I’m one of the many people whose heads went numb while reading “If I Were A Poor Black Kid,” written by Gene Marks, a white male entrepreneur, author and self-described “mediocre certified public accountant” who writes about business and technology for Forbes. You can read it for yourself, but it boils down to this: All a poor black kid has to do to succeed is to avail himself of a few web sites (including Wikipedia), apps, web tools, online calculators, and some free books from Project Gutenberg (he even provides the links!), put together a study group of other motivated poor black kids on Skype, and then get into a magnet or charter school—or better yet, a private school. After that, find a high school guidance counselor, who will help them find the money to go to college, as well as after-school and summer jobs (not just any job, but one at “a law firm or business owned by the 1 percent”). From there, poor black kid, just learn software and how to write code, do some independent study and polish up your writing skills, and head off to college, after which, upon graduation, Marks and business owners like him will be waiting with open arms to hire you.
What planet does Marks live on? Hell if I know. He may be an expert on business and technology, but he clearly has no idea of what it means to be a poor black kid, nor of what it takes for such children to achieve success. Worse, he puts the responsibility for success entirely on the child, with no mention of schools, teachers, parents and the community in which the kid lives, all of which routinely represent obstacles instead of stepping stones to success. The fact is that America’s education system is in crisis, and black kids, who are the majority of the attendees of poorly-resourced, low-performing schools, are the primary casualties. The idea that a little initiative and a few websites are all a poor black child needs to navigate the devastation is just ludicrous. Marks wants to believe that you can fix the kid—or worse, that the kid can fix him or herself—without fixing the system.
I had the pleasure of meeting Marks, president of The Marks Group, a Philadephia-based sales and customer relationship management software firm, last year (we appeared together as guest experts on MSNBC’s Your Business), and I choose to believe he is well-intentioned. However, good intent is not a substitute for actually knowing what you are talking about. I kept waiting to read something in his article that would qualify him as a person deeply involved and/or intimately connected with black communities, poor or otherwise, much less black children. And I mean more than having black friends and acquaintances. (Assuming he does, and that he bothered to check with them. This might be a “get some black friends” issue.)