harder for me to really *feel* what I'm doing - but the pushing is going fine. The problem is simply that my son's head is sideways and it was taking longer for it to make its way through my pelvis.

The male OB thinks that he can fix this. He very condescendingly tells me that he's going to show me how to push. And then prattles on about how after helping a woman push, he gets cramps in *his* pelvic muscles from pushing "along with her."

He did not enter the room again. Presumably because the three women who really have - not only helped other women, but done it themselves - pushed a baby out were trying to kill him with the collective powers of their minds. They may have succeeded, I dunno - didn't see him again.

A woman OB delivered my son two hours later and instead of condescension, she offered me to the assistance of a vacuum extractor. It worked.

Anyhow - I know it's a loaded term, but if that's not "mansplaining," I don't know what is.

This article is totally a lot like that doctor.
posted by sonika at 4:17 PM on December 13, 2011 [25 favorites]


i got to the part where he said he would just "get good grades" and thought of the kids i met in urban schools when i was volunteering doing watershed education.

the teacher would tell us about them. several kids, who were very bright, failed a lot because they were so tired. they had to take care of babies and toddlers while their parents worked at night. that other kid, his mom's boyfriends try to molest him so he never sleeps but tries to stay up all night in the living room. he feels safe in school and sleeps there. similar stories about girls. not to mention all the kids who worked right after school. detention? they didnt care. they had to work to help put food in their own belly, to ensure heat, running water.

or the poor kid a school psychologist friend told me about...his parents were breeding pit bulls...and kept the puppies in his bedroom. he never got any sleep until she found out what the issue was and worked with the family.

so, right, "get good grades". because that's all they have to deal with. they're just slacking the rest of the time.
posted by sio42 at 4:20 PM on December 13, 2011 [27 favorites]


That ain't the half of it. In the middle class, you can be a myopic condescending technocrat with nothing to say, and they'll still let you contribute regularly to Forbes and the New York Times!

Kinda OT, but this made me think that I would love to see what happens when you put Gene Marks and Courtland "myopic little twits" Milloy in the same room.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:21 PM on December 13, 2011


As for the first article: ta;df (too annoying; didn't finish)

I would have read the second article, but methinks the author must be settings his sights low to bother refuting something so foppishly silly. I'm sure he's really good at shooting barrel-bound fish and reclining waterfowl. I'm not really criticizing it, because, after all ,somebody has to waste their time refuting the original article, if only because it has way too high a profile. Ugh.
posted by Edgewise at 4:22 PM on December 13, 2011


Oops, wish I could edit that last comment to reflect the actual gender of the second author. This somehow seems ironic...
posted by Edgewise at 4:24 PM on December 13, 2011


Edgewise, she makes some really good points in the refutation which go beyond the original article. It's worth a read.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:25 PM on December 13, 2011


heh preview fail.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:25 PM on December 13, 2011


@ sonika,

"she offered me to the assistance of a vacuum extractor. It worked."

This is the first time I have learned of a vacuum extractor for childbirth. Your post is full of win and now I must go eat oatmeal.
posted by RedShrek at 4:25 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is one of the comments at the bottom of the article at forbes.com:

"Sir, as a white kid who grew up on welfare in a single-parent home and went on to graduate from Stanford, you might think that I would support you. Instead, I am so incredibly dissappointed in your ignorant “recipe” for success. I got into a magnet school that my mom found out about by sheer accident. I went to the library and read a lot because it was the only place with adequate heat and electricity. The problem? I got evicted more times than I can count. Our utilities got shut off so often. I did not, contrary to your “teacher friends’” assessment, have a computer at home. Had I known about any of these tools (likelihood is that I would not have and that my mother would have been even less likely to as a waitress working 15 hours a day 6 days a week), I still wouldn’t have been able to use them. What library system could accommodate all the poor kids (of any race) to help them to realize this goal? Where would I find the time to use these resources when I started to work at age 15? Where would I get my stamina to study “coding” when we didn’t have enough food to eat dinner that day? It is articles like these that perpetuate the systemic ignorance of the role class and race play on success and prevent us from real solutions. You clearly do not understand what it is like to be poor, and your blindness is a danger because this article will only reach those who are well enough to-do to have an impact on policies that directly affect your mythical “poor black kid.” And those policy makers will make terrible choices that entrench systemic racism and class division even further in our country. Shame on you."

And this is Marks' response to that comment:

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.

Another reader pointedly points out Mark's fundamental misunderstanding of poverty:

Mr. Marks – your thoughts are simplistic and from the viewpoint of an older, experienced white man. I think you have forgotten about the basics that many of these kids face: nothing to eat, no place to sleep, or no running water, heat or electricity. Many have the responsibilities of younger brothers and sisters to look after. If these problems were alleviated in this perfect world you are suggesting, I’m sure more could focus on getting straight A’s and Google Scholar. Get in touch with reality Mr. Marks. Blogs are cute, but if you want to make a difference, spend time demonstrating this for the students that need the help instead of “preaching to the choir.”

And Mark's response:

@jlinthec – thanks for your comments, I’m glad the post is sparking debate. I agree that the issue is complex but the opportunities ARE out there – it may not be easy, but they’re there.

These are only two of a number of responses Marks' gives where he variously says the.same.response.

It's like he thinks repeating "I acknowledge it's a complex issue" and "the opportunities are out there" ad nauseam will somehow prove that his article isn't a complete pile of ignorant condescending poop.
posted by fantodstic at 4:28 PM on December 13, 2011 [21 favorites]


If I were a hip-hop artist, I would sample those crazy vocalizations of ducks and geese and chickens squeeks and squacks and squakks that Topal makes in the soundtrack for Fiddler on The Roof. Mixed in with a sample from The Surrey with The Fringe on Top.
posted by ovvl at 4:29 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Speaking of myopia...

