Forbes’ Gene Marks Needs To Check His Priv

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Gene Marks, you wrote an essay for Forbes that has gotten a lot of people rather upset. People are upset because you display insensitive unchecked privilege and, essentially, you blame an entire class of people as the victims of what is mostly not their fault but rather, your fault and the fault of the modal Forbes reader, as well as society more broadly, history, culture, economics, racism and all sort of other things that are largely beyond the control of the Poor Black Kids of the Inner City of whom you write.

I think you meant well, but you did not do well. There are many ways in which you display a marked lack of a clue about your topic. How so? Let’s start at the beginning of your essay:

You referred to the “Inner City” when speaking about the “Poor Black Kids.” Nice.

And when I say “Nice” I am being sarcastic.

The equation of “The Inner City” with “Poor” and “Black” is a common thing. It is not entirely incorrect, but it is enough of an oversimplification and it leaves out enough important information that people who write stuff should learn to avoid the term unless they really know what they are doing, and really mean to use it. If you are not sure how this works, go to your “Inner City.” Find a local neighborhood association office or community center. Find the people who work there, who hang out there, who make use of the facility. Explain to them that you are from the suburbs and have a question for them. That should get their attention.

Then ask them “Where exactly is the ‘inner city’? Am I in it now? Where are its boundaries and who lives in it?”

If you find someone tolerant enough of your cluelessness to have a conversation with you, and don’t be surprised if you don’t, listen to what they have to say. You’ll learn something about your neighbors, about the people who share a local economy, a local society, perhaps a Congressional District, with you. I’m not going to tell you what you’ve got wrong in using this term because it depends on which “Inner City” you live “Outside” of. I don’t know your neighborhood. Any better than you do, I’m guessing.

You make good points about misfortune and skin color and racism. I think those are the main points of your article, and thank you for writing that. Your audience is mostly “Outer City” (if I may twist a phrase) pinkish of skin and upper class. (Forbes is not a Middle Class mag and you are not writing for a Middle Class audience, just in case you were wondering). It is good to remind them of these things and good on you for doing that.

Then you say, “…. life was easier for me. But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them.”

I’m sorry, but yes it does. Do you honesty believe that the vast, vast majority of wealth can be concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority of people and there be any real opportunities left for any of “them?” Seriously? I was born in a transitional family, moving from working to middle class. I have a PhD from Harvard. My wife is a Union member and a teacher. We sleep in the living room because we do not have enough room in our small house, it’s value has dropped so low that we can’t sell it for even half as much as we owe on it, I was laid off and have not been able to get a real job in two years. I’m a little short on opportunities. Do you think the Po Black Kids of the Inner City nave any opportunities at all if my Middle Class ass is in this state? I’m sorry, but you need to get a clue.

You continue with “…Or that the 1% control the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind. I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed. Still. In 2011. Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia.”

I’ve got to tell you this right away. Using that extra dramatic punctuation does not get you off the hook. It. Does. Not. Using the extra dramatic punctuation and pointing out what year it is does not magically create opportunities that were closed off by the greed of typical “Forbes” readers, of your friends and relatives, of you, of those you represent. Nice try. Nice. Try. But. No.

Then you say “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.”

Good idea. Do you happen to know what the number one determinant of reading ability of a child in the US is? No, you don’t because you are telling the Po Black Kids that they just need to make it their #1 priority. The number 1 determinant is some combination of what sociologists call “home environment” and “parent’s education.” You are unaware of this (clearly) but the culture of being a great reader is not something a kid wakes up one day and adopts because some white-ass honkey writing for Forbes magazine suggests that he makes it number one priority.

“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. With good grades you can choose different, better paths. If you do poorly in school, particularly in a lousy school, you’re severely limiting the limited opportunities you have.”

There you go with your “inner city” again. And even the worst have their best? What does that mean? Now you are talking about the 1% again.

Do you know what the number one determinant of getting into a better than average college is? No, you don’t. It is not getting good grades in an “inner city school.” It is whether or not your parents went to a better than average college. You are absolutely correct to encourage kids in “Inner City Schools” to do their best in school, but your expectations are utterly ridiculous. Let me tell you why by giving you an example. From the inner city. In the early 2000’s, not 2011. But still.

