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if i were a poor black kid

December 14, 2011

A friend of mine posted this Forbes article by Gene Marks on Facebook yesterday, and I couldn’t help but read it:

If I Were A Poor Black Kid

What it sounds like he’s trying to say is, “I know things are harder for poor, black youths in this country, but there are tools out there that can help you succeed. If I were in your place, knowing what I know, here’s what I’d do.” What I’m actually hearing, however, is, “If you’re poor and black, you have to work a million times harder than any white kid from the suburbs, and that’s just the way it is. Deal with it.”

I think the sentiment is genuinely sympathetic; but the presentation is terribly condescending, and essentially glosses over the roles things like class and race play in keeping minorities from succeeding in our society, not to mention ultimately placing the blame on ‘poor black kids’ for not succeeding instead of questioning a system that makes it so disproportionality difficult in the first place.

In other words, I think we need to be challenging this historically racist, homophobic, and patriarchal socio-economic paradigm instead of simply accepting it as a fact of life—a sentiment that’s echoed by, surprisingly enough, fellow Forbes contributor Charles Green:

You conclude by saying, “…the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.”

So, if poor black kids seem to be disproportionately not going for it, your conclusion would be, what–they’re just dumb? Come on, spell out what you’re trying to suggest here!

Viktor Frankl emerged from Nazi death camps stronger for the experience. That doesn’t justify prison camps.

The fact that a few people can escape overwhelming social forces doesn’t prove much of anything. The much more important question is, if millions of people are doing worse than millions of others, what the heck is going on? And to suggest the answer lies in IQ is simply disgusting.

Social mobility is measurable, and is measured. And social mobility in this country is declining. We are less socially mobile than almost every country in Europe now except for Britain and Italy. The land of opportunity–defined as the chance to do better than your parents–is now demonstrably better in a lot of what Americans like to call “socialist” countries.

We need to stop listening to ignorance like this and get a grip.

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