When I was a first grader, I had a lot of trouble reading stuff from the chalkboard. I guess I just came off as generally stupid at first glance, because my teacher suspected I had a learning disability.

It just turned out I was super nearsighted. Because I was born lucky, my school alerted my parents as to my difficulties and my parents got me glasses. Problem solved. I became a smart kid and I've been lucking out at life ever since.

How many little kids are in that exact same situation, where they can't learn because they can't fucking see? And how is "hard work" a remedy for that?

If hard work is such good medicine, why do we need Viagra?
posted by Sauce Trough at 4:31 PM on December 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


(apologies for the various misspellings of Marks name and poor use of apostrophe. I really need to take the "preview" button more seriously).
posted by fantodstic at 4:31 PM on December 13, 2011


This is the first time I have learned of a vacuum extractor for childbirth.

Totally off-topic, but vacuum extraction is a pretty common intervention used to (hopefully) prevent a c-section for babies who seem to be "stuck." It's a little bit less intense than forceps, but it has the danger of if the baby doesn't "like" it [read: heartrate dips] then a c-section is the only recourse.

posted by sonika at 4:38 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey Gene Marks,

You're a CPA and, apparently, a successful one at that.

Instead of providing helpful advice to poor black children (which I'm sure is super helpful and totally relevant to their experiences), why don't you encourage your clients to PAY MORE FUCKING TAXES.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:41 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


@sonika

acckkk!!
posted by RedShrek at 4:42 PM on December 13, 2011


if i were a rich french noble, i'd body build like crazy and get such thick neck muscles that i could keep back a guillotine's blade just by clenching my teeth
posted by pyramid termite at 4:48 PM on December 13, 2011 [35 favorites]


The shame of this is that I am certain Gene Marks was actually trying to be helpful. We must ever be vigilant against unconscious liberal condescension

Liberal? Really?
posted by uosuaq at 4:57 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow. I haven't seen such tone-deafness in an article since that guy who makes $250,000 a year complained about how he was broke. Is Forbes Magazine full of idiots like this?

Yes.


Just like their target demographic.
posted by treepour at 4:59 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Marks seems to be shocked (and dismayed) that actual black people have read his column.

After all, it wasn't written for them.

It was written for Forbes readers who are feeling a bit peckish in the wake of OWS, and haven't been grabbing at the big money with their accustomed ferocity and aplomb, and may have in fact begun to suspect there could even be consequences for their misbehavior.

No accountant worth his fee would stand by and let that happen!

But maybe all they really needed was to be told that poor black people have chosen to be poor, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, and he was just the man for that job.
posted by jamjam at 4:59 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maias: "Another great response, from a scientist who happens to be a black woman, from Scientific American"

He showed up to reply, and she followed up with even more.
posted by bleary at 5:01 PM on December 13, 2011


The problem with people like Gene Marks is that they equate money with morality.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:03 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is Forbes Magazine full of idiots like this?

Yes.

Just like their target demographic.


My husband subscribes to Forbes. You have no idea how much this pains me. He's not an idiot - he just... well.. he said it best: "What I want to do for the next 20 years is amass money."

I laughed my head off at that - picturing him filling a vat of money á la Scrooge McDuck. Anyhow. He intends to do by working hard and happens to be the most ethical person I've ever met. (His opinion on a lot of what happened with the stock market leading up to the financial crisis is "That was just WRONG." He used to work at a hedge fund and left citing that he hated "those assholes.")

Anyhow. He's neither an idiot nor a bigot. I'm sure there are at least four other Forbes readers in this category.
posted by sonika at 5:04 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


As soon as I read this, I had to look up Chris Rock's bit on Alpine, New Jersey:
I will give you an example of how race affects my life. I live in a place called Alpine, New Jersey. Live in Alpine, New Jersey, right? My house costs millions of dollars. [some whistles and cheers from the audience] Don't hate the player, hate the game. In my neighborhood, there are four black people. Hundreds of houses, four black people. Who are these black people? Well, there's me, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Eddie Murphy. Only black people in the whole neighborhood. So let's break it down, let's break it down: me, I'm a decent comedian. I'm a'ight. [applause] Mary J. Blige, one of the greatest R&B singers to ever walk the Earth. Jay-Z, one of the greatest rappers to ever live. Eddie Murphy, one of the funniest actors to ever, ever do it. Do you know what the white man who lives next door to me does for a living? He's a fucking dentist! He ain't the best dentist in the world...he ain't going to the dental hall of fame...he don't get plaques for getting rid of plaque. He's just a yank-your-tooth-out dentist. See, the black man gotta fly to get to somethin' the white man can walk to.
posted by argonauta at 5:06 PM on December 13, 2011 [113 favorites]


MegoSteve: "The problem with people like Gene Marks is that they equate money with morality"

fundamental attribution bias
posted by bleary at 5:11 PM on December 13, 2011


Late to the party, as usual, making my way back from an elementary school on the International corridor in East Oakland, where the fourteen-year-old prostitutes (none was special, alas) come out right about 11 a.m. when their younger siblings are semi-safe at school (where they will all try hard and learn to make the most of technology) and their parents (lazy Mexicans and welfare queens, except for all the already incarcerated- ones) are back home(less) watching tv in between three jobs and playing the numbers, and just wondering--in honor of my dead father, the grammarian and lover of Fiddler on the Roof-- is the Forbes Marks person slumming, or does he not know how, when or why to use the subjunctive?

"If I was a . . . " WHAT? It's were, were, were! And just because autocorrect wants to turn it into "we're" doesn't mean you, Mr. Marks, and I are any kind of "we." I rarely experience nausea on public transportation but today was an exception.