I know these two kids, black, live in the inner city. I was dating their mom. They were smart, like you. They tried hard to get good grades. Every time they spent an entire semester straight without anything disrupting their work they got mostly A’s in the Inner City Public School they went to. But, they were, after all, black and living in the inner city. This meant that if they went outside and hung around they would get rousted. Walking down the street, hanging out somewhere, they would get pulled in by the cops, checked for ID, if it happened to be after their curfew locked up for the night. Neither of them through their high school years was ever charged or convicted of an actual crime. This is because despite wearing the skin of a criminal and living in the denizen of the criminals (did I mention that they were black kids living in the inner city?) they were not actually criminals. But, if you live there, and you look like them, you still get harassed, jailed, and eventually getting picked up the cops enough times will land you on probation. And then things get worse. Eventually you spend time in Juvenile detention. One of these kids ended up in Juvi while the other one didn’t. That’s when their grades started to diverge. The one that ended up in detention ended up later on parole and was required to go to college classes on a certain bus at a certain time and return home at a certain time. Remember, this kid never did anything worse than being out a little after curfew a few times and being black. His mom had a college degree and there was a good home environment, the kind that produced kid with higher academic skills. By the time the older kid was in his second year of college and the younger kid just getting out of high school, trying very very hard their whole lives to do all the things you are telling them to do, they both had criminal records, and one of them had a C average at National American University and the other virtually no prospects of college at all.

Oh, and did you notice the price of tuition?

“And I would use the technology available to me as a student. I know a few school teachers …”

Oh, good. You know a few school teachers. Unfortunately, what you are doing here in this essay of yours is prescribing an entire lifeway to a bunch of people of whom you know nothing, and more than a little implying that their own lack of success is because they did not prioritize correctly, which amounts to blaming the victim, and you are basing a key part of your prescription to life on the fact that you know a few teachers.

“… and they tell me that many inner city parents usually have or can afford cheap computers and internet service nowadays. That because (and sadly) it’s oftentimes a necessary thing to keep their kids safe at home then on the streets. And libraries and schools have computers available too. 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.”

Much of this may be true. Certainly, libraries often do have computers and kids can have access to those computers. And so on and so forth.

But, again, we need a reality check. There are three things you need to know.

First, the Po Black Kids in the inner city already knew this. If you have ever gone to an inner city library you would know that they know it. If you go to the library in the inner city before it opens on the weekends you’ll see this line of Po Black Kids outside and around the block, regardless of weather, waiting to get into the library. There, they are herded into waiting areas by the library staff and eventually given access to the computers, several at once, for limited periods of time.

Reality one: They know this and are doing it. Reality two: The 1%, in all their wisdom, have worked the system so that libraries around the country are generally closing, not expanding. The anti-tax lobby has shut down library after library. There is more and more need for what you are telling the Po Black Kids to make use of, and less and less of those resources to go around.

And Reality three: They have been using the free technology all along, and it has helped, but it is not enough.

“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.”

Do you know that the teachers in the school YOUR kids go to forbid them from using secondary sources like Wikipedia for most of their research, and that private high schools and better funded libraries have actual reference librarians and resources that make things like the CIA World Factbook only a small and fairly insignificant part of the overall material available to students?

Yes, all the online and electronic resources you suggest are great ideas. I’m pretty sure, though, that virtually every kid in the country already knows about what is out there, and most are already using them. I think perhaps you have misidentified the problem.

“In Philadelphia, there are nationally recognized magnet schools like Central, Girls High and Masterman. These schools are free. But they are hard to get in to. You need good grades and good test scores. And there are also other good magnet and charter schools in the city. You also need good grades to get into those. In a school system that is so broken these are bright spots. Getting into one of these schools opens up a world of opportunities. More than 90% of the kids that go to Central go on to college. ”

I do not know the Philadelphia school system, but from what you are saying here there may be a structural problem that is common in US cities. A very bad (mainly because it is badly funded) school system does not produce the students who are then eligible for selection for those high end, merit-based schools.

“Or even a private school. 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.’

Our nearest private school has a scholarship program. I had occasion to look into it, because I knew this poor kid who was so academically talented that her teachers insisted that she go to this school. A former dean from the school wrote a recommendation for this kid, but without funding from a scholarship it would be impossible. It turns out, however, that the best they ever do is to cut a year’s fees by about 30%, and that is only for a few students, so this “school for the 1%” still costs about the same as a private college, after the scholarship is applied.

No, you see, the 1% don’t really want those Po Black Kids from the Inner City in their schools. There are scholarship programs. Some schools even claim that 80% (or some other large number) of students get financial help. But, if you look at the numbers, either a very very small number of kids get enough help to make it possible for a Po Black kid of the inner city to go, or it is spread out so almost every student gets something, but every student has to pay far more than even a middle class family can afford without a loan.

