So there’s this fancy new column on Forbes from Gene Marks called “If I Were A Poor Black Kid”. Shockingly, it is not written by a poor black kid, but a middle-class white man. But don’t worry, this isn’t just any rich white man: this is the middle-class white man who knows the answer to all of their silly poor people problems.
Yep, that usually works out pretty well.
The column (which I am not linking to, because that guy deserves web traffic only slightly less then he deserves joy in his life) outlines the following helpful solutions for poor kids looking to achieve:
“I am not a poor black kid. I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background. So life was easier for me. ”
Oh, hey, no shit.
“I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed…Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia. It takes brains. It takes hard work. It takes a little luck. And a little help from others. It takes the ability and the know-how to use the resources that are available. Like technology. As a person who sells and has worked with technology all my life I also know this.”
So, as a person who has worked with technology your whole life, you’re qualified to solve the systematic oppression of poverty in the inner-cities. That’s kind of like me saying that because I know how to bake cookies, I know how to build a combustion engine. But OK, continue.
“If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible. I would make it my #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently. I wouldn’t care if I was a student at the worst public middle school in the worst inner city. Even the worst have their best. And the very best students, even at the worst schools, have more opportunities. Getting good grades is the key to having more options… If you do poorly in school, particularly in a lousy school, you’re severely limiting the limited opportunities you have.”
Right. Good grades are obviously super-attainable for me, the author’s imaginary impoverished child. Never mind the fact that I’m going to an under-resourced school in an inner-city where I’m competing with 30-40 kids for the attention of a teacher who works 12 hours a day for a yearly salary that would buckle under a used car payment. Never mind the fact that I’m likely a part of the 40% of American children who start school unprepared and never get the chance to catch up. Never mind that I’m 1.5 times more likely to have a learning disability, and have a significant chance of being unable to pass the standardized testing on which my school’s already shoestring funding is based. Never mind that I may be homeless, or in foster care, or dealing with other home instabilities that accompany poverty. Never mind that despite the fact that studies show hunger and malnutrition have a severe adverse effect on my ability to learn, Congress just said it’s OK for me to eat pizza for breakfast because it contains tomato paste. Never mind that the lights are off, I’ve had cereal for dinner for the past week and my Mom is crying all the time. If I don’t get good grades, it’s my fault, because I didn’t try hard enough to be the best of the worst.
“And I would use the technology available to me as a student…Computers can be purchased cheaply at outlets like TigerDirect and Dell’s Outlet. Professional organizations like accountants and architects often offer used computers from their members, sometimes at no cost at all.”
Ah, yes! It is so easy for me, the imaginary poor kid, to access a resource like TigerDirect. Because I obviously know what that is. I’ll just use my credit card- oh. Wait, I’ll use my mom’s credit- oh, right. I guess there’s always the library. Since I’m a minor with incredibly limited access to transportation, I sure hope there’s a well-equipped one close by along a safe walking route. Wait, there isn’t? Well, I guess I can just walk into an architect’s office and ask if they want to sell me their computer for the money I don’t have since my family is significantly below the poverty line. I’m sure they won’t mind.
“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. I’d visit study sites like SparkNotes andCliffsNotes to help me understand books. I’d watch relevant teachings onAcademic Earth, TED and the Khan Academy. (I say relevant because some of these lectures may not be related to my work or too advanced for my age. But there are plenty of videos on these sites that are suitable to my studies and would help me stand out.) I would also, when possible, get my books for free at Project Gutenberg and learn how to do research at the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia to help me with my studies… I would use Skype to study with other students who also want to do well in my school.
Yes! Of course, why didn’t I think of this? There are tons of friendly techheads in my life who are willing to sit down and teach me to use these services. There’s no way the adults in my life are too busy just trying to hold our world together to show me how Wikipedia works. Also, I will somehow do this despite the fact that as a child in poverty I am more likely to have literacy problems, and a smaller vocabulary then that of my privileged peers. That probably won’t affect my ability to use Project Gutenberg at all. I sure am glad that I somehow obtained a home computer with the capacity to run these programs that is also apparently equipped with a webcam, and a microphone. Otherwise, this whole set of solutions would seem somewhat useless!