Get good grades indeed. Come to inner city elementary schools, mister marks, I will show you around and we can discuss "making the most of opportunity.". Sorry for the rant. It was a long day with little ones who have, it seems sometimes, already given up.
posted by emhutchinson at 5:16 PM on December 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Here's the reality-- if every kid tries there VERY BEST-- a certain percentage are CERTAIN to be doomed to poverty.

IT IS INESCAPABLE.

If you want into a good school you need a good GPA and if all students did fairly well the school system would ADJUST it's rating system such that a certain percentage were still getting A's B's C's D's and F's.

The system is set up to ensure that a certain percentage of kids will be labelled poor performers even if every single kid tried their best.

ADD to that that stressful prenatal environments and higher rates of domestic violence in the poor increase unhealthy prenatal conditions leading to worse cognition, higher rates of emotional and mental problems and the chance of experiencing depression, hopelessness and poor emotional states that leave one without the same level of creativity, motivation, drive, hope, and self confidence that certain things HAVE to happen biologically and in a family in order for a person to have.

Wealthy families can be inadequate too, but statistically the poor are disadvantaged cognitively and emotionally at higher rates that the middle and upper classes. If someone is intellectually disabled then TRYING THEIR BEST WON'T HELP.

But of course, we don't actually care how hard people try. We really care that we find a way to ensure there is a class working for shit wages and doing the jobs no one else wants to do and that we feel justified in deeming them worthy of a wage that you can't even live on because of their lesser intellectual abilities, creative abilities, drive, or ambition.

The concept of resiliency and the use of the "poor person who worked their way up" is one of the most abused stories in the US and in turn is used to treat people who aren't capable of doing any more than they are doing like garbage. It's crap. Not everyone can be a genius by default of the fact that genius is a state of being ABOVE everyone else.

Every if every human being tries their damndest we will label the people at the bottom of the functioning curb as unworthy of a decent standard of life.
posted by xarnop at 5:29 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


The problem with essays like this is that they give me Three Stooges Syndrome of the brain. There are so many arguments why this is depressingly, dangerously, egregiously, and familiarly stupid that I can't get any one of them through the doorway.
posted by chortly at 5:29 PM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's like he thinks repeating "I acknowledge it's a complex issue" and "the opportunities are out there" ad nauseam will somehow prove that his article isn't a complete pile of ignorant condescending poop.

No, the trouble is that he is fundamentally right. If you are smart, ambitious and just a little bit lucky, you can succeed despite your upbringing.

However, he misapprehends the problem. He misses the forest for the trees. Opportunities always exist for those people, anyways. I did it, and lots of people in this thread did it. And continue to. Where we started didn't much matter, we were gonna move up.

It's the average schmoes that things suck for. A kid that coasts through in a suburban high school will make more than that kid would in a poorer district, everything else held equal.

It's fucking hard to move up the ladder. It gets easier the further up the top you start.

This is truth he is missing.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:31 PM on December 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


The Onion is prescient

Mefi's own mightygodking
posted by The Whelk at 5:45 PM on December 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


If you are smart, ambitious and just a little bit lucky, you can succeed despite your upbringing.

I don't think it's just a "bit" of luck.
posted by maxwelton at 5:45 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


A response from the Scientific American Blog linked earlier says it best: It’s really like someone starting off an article with “If I were a Native American living in 1605, the first thing I would do is get a smallpox vaccine”.
posted by Renoroc at 5:50 PM on December 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


The best part is that half of those cloud-based study programs he recommends charge a monthly fee or are useless without broadband.

So, you need a $300-500 low-end PC, $20 a month for broadband, and $20-50 each month for a bunch of web apps.

Or I guess we could pretend the local library is equipped with modern, well-maintained computers with a reliable connection and it's perfectly safe to walk there.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:53 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a shocked, shocked, to find Forbes magazine blaming the poor for their poverty.
posted by The Whelk at 5:54 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


If I was a poor black kid, I'd punch Gene Marks in the mouth.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:58 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Wow. Look at the folks lining up to throw rocks at the idea that it might be a good idea for a poor person to try to better themselves through smart choices and hard work.

This is short on both empathy and reason. A large percentage of the people in the section of this historically disadvantaged subgroup that lives in poverty haven't been able to make their own lives better and easier. Now either they're normal humans who react to their circumstances in basically rational, self-serving ways, as their physical and emotional ability to handle stress permits, or there is something fundamentally deficient about them as people.

The cultural nihilism people like to point to is a perfectly reasonable human response to seeing no way out of your situation and not knowing anybody who got out of it except perhaps via unusual gifts plus luck or luck plus far, far more focus than most people who are not say Benjamin Franklin find themselves capable of in the absence of concrete and immediate motivation. It's not unreasonable for a kid, what with his/her incomplete brain and all, to prefer the immediate esteem (or non-abuse) of his peers to "working hard and making smart choices" if he has an inadequate or absent support system, missing resources (like a computer or a working heater or breakfast) and an unreasonable set of stressors and no reason to believe that doing all that work and sacrificing verifiable immediate rewards in order to make those choices will actually get him anywhere, especially if he hasn't exactly been encouraged to think that he's even capable of the work. And then by the time he's mature enough to make smart choices in the absence of any meaningful encouragement to do so, it's too late, he's too far behind.
posted by Adventurer at 6:23 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I suppose many of the things he said deserve to be promoted but as has been repeatedly pointed out there a ridiculous number of things that can get badly in the way of his advice being useful, and he doesn't realize this. He makes the mistake explicitly here: "But the biggest challenge we face isn’t inequality. It’s ignorance.". These problems are often completely orthogonal and it's pointless to pit one against the other.