In short, it isn’t really true that the Po Black Kids you are trying to help here can go to prep school. Duh.

“Trust me, they want to show diversity. They want to show smiling, smart kids of many different colors and races on their fundraising brochures.”

See, here we go back to the first problem with your essay; You have divided the world into the White Privileged “Middle” (read “Upper”) Class (you and yours) and the Poor Black Kids of the Inner City. Trust me. I can use. Punctuation. Too. There are in fact brown or brownish people who are not poor. These schools get to have their brochures without getting shit on their hands.

“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.”

No, it isn’t, because you are still a Po Black Kid and college is still not affordable to you.

“If I was a poor black kid I would get technical. I would learn software. I would learn how to write code. I would seek out courses in my high school that teaches these skills or figure out where to learn more online.”

So this Po Black Kid that you’ve elevated to the status of your own kids by sheer will gets to be a programmer? Why not a manager? Why not the owner of a highly successful start-up?

My god, man, do you even have an editor there at Forbes?

“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.”

Keep saying it. And yes, it may be true, sometimes. But generally speaking, all that is happening here is that you are blaming the victim for a failure that you have no small share in causing, a failure in the system, not in personal will or ability. But keep saying that, it will make you feel better, and that, clearly, is the point of this whole essay.

“Technology can help these kids. But only if the kids want to be helped. Yes, there is much inequality. But the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.”

Or, as in your case, not so smart but privileged.


Related posts:
“Even the worst have their best”: Forbes’ Gene Marks, the 1%, and the Luxury of Second Chances at Greta Christina’s Blog
Institutional Racism at Motley Talks
Opinion: If I Were a Rich White Dude

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58 thoughts on “Forbes’ Gene Marks Needs To Check His Priv

  1. Yes. This. And I would also add:

    If you’re a child of the 1%, you don’t have to be extraordinary to be successful. If you’re a child of the 1%, and you’re just of average intelligence and average talent and average self-discipline, you’re probably going to do okay.

    But even in Gene Marks’s most idealistic vision for Poor Black Kids from the Inner City, you have to be “the best” to even have a shot. If you’re a Poor Black Kid from the Inner City, and you’re of average intelligence and average talent and average self-discipline, you’re almost certainly going to get sucked back down into the vicious circle.

    And that’s how we can see discrimination and oppression. Not by how well the best are doing — but by how well the average are doing, and the “reasonably good but not extraordinary,” and the “talented but haven’t yet found their feet.”

    If you’re in the 1%, you get lots of slack, lots of opportunities, lots of second chances. If you’re a Poor Black Kid from the Inner City, you get, at best, one shot to get it right. And you have to do everything perfectly. One screw-up, and you’re toast. And even then, even if you do everything perfectly, you might not get that shot.

    So do not bloody well tell us that help is available for kids who “want to be helped.” That loads the blame exactly where it doesn’t belong — on the backs of children. A world in which children have to be perfect in order to have even an outside chance at not getting caught in a glue trap for the rest of their lives is bloody well not a world of “opportunity.”

  2. Wait…he talks about Philadelphia? That’s just weird, ’cause I know a lot of the neighborhoods in that city, and if you want an example of a rough working poor neighborhood with lots of crime, the first thing that comes to mind is Fishtown — very white, and proud of it. Or the Dominican and Hispanic neighborhoods just north of Temple University (that place called the Badlands).

    Any Philadelphian should learn fast that there are a lot of diverse neighborhoods there, with a surprising amount of spontaneous segregation (I lived in a suburb that was largely Ukrainian, for instance), and you just can’t define them by color.

  3. So…what would he do if he were a poor white kid? Or an upper class black kid? Or a middle class Hispanic kid?

    If the answers aren’t all the same, the problem isn’t what the kids are doing. The problem is what we’re doing for the kids.

  4. The thing I found most irritating about this essay is that it contains just enough truth to make the fantasy all the more damaging. Like a poison pill with a sugar coating, it’s easy to swallow and might actually have a pleasing taste to those that don’t know it’s toxic. Sure, everyone in America does have a chance, but having a chance and having an EQUAL chance are far from being the same thing. A rich kid frmm a mainline Philly suburb has a probability of success somewhere in the high 90s. In fact, if that kid fails, it’s essentially because he or she has chosen to fail, and even then there’s probably enough padding around them to keep them from serious harm. On the other hand, the Poor Black Kid from the Inner City’s (or whatever label we choose to attach, and please excuse me for using this one) odds are somewhere well, well south of 90s or 80s, or perhaps even 50s. Essays like this one reinforce the view that everyone’s chance is qualitatively the same, provided those on the short end are willing to just work just a wee bit harder. What bunk. My fondest wish for the perpetrator of this non-sense would be for him to truly be in the shoes of that Poor Kid From The Inner City he so sanctimoniously patronizes.