Also, it’s a good thing I have these videos to show me how to “stand out” amongst my peers. Because, as a child in poverty, I obviously am taught from the very beginning of my life what behaviors and knowledge will make me middle-class successful, and my life is full of functional positive role models who can help guide me through my difficult childhood. Who I keep in touch with on Skype. From my unicorn.
“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.”
Yep, there’s a clear model for success here. This strategy has worked over and over again! Like, remember that one time with the imaginary kid we made up who had Skype on his unicorn? That was great. Good thing we had this imaginary kid to follow along through this magical journey of knowledge, because our author didn’t cite any evidence that any of this would work. You’d almost think he didn’t do any research whatsoever on the causes of educational attainment gaps in poverty. But who would write an article for a national news outlet without researching it first? Not this dude. He has the answers.
But wait, there’s more!
“…Most private schools I know are filled to the brim with the 1%. That’s because these schools are exclusive and expensive, costing anywhere between $20 and $50k per year. But there’s a secret about them. Most have scholarship programs. Most have boards of trustees that want to give opportunities to kids that can’t afford the tuition. Many would provide funding for not only tuition but also for transportation or even boarding. Trust me, they want to show diversity. They want to show smiling, smart kids of many different colors and races on their fundraising brochures. If I was a poor black kid I’d be using technology to research these schools on the internet, too, and making them know that I exist and that I get good grades and want to go to their school.”
Woah, hang on. Scholarships? For private schools? Well, I have never heard of such a thing, but it sounds like a good deal for poor little old imaginary me. I probably don’t have any adults in my life who have the time to help me with applications or documentation, so it’s a good thing it’s as simple as finding out what school I want to go to and letting them know I exist. It’s not like demand for scholarships and vouchers have grown steadily over the past decade because of increasingly dwindling resources in our public schools. Every kid that wants to go to private school for free always does, because they deserve it. And they certainly will know exactly how to behave in an upper-middle class environment, and have the academic skills to breeze through their classes and up the ziggurat. I mean, they know how to use Google!
“And once admitted to one of these schools the first person I’d introduce myself to would be the school’s guidance counselor. This is the person who will one day help me go to a college. This is the person who knows everything there is to know about financial aid, grants, minority programs and the like. This is the person who may also know of job programs and co-op learning opportunities that I could participate in. This is the person who could help me get summer employment at a law firm or a business owned by the 1% where I could meet people and show off my stuff.”
Yeah! Now that I’m in private school, it’s just a matter of finding that sweet opportunity to share my skills. Certainly things like institutional racism and middle-class biases against people in poverty won’t affect their perception of me. Look out world, I know how to make a spreadsheet!
“Because a poor black kid who gets good grades, has a part time job and becomes proficient with a technical skill will go to college. There is financial aid available. There are programs available. And no matter what he or she majors in that person will have opportunities. They will find jobs in a country of business owners like me who are starved for smart, skilled people. They will succeed.”
Because a poor black kid who gets good grades despite a hundred obstacles his privileged peers will never face, has a part-time job that somehow contributes to his professional development as opposed to making fries, and also has the time to put into learning a technical skill will go to college. Cool. All of my problems have been solved. Unless I drop out of college. Or I don’t have the skills to succeed in college, despite my best efforts to develop them. Or I don’t get accepted into college. Or if I get into college, but I can’t maintain the grades to keep my scholarship. Or if I get a scholarship that covers tuition, but not books and living expenses, so I still can’t afford to go. So, basically, there is a one in a billion chance that this is going to work. But hey, there’s a chance!
So, thanks, middle-class white guy. Once again, you have the solutions to our problems. Because forget the idea that kids in poverty are daily charged with confronting a massive confluence of cultural forces that deny them opportunities for success and and lasting achievement, and that no child should be held responsible for his lack of knowledge and resources to navigate that system, and that the myth of a meritocracy has given our society an excuse to blame them for their “failures” rather then attempting to address the forces that hold them back, and that there will be no real solution to the fact that 1 in 5 American children are going to continue to live in poverty until we as a society acknowledge it and work on systematic solutions for it.
The real reason for poverty is that poor black kids don’t try hard enough on their computers.
That’s far more plausible.