He deserved a strong response, but I'm not entirely happy with the one given either.
But I am opposed to participating in an economy in which people like Marks A) unilaterally set the rules and B) stack the deck against my community and pretend that the real problem is our “ignorance” of opportunities.
The deck is certainly stacked, and the right thing to do is to make a serious and persistent effort towards everyone having an actually reasonable chance to get ahead in life, but on what grounds is she accusing that people like Marks are doing the stacking? As far as I understand the deck was stacked a long time ago and it stays well stacked on its own. To the extent that others are doing harm to the community comparable in magnitude to the problems that already exist, by all means make the case, but you will lose a fair bit of sympathy if you promote a blanket assumption of guilt like that.

I'm also wary of the attack on the notion of 'equality of opportunity'. I understand it if it's an attack on an abuse of that notion, but if we're talking about actual equality of opportunity, that's all you really have a right to ask for, and I'm not sure what she means here.

But like I said, the Forbes guy deserved a callout and I'd go further on him if it wasn't so thoroughly treated in this thread already.
posted by Anything at 6:36 PM on December 13, 2011


They should just become waiters and start making a 100k a year. If not for those horrible child labor laws, they'd make their first million in a decade. Hell, they'd probably make even more if we abolished the minimum wage.
posted by stavrogin at 6:37 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


OTOH I'm not happy with the no-holds-barred pileon mentality either.
posted by Anything at 6:43 PM on December 13, 2011


First of all, why is this article is addressed to "poor black kids" as opposed to just poor kids? Does he think poor white kids don't need help? Or does he think that generally speaking, poor white kids manage to prosper in life, it's only the little dark ones who grow up losers?

Second, assuming his advice were worthwhile, how does publishing it in Forbes help? Isn't Forbes pretty much exactly the last place that a poor black kid would go looking for advice? And if said poor black kid were a Forbes reader, then aren't they already on the same page, so to speak, rendering his advice superfluous?

Thirdly, I wonder why he thinks black kids aren't already following this advice? Perhaps they were just waiting for him to come along and connect the dots for them? I'm already black, but I'm going to pretend to be young and poor again for a second. Here I am turning on my computer. Oh wait, I'm freaking poor, I don't HAVE a computer. Lol, just kidding, as Mr. Marks helpfully points out, "Many inner city parents usually have or can afford cheap computers and internet service nowadays." OK, we'll ignore the fact that Marks is conflating "poor" and "inner city" in a particularly unhelpful fashion, meaning that those inner city parents who can afford cheap computers and internet service are probably not poor. Especially those inner city parents who can order computers online from Dell's Outlet with a credit card, and live in an area with reliable delivery. In this scenario though, I'm a bona fide poor kid. So yeah, we have a computer that the neighbors sold us for $75, but it's in the living room, shared by me, mom, and my two siblings. Or it would be shared, except that mom couldn't pay the cable bill again this month so no internet. And my little brother spilled Sunny D on the keyboard and the "M" key doesn't work anymore, making looking up anything dot "com" an exercise in frustration. And also mom is pretty often getting drunk and high in the living room, and she doesn't want me in there, because she's trying to protect me from that stuff, you see. And when she's sober she's yelling at me, so I try not to hang out in the room with her. As far as the library goes, me and my little brother, who I have to bring everywhere with me, are kind of banned on account of his ADD. That's what they call it, anyway, and although I'm thinking having Cheetos for dinner twice a week might be messing with his concentration, what do I know?

Despite all that, I'm having a lot of fun being young again, so thanks for that Mr. Marks, even if I I'm not sure if I'll be able to do that whole "get into the middle class" thing like you asked.
posted by xigxag at 7:10 PM on December 13, 2011 [16 favorites]


So, this guy -- or rather, his soul-brothers -- shows up to pretty much all of our (poor, urban district) school board meetings. They say things like, "We just need to leverage our investment in technology so all our children can excel." They often literally favor sticking a student in front of a computer all day to learn from the computer, not a teacher, because it's TECHNOLOGY. At the same time, they oppose all innovations in the math curriculum because that's not how THEY learned math.

Recently, this cadre came to a meeting to oppose our spending on new science books -- ours were appallingly old -- because "Science hasn't changed!" It took everything in me not to shout, "PLUTO IS NO LONGER A FUCKING PLANET, ASSHOLES!" I might be slightly on board with them on Shakespeare, the Folger Library editions from the 50s are not all THAT much different from now, but really, science? really?

In my head, this guy is either a slumlord refusing to remediate lead paint in his properties while complaining bitterly about special education spending (lead paint is a major contributor to our high special ed rate, we have the highest lead rates in the state), or else he's a Fortune 500 executive coming to the meeting to complain bitterly about how students aren't achieving and we need to implement more technology and new curriculum and have smaller classes, while simultaneously filing a tax protest for the Fortune 500 company to deprive us of literally a million dollars in property tax revenue. Because both those guys come to our meetings a lot.

It also can't be emphasized enough that until 1975, schools were not required to educate special ed students -- that includes not just Down's Syndrome type things, but emotional and behavioral disorders, mental illnesses, blindness, deafness, a permanent limp -- anything "abnormal." States had absolute power to refuse those students admission to public schools, and most did. Today, in my district, ONE IN FOUR of our students is special ed. (24%, to be specific.) In our poorest schools, it's more like one in three. It's hella easier to show student achievement when you are allowed to simply ignore all the "abnormal" children.