  5. What I found so disingenuous was his last paragraph, where he admits that many of the problems that poor children have are not of their own making.

    Why do single parents have to work two jobs? Because one job doesn’t pay a living wage.

    Why are school teachers overburdened? Because there is no money to hire more teachers.

    Why are inner city schools underfunded? Because the 1% don’t want to pay taxes that would help inner city schools. Apparently he has no difficulty paying taxes to support the schools his children go to.

  6. The original article oversimplified the “solution.” We all know there is a problem…and, many of us, are concerned enough to consider this problem in our day-to-day lives.

    That said, I give this guy credit for even thinking about it and, in the world of the educated WORKING poor, these could very well be solutions. HOWEVER…in the world of the poor…this wouldn’t even get you in the front door without being laughed out of the room.

    When I first read the original article I was soooooo annoyed but then, I recognized a blessing in disguise. The crowd which reads Forbes regularly are thinking about this and hopefully that will assist somehow in figuring out something viable.

    I don’t think this guy was malicious in intent and we shouldn’t treat him as if he was. We should acknowledge what was written and point out circumstances wherein his “solutions” won’t work…and then…together, maybe we can come up with different options.

    We can’t beat up people just because they don’t know the entire story. He knows what he knows from his experience and we all know he hasn’t experienced anything next to near what the real poor in America see BUT…he’s empathetic enough to research the problem and, with that in mind, he is probably open enough for REAL dialogue. Let’s give dude that…at least.

    But yeah…for the most part…these conversations about bootstraps but no boots tend to annoy the pig mess outta me. But I’m trying to be a better person in my old age.

  7. I am so saddened to see that he stand by his writing. I am also astonished that the editor (if there is one) at Forbes didn’t see how blatantly insulting this article was. Perhaps that editor is also ignorant to the fact. Thank you for this great response…it’s people like Gene Marks that continue to perpetuate ignorance and it’s sickening.

  8. @annesauer#7: That’d be because he knows best and is always right – It’s a special god-given right sported by the privileged.

  9. Thank you Greg, for the excellent response to Gene Marks’ clueless piece. He should stick to computers and code, because real people living real lives is clearly not his strong suit.

    I read many of the responses, and the comments he interspersed demonstrated pretty clearly that he is impervious to being educated on the subject of poverty, or changing his mind even a tiny bit, which makes his “advice” to “po black kids” even more ironic.

    Anyway, your response was refreshing.


  10. What I find disturbing is that even if what he says is true (it isn’t), it still condemns the majority of children living in the “inner city” to a life of crap.

  11. Well, if he has an editor, it is also one of the 1% and probably doesn’t notice or care how insulting this piece is.

    Greg: “Or, as in your case, not so smart but privileged. ”

    I agree. This author doesn’t even know the difference between “then” and “than.”

    Gene: “That because (and sadly) it’s oftentimes a necessary thing to keep their kids safe at home then on the streets.”

  12. @creoleindc:
    He isn’t that open to conversation. Comments on the original article show as much.
    The article is just a self congratulatory piece about how great the rich are, and how great the poor could be if they just stopped being so freakin’ poor, and did all the stuff we did to be rich.
    People have called him out. He stands by what he said. And other people will stand by him too. They won’t say “OH! This is actually a problem! There’s a reason this who Occupy whatever thing is going on!”
    They’ll say “Well if those stupid poor people actually learned how to read and used the programs we graciously gave them, then we wouldn’t be in any trouble at all! Those ungrateful bastards. No need to help them.”

  13. Also, even assuming that any one kid could pull him or herself out of poverty using hard work and earning scholarships, there aren’t enough scholarships for all of them to do it.

  14. We can’t beat up people just because they don’t know the entire story.

    We can beat up people because they don’t know the story, should know the story, have gone to great lengths not to pay any attention to the story, pretend to know the story anyway, and purport to explain the story to people who are actually deeply involved with it.

    You’re being disingenuous at best.

