Hey! It's one of those articles someone writes to get attention! Tech business writer Gene Marks wrote for Forbes about what he would do if he were a poor black kid to survive. The advice can be easily summed up as -- be good in school even if your school is a nightmare; use the Internet even if you can't afford a computer and don't live near a library where you can get free access to one; Skype -- I guess if that hobo gets off that library computer you took the cross town bus to get to doesn't hog it forever; get on that hot new Diigo thing and the Cliff Notes; and become a Google Scholar. Quite a bit of the advice is hinging on Internet access which ... ahem ... is still a bit out of reach if you're using your money for things like "not starving" and "electricity."
Also, don't be a rural poor black kid. Even though there are millions of you, you don't exist, remember? Just poor city kids who are near libraries and services. When you're living deep in the woods it's like deep space ... no one can hear you scream (from lack of education).
And don't even get me started on how as a kid you're supposed to understand the long-term importance of education to the point that you want to self-educate without any influence from parents or teachers. Who's encouraging a kid (who spends most their time around their family and other kids at school) to do this stuff if no one in their world is doing it? Do poor black kids read Forbes? Does Drake rap about the Diigo?
Is this easy? No it’s not. It’s hard. It takes a special kind of kid to succeed. And to succeed even with these tools is much harder for a black kid from West Philadelphia than a white kid from the suburbs. But it’s not impossible. The tools are there. The technology is there. And the opportunities there.
Marks' dunderheaded obviousness caused a flurry of collective eye rolls across the black blog n' Twitterspace. Largely because the "solutions" Marks listed put all the burden on a child whose world is largely limited by the adults ruling it. If your parents are distracted by just trying to feed and clothe you (or are non-existent in some cases), and the law states you're essentially the responsibility of some adult until you turn 18, what a child can actually do, on their own, to better their situation is limited.
You're whole world is defined by those older around you. You are, in fact, a child, and you probably don't read Forbes, or even understand the life-long consequences of what you do without an adult telling you that maybe it isn't a good idea to hang out with that one kid who has already been held back in the 6th grade three times.
I've often stated that while I was an exceptional and curious student, my parents fueled that curiosity. And while I think I would have done well in school whether I'd go to a poor school or the better funded suburban ones I attended, the determining factor of my education was, again, my parents. My mother, a former school teacher, took us to the library every week. My father, an engineer, taught us algebra and fractions. I started piano lessons at six. They bought us girls our first computer when I was 10 years old. We were repeatedly told by our parents our only "job" was school. But the key word in that sentence is PARENTS.
I did not know that I would have a love of literature, film, art and music when I was still being formed in the womb. All that was presented to me after I popped out. And "reading" wasn't even a "choice." My mother taught me to read, against my will, when I was four years old. (Allegedly, when my mother would try to teach me how to read I'd ask her if I could just draw her a picture instead. Shockingly, my mother ignored this and taught me how to read anyway.)
What do you do when none of this is even being pushed? What do you do when your parents are relying on the public school system to teach you how to read, at age five, when you finally start attending kindergarten because your parents, who are poor, are too busy trying to keep the lights on? What do you do in a world limited by geography, poverty and your parents?
Elon James White wrote a lovely response to Marks article for The Root, pointing out the absurdity of how poor kids, regardless of race, often with odds against them beyond their control are asked to be super people, to be exceptional, even if you're average, when most people -- no matter their financial background -- are rather average, but still get access to decent schools, health care, consistent nutrition and stable housing. Telling someone that getting out of poverty is as easy as just being better than everyone else is like telling a kid who stinks at athletics to just be a good enough athlete to go pro, when even good and great school athletes don't make it in the pros.
I called my friend Dr. Blair L. Murphy Kelley at North Carolina State to talk about this nonsense, and I mentioned that I used technology to escape poverty (now I'm just sorta poor), but I also acknowledge that I got lucky. She said, "It's called resilience. When you are faced with a bunch of nonsense and you make it out anyway. It's resilience because most people don't make it. What about an average black child?"
Langston Hughes didn't write the poem "A Dream Deferred" just because he thought the words sounded pretty. "Dreams deferred" by the poverty of circumstance happens every day in America. And it doesn't just happen to poor kids. The biggest detriment, being born to people not equipped for parenthood, is a burden many face.
If Lindsay Lohan can't get over having a ex-convict, drug-addicted, rage-aholic father and a "cool" enabler mom when she had the benefit of fame and money, how can anyone be surprised that a poor kid would struggle with overcoming an overworked mother who thinks beating the crap out of you is the answer for everything while a non-existent sperm donor father travels in the wind?
I read, constantly, of people heaping pity on "poor Lindsay." Or poor whomever wayward starlet of the moment is running around sans pants and good parenting. But the sympathy always seems to dry up for the Keishas and Keyshawns of the world. You're just lazy. Why didn't you get on that cross town bus and "exceptionalize" yourself out of a poor, messed up life?
Heaven forbid we, as tax payers, try to make the system more fair and give poor children better educations, access to health care, better free and reduced school lunches, better after-school programs, better mentors and safer neighhorhoods. Kids couldn't use that, could they? Perhaps free laptop computers and cleaner parks and free public swimming pools and better access to wi-fi and someone to actually give a crap when you're tired/sad/hungry is a luxury poor kids can't afford?
I understand the impulse to believe that anything can be over-come if you just work hard enough. And the belief that this is a one-size-fits-all solution, no matter who you are, what your situation is and what you can physically handle. But the dirty open secret is that many don't work hard at all to get what they want, and what we're really talking about is fairness and creating a level playing field in a society where the breaks and rewards are afforded to a select few, and everyone else must navigate an elaborate system where class mobility is more American "dream" than American "reality."
Americans work longer hours and for fewer benefits than most in the Western, "First World" countries, all under the belief that hard work will be rewarded. But hard work often isn't rewarded. Unless you believe that reward is "in heaven."
But if you point out the inherent unfairness in our system as a problem and not just the divine hand of the free market at work, you're labeled as some sort of Communist deserving of a Congressional Inquisition.
Telling someone they need to be exceptional to get out of an exceptionally bad situation isn't new advice. It's a tale as old as the Dickens novel "Great Expectations." But even poor, beat down Pip had the help of a mysterious benefactor, secretly guiding his path out of poverty and parentlessness.
What do you get when even a calvary of one isn't coming to save you?
I'd rather read a post about what we can do to help poor black kids, than a fantasy listing of what a kid who doesn't even have Internet access and doesn't read Forbes can do for him or herself.