Ugh, I cannot even tell you how sad our deaf program is -- we're the only deaf program for something like 15 nearby counties, and a lot of students enter our program from surrounding counties when they are five and they are unable to communicate at all because their parents, being rural poor, had literally no access to services at all. I mean, the program is kick-ass and we have fantastic teachers, but it's so, so sad to see five-year-olds that communicate in a sort of pidgin sign with their parents and nobody else and have just been left with no services whatsoever, despite being legally entitled to them, and who are desperately behind as a result, and may never catch up because the lack of appropriately enriched environments when they were very young. There are 14,000 student stories in my district, and too many of them are desperately sad.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:20 PM on December 13, 2011 [18 favorites]


This quote reminded me of this one:

I spoke at my old high-school and I told them kids straight up: if you guys are serious about making it out of this ghetto you gotta focus, you gotta stop blamin' white people for your problems, and you've gotta learn...to rap or play basketball or something. Nigga you're trapped! You are trapped. Either do that or sell crack, that's your only options, that's the only way I've ever seen it work. You got to get to entertaining these white people, nigga get to DANCIN'! Now go on out there and be somebody! I just hope they listened. - Dave Chapelle, For What It's Worth
posted by supercrayon at 7:25 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


The deck is certainly stacked, and the right thing to do is to make a serious and persistent effort towards everyone having an actually reasonable chance to get ahead in life, but on what grounds is she accusing that people like Marks are doing the stacking?

Institutionalized racism is insidious and difficult to detect unless you are on the receiving end. It takes a willingness to open your heart and mind to talk with the other, before you can see subtle racism, and even then one has to be alert at all times to prevent a backslide into racism. Telling yourself that racism is a thing of the past, that you did not commit the injustice and so you bear no responsibility toward perpetuating injustice makes you part of the problem.
posted by francesca too at 7:26 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Like some of your parents did, or tried to do.

You mean the mother who reproduced young, in part thanks to an upbringing so mind blowingly abusive that therapists thought she was telling stories, and as a result never finished university because of child care responsibilities and barring a miracle will end her days working, or the very wealthy father who never paid a dime of child support and explains to people that he doesn't believe in taxes because he'd rather give his money to friends and family.
posted by Phalene at 7:42 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


If I were a poor black kid I wouldn't be reading Gene Marks on forbes.com and if by some chance I was I'd probably wonder if had ever actually talked to a poor black kid.
posted by MikeMc at 7:57 PM on December 13, 2011


"If I Were A White Guy with a net worth under $100 Million"

By Steve Forbes

Straight off, I'm not an impoverished sub-$100 million white guy, and I've never been, and I never will be. My experience is so detached from that of mere dekamillionaires that you poor sods might as well be Negro or something else absurdly beneath my social class. But IF I WERE merely well-off, here's what I would do. First, I'd triple major in medicine, law and mathematics, get my JD and Math PhD as quick as possible so I could tackle the MD. If you're not sure how to do that, there are plenty of online guides to law and math and doctor stuff, so study up. It's hard, but it's worth it in the end.

After that, I'd use the technology available to me to start a hedge fund. Round up a bunch of investors, wine and dine some SEC bureaucrats, etc. Your country club admissions sponsor can help you with this. Take advantage of the opportunities available to you. It would probably help if you had a yacht at this point. I know that sounds difficult, but I know a few (mere) millionaires and they tell me that you can actually buy yachts on eBay or craigslist for less than $50K. Use the free internet technology at your disposal.

Then, armed with my first $100 mil, easy peasy, I'd invest in oil futures. I'm not an expert in oil, so I'd try to intern with a billionaire Saudi oil sheik to learn about the business. Don't forget, you're a doctor, so if you can perform open heart surgery on his 5th wife, he'll be eternally grateful to you. If you save her life that is. If she dies, he'll have your hands cut off but we won't go there, besides, you really only need your mind at this point. Using what's available to you, is key. Technology. Prosthetic hands. Need I spell everything out? No wonder you're poor.

Finally, to ensure that you have plenty of wiggle room to make mistakes and still come out on top, be born to billionaire parents, as I was. This may take some hard work on your part, but it is totally worth it.
posted by xigxag at 8:02 PM on December 13, 2011 [13 favorites]


vidur's comment pretty well digs the bones out of the article and puts them on display. The rest is decoration.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:09 PM on December 13, 2011


I don't think this guy's even identified the right problem to solve. The problem isn't that super-talented ghetto kids aren't finding their way out. Like Chapelle points out, at least they have a way to get out. So the problem that needs solving isn't them. It's all the other kids; the average ones, the fairly bright ones, the ones a little above average & even the ones below it. Marks' advice does little to nothing for them. We need to put much more effort into eliminating the causes of poverty, into ensuring that all kids have an equal shot at realizing the American Dream (while we still have one - but that's a discussion for another day).
posted by scalefree at 8:13 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've been thinking about this Forbes article. As much as y'all would hate to admit it, some of the teachers among us got some good ideas from it and will be implementing them.
posted by michaelh at 8:42 PM on December 13, 2011


francesca too:

Part of the problem involves outsiders actively perpetuating the misery in the communities (police brutality and unreasonable drug laws come to mind) and another part in many respects inherited within the community itself (poverty, gangs, lack of education), to a large extent originating in injustice done ages ago.

Accordingly, some of these have solutions involving (entirely fairly) blaming outsiders today of stacking the deck, but then you have to take the effort of focusing the blame where you know it belongs.