  15. @Laura: I really need to believe differently. I TRULY need to believe that people want to do better and will do better. I’m so sick and tired of the divisiveness that it gives me headaches. Please…can we just hope for the best for once. Can we hope that somebody…ANYBODY will read his article and be real with wanting to help place a bridge where none currently exists?

    I just GOTTA believe.

  16. @Azkyroth: Me? Disingenuous? Negation. I’m one of the ones working on this and not sitting back on the internet simply commenting. I NEED TO BELIEVE or I’ll end up sitting on my sofa NOT believing I can make it better.

  17. Creole, I agree that he needs credit for even thinking about the issue, and I did say as much in my post.

    The problem is that if you have a public voice you need to take some responsibility. The truth is that the social problems (and economic and educational etc.) we have are not something he just discovered and is able to offer a couple of off the cuff solutions. They are problems many people are expert on, that have been debated and addressed in various way as length, and about which there is an ongoing dialog. But, Marks has come along and thrown out some stuff he thought up without knowing anything which have serious negative consequences related to the dialog on race and racism, economic disparity, and poverty. In other words, he was suggesting to his readership that certain things were true, which are in fact not even close to being true, his readership is not in a position to understand this (they may or may not be as individuals … what I”m saying is that his blog is not about social issues or anything related) and so the net effect is a bit of dumbing down of the electorate. Again.

    Unlike Fox News, which is paid to do that on purpose with specific nefarious intentions at play, Marks simply blundered into an area he knows nothing about and accidentally said a bunch of stupid stuff.

    I do that too, by the way, but I tend to confine my idiotic remarks to areas of computer technology where I may annoy a lot of people but I don’t damage the otherwise poorly buffered children of … the inner city! And I take all sorts of shit for my comments on how it’s good to use “cat” in a bash script, and to change the navigational keybindings in emacs.

    Marks is out of his subject area. He should just admit that, learn, and come back with more ideas that are better thought out, better informed, and more refined.

  18. Greg, that is probably the best piece of writing you’ve done in 5 years or more. I think you were inspired by your outrage, as well you should be. The man seems to have good intentions. Those good intentions and $5 will get you a large cup of coffee made with burned coffee beans.

    As someone upthread said, there is just enough truth to what he said that he sounds almost reasonable to people like himself, who mean well, but who have absolutely no idea what life for those “Inner City Poor Black Kids” is like.

    His ignorance is not acceptable. He needs to actually talk to people who live in the “Inner City”. Get them to tell him about their lives. Then he needs to follow a middle-class kid around while they try to find money for tuition to a cheap state university (what with all the funding cuts, increased tuition, the government selling us out to the wolves who control student loan money), and imagine just how fucking impossible it is for poor kids. Then maybe he can begin to understand why you and so many of us are so pissed as his sanctimonious, ignorant screed.

  19. @Greg: Being out of the subject area isn’t necessarily his “fault” and I’m hesitant to make it seem as if dude is so out of touch that he’s an imbecile. I don’t want him (and others) to throw their hands up in the air and say…”Screw poor Blacks…you can’t even say anything about them without being skewered so why say anything?” Cuz if so…it will be back to business as usual.

    This is a HUGE problem and the cause needs as many allys as possible. Why beat him up when this can be used as a teaching opportunity.

    That’s all I’m saying.

  20. otrame, I was thinking the writing was kinda mediocre, but the points made were important, but thanks!

    Creole, I’m all about making allies. But the message is damaging. I look forward to being Marks’ ally starting the moment he recognizes that and wants to talk!

  21. @Greg: After all this…he probably won’t want to talk and the cause will suffer AGAIN because the people who claim to champion the cause don’t know how to play the game well enough to build on opportunities of leverage.


  22. Oh thank you, Horatio Alger Cookbook! I could never figure out what was wrong before, but now I’m on the fast track to self improvement and fortune!

    No, I really won’t give the guy any credit, because he is repeating the same old line of crap. His belief in the myth is equal to his ignorance of reality. He can have credit if he takes it back and stops pontificating like a clueless git.

    Greg Laden, on the other hand, has written the truth. An excellent analysis and response including anecdotes to illustrate, as opposed to Marks’ feel-good fictions meant to prop up his fairy story.

    There are some excellent comments here, too.

  23. What I find incomprehensible is that nutrition has been proven to be a huge factor. These 1%ers want to cut school food programs, promote pizza as a vegetable, and want to cut food stamps at home. But of course, it is the Po Black Kids fault that he only eats two meals every three days… and it’s his fault that he can’t succeed in school…

  24. Greg, I’ve been an occasional reader of yours for a while, due to the enormous amount of other blogs I read. You have just made me an every day reader. Absolutely wonderful piece on an issue that I desperately want freethinkers to take up more often. Thank you so much.

