Middle-aged, white Forbes contributing writer Gene Marks, in his recent piece, “If I Were a Poor Black Kid,” presented some now-infamous ideas for how he would personally rise to success if he suddenly found himself young, African American and poverty-stricken.
Marks would “get technical,” learn software,” “learn how to write code,” “figure out where to learn more online,” “become an expert at Google Scholar” and regularly peruse the CIA World Factbook. He would then get himself into a top school, and he would “succeed.” The end.
Oh. If only Marks had given out this priceless advice before, we would have eliminated racial inequalities long ago.
As a curious side note, it’s unclear how this is any different from what he would do if he were a poor white kid. But also, there’s no word in the piece on how Marks imagines that he would, as a poor child, suddenly be infused with the perspective and sophistication of a middle-class adult. In addition, he, perhaps unintentionally, admits that his advice is useless to all but a select few gifted, mature and lucky children. (He doesn’t have any thoughts on what he would do if he were not a “special kind of kid” who miraculously became aware of the admissions processes of magnet schools and the value of TED talks and the Khan Academy.)
We pointed out earlier this week that there’s a possibility that Marks knew exactly how naive, condescending and detached from reality his suggestions sounded, and was being intentionally controversial to maximize his page views (and payout) from Forbes. He does, after all, seem to have quite the knack for drumming up hits by writing about hot topics.
But since he’s come to the defense of his piece, we can only assume that he was sincere (versus, as one Root commenter suggested, looking for alternatives to marrying Kim Kardashian to claim 15 minutes of fame).
The responses to the article have ranged from serious to satirical and, as a whole, have done what the original piece couldn’t: They contribute to a conversation about race, opportunity and structural inequalities in ways that are thoughtful, grounded in history and reality and, often, pretty funny (but, unlike Marks’ post, the humor is on purpose). Check them out here:
Jim Windolf’s “If I Were a Middle-Aged White Guy“: “If I were a middle-aged white guy, I would lease a nice car. Having a nice car makes a nice impression on others. And I would keep the car pristine. Whenever I parked outside Walgreen’s or Wal-Mart, I would straddle the painted white line and take up two spaces. That way, you don’t get dings. I hate dings. Dings bring down the value of the vehicle.”