The others will involve the broad support of the rest of society and this will be less likely to happen if you've alienated people with false accusations.
posted by Anything at 8:49 PM on December 13, 2011


Apparently he didn't get enough page views for Why Most Women Won't Become CEOs, so he had to write something even more ridiculous. Next will be why gays need to just pray harder.
posted by slmorri at 8:57 PM on December 13, 2011


That guy is a walking billboard of dumbass. What a tool.
posted by Forktine at 8:58 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's the part that boggles my mind. At the end of his article, Gene Marks hints at the underlying structural problems that perpetuate poverty and inequity:
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.
But then he changes tack so quickly I get whiplash:
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. [emphasis mine]
WHAT? WHAT? You just finished saying that parents are stretched to the limit by the strains of poverty; you just said that the education system is better funded for middle-class kids than poor kids, and that teachers in poor schools are overburdened and stressed. But the problem is whether or not kids "want to be helped" and "are smart enough to go for it"? The cognitive dissonance is amazing.

Navelgazer: I guess I'm just hoping that one of Marks' savvier friends gets him The Wire Season 4 for Christmas.

No kidding. During every episode, I kept thinking, everyone who makes policy or funding decisions about education in the US ought to be forced to watch this, Clockwork Orange style.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:00 PM on December 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


I also just love that his solution to the problem of poverty is for these kids to follow in the footsteps of their (as long as we're making wide generalizations here), white, middleclass brethren. If you just get good grades, you'll be able to go to a good college while taking out a not-too-large-for-your-necessary-education student loan, and once you get a degree you can...what? Hang out with the other unemployed college grads at your local Occupy protest?

I mean, good god! I've thought for a long time that it was irresponsible to council everyone to go to college, to put it on this pedestal as the shiny, pearly gateway to middle class comfort. But the fact is that doing it NOW, when so many people have made it so obvious that getting good grades and a degree doesn't guarantee you jack shit, just reveals a blatant lack of attention to the state of *anything*.

Ya know, if he hadn't already revealed that gap with the whole, "Hey poor kids, just don't be poor" bit.

'Cause if I was a poor black kid, I'd take out $30,000 in student loans during a bad recession featuring shockingly high unemployment. Everything is better when you're drowning in debt.
posted by hoperaiseshell at 9:19 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]



I've been thinking about this Forbes article. As much as y'all would hate to admit it, some of the teachers among us got some good ideas from it and will be implementing them.


Can you explain this?
posted by sweetkid at 9:53 PM on December 13, 2011


zardoz: "Wow. I haven't seen such tone-deafness in an article since that guy who makes $250,000 a year complained about how he was broke. Is Forbes Magazine full of idiots like this?"

It's called Forbes isn't it? (At first I thought there was one good writer there, then remembered I was thinking of Bloomberg, which is the other info source for rich people named in honor of its privileged wealthy founder).
posted by symbioid at 9:58 PM on December 13, 2011


Next Week: Gene Marks solves the European Debt Crisis

(spoiler: it involves 'pulling up one's bootstraps')
posted by mazola at 10:06 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sorry Hispanics! No advice for you.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:45 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gene Marks probably thinks that this poor homeless child who died of a brain infection from a tooth abscess in PG County should have probably used the internet at the goddamn public library to...um, extract his tooth? Figure out how to get treated? Because his family tried to find a dentist who could treat him and they couldn't find one.

What I really hate about people like Gene Marks acting like they know anything is that (and I realize I'm mostly preaching to the choir but I got pretty angry when I remembered how sad this story was and how I'd seen a similar story about a young boy who lived just miles away in DC having died under similar circumstances, except he was younger than 12) it's so easy to be like "oh the problem is just money---they have less of it and look at all the free stuff you can have once you buy a computer and get a working internet connection." Never mind that electricity outages are getting more common and residents in poorer areas are hardly Pepco's first priority during the winter. Never mind that lack of money and financial security is actually insecurity, which equals more complications to his whole stupid plan. That really hampers old Gene Marks's plan for the poor to "rise above" their circumstances.

People like Gene Marks are intellectually lazy. If he has a sixteenth of a brain, he ought to be humbled and apologize for writing such a stupid article. But this guy is probably so full of himself that he'll just say, "Well, I started a great debate, didn't I?" and expect pats on the back.
posted by anniecat at 11:34 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


If I was a middle class white kid, I'd probably be on a website explaining why I understand the plight of poor black kids better than other middle class white kids. I would also be getting angry at those who care enough to try to offer solutions to problems and I would probably make myself sound like a hipster by mockingly snowcloning everything they say in a lazy way.
posted by seanyboy at 11:49 PM on December 13, 2011


Not everyone on the Internet is white. "Get a computer and educate yourself by watching videos on TED.com, in order to compete for a handful of full scholarships" is not trying to offer solutions to problems. There are worse things in this world than sounding like a hipster.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:21 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I liked the response, except for one thing: it needs to be pointed out often and loudly that even if a poor black child did all of these things and was out of this world exceptional in ways that Forbes approved of, there is not even close to a guarantee that that would ensure success. The myth that if you do everything right, work really hard, play the game, and are exceptional you will be successful no matter what your background is just that - a myth. And it's a myth that's used to beat unsuccessful people with.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:37 AM on December 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


The others will involve the broad support of the rest of society and this will be less likely to happen if you've alienated people with false accusations.

I was not accusing anybody in particular. What I said comes from the observation that most of us, if not all, have a knee-jerk negative reaction to the other, the different, the alien if their actions jar or disturb us in any way.

Surely we all have said "I am not racist, I have black friends, or latino friends, or chinese friends" but if we do not follow our ideals with praxis we are part of the problem. Until we buy houses in mixed neighborhoods, send our children to mixed public schools, and share our everyday lives with the other we perpetuate the divisions and the injustices.
posted by francesca too at 5:22 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, I should've been more careful. I also was not speaking of you but of people in general, with particular reference to Virella's accusation of Marks and others 'stacking the deck' (and for all I know Marks may have done any number of harmful things but writing a dumb article won't itself count in my book since people can effectively respond and negate his message).

Until we buy houses in mixed neighborhoods, send our children to mixed public schools, and share our everyday lives with the other we perpetuate the divisions and the injustices.

