The Madeleine Brand Show for December 15, 2011

'If I Was A Poor Black Kid' ignites the web

US President Barack Obama chats with stu

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

African American students being encouraged by President Obama

A recent essay appearing on Forbes.com has set the web world on fire. 'If I Was a Poor Black Kid," written by white author Gene Marks, has drawn more than 400,000 views and counting. In the piece, he laments the chasm between the rich and the poor and says it's unfair that his kids, who are no smarter than an intercity kid, get all the breaks. And so, he offers up a simple solution to the problem.

"Apparently, if you are a poor, black child, what you should do is you first learn how to read... And then, try to take advantage of the internet, such as finding websites, look up some TED talks, maybe perhaps Skype study with your friends to make sure you have the best grades, and then get into private schools," said Elon James White, who responded to Marks' essay on TheRoot.com.

"If it sounds ridiculous, what I just said, it's because it's ridiculous. The idea that everything is that simple," he continues, "Just figure that out, make sure you can read, and then just get that high-speed internet access that your poor parents don't have access to ... it was one of the most condescending things I've read in a long time."

White says the observations aren't just problematic in the obvious way – a middle-class white person telling poor black children what to do – but that Marks' overgeneralizations are shortsighted.

"It doesn't acknowledge, one, how they got in the situation at all. Two, why they're still in the situation and a lot of it is because they can't do things like just go online and study, things like that. They don't have access to these things," he said.

According to White, commentaries like these are becoming more accepted and wonders why presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich hasn't taken a bigger hit for making similar assumptions. Here's part of a statement Gingrich made on a recent campaign stop in Iowa:


"Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods, have no habits of working, and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash,' unless it's illegal."

White reacts to this statement by saying he grew up poor and says he always knew the importance of work. "Above all else, I was aware of work, was because half the time, my mom wasn't home because she had to work. Because she had to make sure that we could eat and have a place to live."

White said Marks probably thought he was being helpful with the essay, but clearly failed because he is severely out of touch with the lives of intercity children. Furthermore, he said that using the term "intercity" is an easy way to avoid pinpointing race, though the conversation isn't color-neutral. "Let's be real here, that's code for black and brown children," he said.

Guest:



Elon James White , wrote a response to Gene Marks' article in the The Root.com.


blog comments powered by Disqus