I have to say, though, that 'not doing things to help' and 'actively causing harm' are two very different things and require a very different response. Putting the former under 'stacking the deck' with the latter will not help.
posted by Anything at 5:43 AM on December 14, 2011


"If I were a starving black kid from Africa, I would make it my number one priority to eat some food."
posted by Skwirl at 6:30 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


To paraphrase,

Marks: "There are all sorts of historical forces which contributed to a current racio-socioeconomic divide. The best advice for any given black youth is to work very hard, and strive to overcome the situation by being exceptional. This is not fair, but the problem can be individually overcome through personal initiative."

Virella: "There are all sorts of historical forces which contributed to a current racio-socioeconomic divide. I worked very hard and strove to overcome the situation by being exceptional, and overcame the situation through personal initiative. This is not fair."

This is not an argument, and it's not even contradiction! Send me to getting-hit-on-the-head lessons.
posted by phenylphenol at 8:27 AM on December 14, 2011


I grew up a lower-middle-class white kid. Privileged as hell. They may have been hand-me-downs, but I always had clothes. We may have eaten a lot of Kraft Dinner, but I never went to bed hungry. My parents drove a shitty beater of a car, but we always had a car. We never had to worry about having our power shut off, or our water, or about being evicted.

So my outrage at this is mostly by proxy. Except—I grew up with crippling ADHD. I wasn't diagnosed until I was 25 years old and had washed out of college twice. For all the material advantages I had as a kid, I had a major cognitive disadvantage, and it made my life absolutely hellish, in so many ways.

And I could not even begin to count the number of adults who told me, just like this dickhead is "telling" poor black kids, that the problem wasn't with my circumstances, wasn't something I'd been born into, but that the problem was me. That I was lazy. That I was stupid. That success was right in front of me and I was deliberately refusing to reach out and take it, because what was stopping me? Nothing! I just needed another condescending lecture, or another hour of someone screaming in my face, or another beating, and I'd come around.

So I don't know what it's like to grow up poor. And I definitely don't know what it's like to be black. But I know what it's like to have some arrogant grownup motherfucker declaring from his tower of solipsism that my bootstraps are right there, why won't I just pick myself up by them. Gene Marks can go straight to hell with the rest of them.
posted by Zozo at 8:37 AM on December 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


@phenylphenol, you only read the introduction to the rebuttal, it appears.

Virella: "There is an inherently unfair set of circumstances that were constructed on purpose to raise the bar for entry by some people into equal society. Holding up examples of these constructions as the best ways for special individuals to get over that bar without acknowledging this is ignorant at best, and disingenuous at worst."

Talking about the great freeing qualities of book learning mass media pervasive television the internet without acknowledging that there are systemic problems with asking the deliberately disenfranchised to "work harder" is, unfortunately, just what I expect from Forbes.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:27 AM on December 14, 2011


Wow, in before the buzzer for Douchiest Article Of The Year award!
posted by Theta States at 10:16 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ai yi yi. From the article's comments:

Gene Marks, Contributor 21 hours ago
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.


Oh, is that all?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:16 AM on December 14, 2011


I have my problems with the article, but don't understand the vitriol. this covers my feelings in a much more eloquent way than I could manage.
posted by seanyboy at 12:55 PM on December 14, 2011


Ta-Nehisi Coates - A Muscular Empathy
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:25 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can you explain this?

Yes, I think several of the specific suggestions were better than the overall article and I imagine some of the skills and experiences recommended in the article will find their way into schools in the future. Even if everyone hated the article for its tone or non-revolutionary POV, those who teach children who need an edge probably still mentally noted some of the better ideas. And, there are probably educators who probably didn't hate the article and thus were likely more receptive to learning from the suggestions.
posted by michaelh at 6:58 PM on December 14, 2011


As an educator myself, I am highly dubious that any suggestion in there was new to anybody. Most modern educators of all stripes are very familiar with internet tools of that sort.

In addition, the suggestion that a middle or high schooler should be using Google Scholar is a bad one for two reasons already mentioned in this thread: what Google Scholar finds is peer-reviewed literature, which is aimed primarily at other researchers rather than general audiences, and the vast majority of that is behind pay firewalls that will not be accessible to these middle and high schoolers. ( For that matter, most of it is inaccessible to my students at a four year college that serves, among others, poor black kids. ) And that was one of his more specific and more adamant suggestions.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:43 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the best takedowns of this article is by Kashmir Hill of Forbes... with "Trolling The Internet With 'If I Were A Poor Black Kid'":

"This week, Forbes contributor Gene Marks wrote a story titled “If I Were A Poor Black Kid.” As soon as I saw the title, I groaned. “This is going to be offensive,” I thought. And it was. . . In addition to staff writers (of which I am one), Forbes has a stable of 850+ writers who are “contributors” — they get a little special tag on their pages that says, “The opinions expressed are those of the writer.” Forbes pays these folks for the unique visitors and repeat visitors they attract. . .

Gene Marks has proved to be pretty awesome at trolling the Internet. He wrote a post shortly after Steve Jobs’s death about how he was a jerk, and another about how most women will never become CEOs. Like his current post, these produced a lot of outrage — and also a lot of traffic. . .

So what keeps people from trolling? When your name and face are attached to what you write, you start to develop what our CPO Lewis D’Vorkin loves to call “a personal brand.” I think of it as voice, authenticity, and reputation. As writers’ bylines become bigger and our photos become more prominent, this comes to matter more. After a certain amount of race- and gender-baiting, you establish a “troll” brand and that brand may become so toxic that you become irrelevant. And that is the worst fate for any writer (and every troll): to be ignored."


Move along. Nothing to see here.
posted by markkraft at 12:35 AM on December 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Wow, I did it! I was one of those poor black kids in (North) Philly. I did just what Gene Marks says I should have done: I learned to read before I even started school. I developed a love of learning and research and reading. I got good grades; I was an exceptional student. I was never held back, never. I didn't make any friends who were hoodlums or unambitious (well, I didn't make any friends at all but small price to pay to be exceptional right). I was using computers at school long before anyone else I knew in my hood had even seen one, and my family was given an old computer way back in 1993 before I even entered high school.

And I loved the precious TECHNOLOGY. I learned to use it and fix it and type 100 words a minute. I applied to one of those Philadelphia magnet schools, a STEM school; I took the test and I got in. I did it, I did it through all of the obstacles and I didn't even know I was doing it. And then I got sick and my mom got sick and it all fell through like wind on a spider's web. Unhelpful doctors, damaging medications, a mother who wouldn't leave her bedroom even to use the bathroom and who was supposed to take care of her? I was already sick and at home anyway, might as well be me.

A school district that couldn't afford to keep sending a teacher to my house just for me and I was kicked out of that magnet school I fought so hard to get into. Kicked back to my neighborhood school, one of the worst schools in a city of terrible schools where it seemed no one around me could read and kids took dumps in the closet just because they could. My father crying because he never wanted me to go there. Guidance counselors who advised me to aim much lower than attempting anything so difficult as "algebra 2". Eventually no diploma, no GED, just another dropout who can't get to the library and whose precious internet access is about to be cut off again any minute now.
posted by Danila at 3:51 AM on December 15, 2011 [18 favorites]


"I imagine some of the skills and experiences recommended in the article will find their way into schools in the future. ... those who teach children who need an edge probably still mentally noted some of the better ideas. And, there are probably educators who probably didn't hate the article and thus were likely more receptive to learning from the suggestions."

Would these be the teachers who have never before heard of the internet and are shocked -- shocked! -- to hear it has educational resources, or would this be all the impoverished schools that don't receive Title I technology funds? What exactly makes you think educators aren't already doing what he suggests? We received so much Title I (that's poverty funding) technology funding we had trouble spending it all. Be nice if we could use that funding to shrink class sizes from 30/32ish to around 15-20ish, but no, you have to buy iPads with it. Which is nice, but we have more pressing personnel and physical plant needs, and more proven instructional strategies that we KNOW work with children in poverty.

In fact, his suggests are a little outdated in terms of educational resources w/r/t technology, which I guess people haven't really mentioned yet. There's a lot more targeted stuff that's been developed. My district even has a couple technology-equipped vehicles that go around impoverished neighborhoods so students (and parents) without technology in the home can get online in the afternoon and evening, if they don't stay late at their open-until-10-p.m. "community" school buildings to use technology there.

It's not nearly so easy to "fix" what's going on with poor students.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:14 AM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


running order squabble fest: Ta-Nehisi Coates - A Muscular Empathy

I came back to this thread to post a link to this article as well, which is fantastic:

It is comforting to believe that we, through our sheer will, could transcend these bindings -- to believe that if we were slaves, our indomitable courage would have made us Frederick Douglass ... that were we poor and black our sense of Protestant industry would be a mighty power sending gang leaders, gang members, hunger, depression and sickle cell into flight...

Still, we are, in the main, ordinary people living in plush times ... In the great mass of humanity that's ever lived, we are distinguished only by our creature comforts, but on the whole, mediocre.

That mediocrity is oft-exemplified by the claim that though we are unremarkable in this easy world, something about enslavement, degradation and poverty would make us exemplary. We can barely throw a left hook--but surely we would have beaten Mike Tyson...

It's all fine and good to declare that you would have freed your slaves. But it's much more interesting to assume that you wouldn't and then ask "Why?"

posted by straight at 10:11 AM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's not nearly so easy to "fix" what's going on with poor students.

Never said it was, just that some people, perhaps even a bit more outdated than the article, will be influenced by it. Not everyone adopts something the first or the tenth time they hear about it.
posted by michaelh at 11:49 AM on December 15, 2011


"Not everyone adopts something the first or the tenth time they hear about it."

If you're a teacher or principal at a high-poverty school, that would be literally impossible at this point because of the mass of Title I funds required to be used for technology and for technology training for teachers.

But, again, to people who are totally unfamiliar with education and educational policy for impoverished schools in the U.S., like this author, are clearly unaware of that fact.

If I were a condescending Forbes blogger, I would first use the internet to find out a few very basic facts about technology in American public schools and federal school poverty programs. I mean, I've been told that you can do RESEARCH on it to find things out and better yourself. Physician, heal thyself.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:11 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fine, nobody will learn a single thing from it or do anything with it.
posted by michaelh at 12:17 PM on December 15, 2011


Baratunde Thurston responds:
But that was just the beginning of how your exceptionally relevant, grounded and experience-based advice changed my life. Thanks only to your article, I discovered technology.

Why did my teachers not teach this? Why isn't this technology mentioned anywhere in popular culture? I don't understand, but you do.

You listed so many different websites and resources, at first it was overwhelming. But I didn't let that deter me. I thought to myself, "If a successful, caring, complicated, intelligent man like Gene Marks says to do it, then I'd better head over to rentcalculators.org right now!"

I did not stop there. I became an expert at the CIA World Factbook, started using Evernote and made it my goal to get into one of those private schools you wrote about. Before your article, I never wanted anything more for myself. I used Google (thanks for the tip!), found the names and addresses of the school admissions officers, and showed up outside of their homes. It's like they were waiting for me. They smiled, waved and immediately told me about their secret scholarship programs.
posted by deanklear at 12:45 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


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