  25. Yes the problem is that we’re not nice and sweet enough to people to market privileged garbage as ‘insight’. Hoo boy…

    Well done Greg. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Would have, in fact, said it a lot worse.

  26. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Greg. That’s my city Marks is talking about.

    Philadelphia has some of the most dangerous public schools in the nation. My old local high school is on that list. Metal detectors. Shootings. Assault. Rape. HIV. Welfare. Just try getting good grades when you don’t have a safe learning environment, at school OR at home. Marks says that if those “inner-city” poor black kids really wanted to read better and use the Internet to learn (‘cuz their parents should just buy them a computer, right?), they could maybe even get into a $50,000/year private school? STFU, Marks, you privileged asshole, until you get a clue.

  27. It is all well and good to say “if I were …” when you can examine your situation now and project backward. But consider the kid who is just starting school. In terms that business types like to think in, it will be 48 “quarters” to get through grade school. Add another 8 quarters for about the minimum level of post-secondary training. Add 8 more quarters if degree-level education is persued. So that is 56 to 60 quarters just to get where you can start earning regular income. That is one hell of deferment of gratification. It seems to me like most buiness with publicly traded stock don’t/won’t/can’t think beyond 4 or 6 quarters, at a maximum.But kids have to think an order of magnitude further into the future.
    So “make good grades number one priority”. OK. Why? If kids can be encouraged to get good grades when they are very young, and get lots of support and praise for it, if they succeed, then there is some hope they will go on that way. Wait until the kid is old enough to ask why, and it isn’t nearly the chance to sell them on the idea that it is worthwhile. Kids aspire to what they know about. If a kid can look around and see people who have “succeeded” because they have done well in school, it might be an easy sell. If they look around and see people who have barely scraped by in spite of hard work, academic or otherwise, what then? If they have parents who have worked hard, only to be treated worse than the office furniture when their employer decides “something has to go” in order to keep profits up, it is damned difficult for them to stay motivated.

    There are zillions of kids for whom classroom instruction just isn’t enough, especially where classes are large and personal attention just isn’t possible. Lots of these kids can really benefit from one-on-one help. Great if mom or dad has the education and the time to help, or the money to pay for tutors. But if parents simply don’t have what it takes to be much help, or can’t be there because they have no choice but to work to keep the kids fed, the kids are left whistling in the wind. I’ve seen this, up close and personal. I’ve seen the difference between kids with educated parents with time and resources, and kids with nice, caring but academically-incapable adults around them. A few years ago I tutored a kid pretty intensively through grades 8 and 9, and saw him improve dramatically. He worked incredibly hard, with no immediate reward other than his own satisfaction with his own success. “Nothing succeeds like success” is not to be underestimated! (I am strongly of the opinion that if a kid in regular grade school needs extra tutoring, it should come from the public purse.)

    It is pretty clear that Gene Marks knows nothing about kids, except perhaps for some of the nicely packaged upscale type. He hasn’t a clue about how to get by as a kid or an adult with very limited resources. He could get some clues. He could make a committment of several hours a week for a year or two to volunteer to tutor a kid or two – in all subjects, not just those he has some strength in. He could become a volunteer mentor. He could learn that the greatest gift you can give a kid is the gift of that kid him/herself. Advice from the office chair that cost more than mom’s car isn’t worth much.

  28. in the world of the educated WORKING poor, these could very well be solutions.

    not even. my boyfriend is from such a background, and fuck if it helped him or any of his classmates any. the really lucky ones are now middle-managers.
    And now that I’m in that segment, too, I can see for myself that there aren’t any advancement opportunities; in fact, I’m getting myself even more educated for the sole purpose of acquiring enough points with Canada/NZ immigration to get myself and the boyfriend out of this shithole of a country

  29. my boyfriend is from such a background, and fuck if it helped him, his siblings or any of his similarly backgrounded classmates any.

    FIFM for accuracy’s sake. That the “redneck” classmates of his (meaning, rural, working poor, and uneducated) didn’t stand a chance is a separate but even more obvious issue; they stood about as much of a chance as the hypothetical Poor Black Kid From The Inner City™ from the Forbes article

  30. Thanks for the analysis. As an old semi-hippie living blissfully in the boondocks, I know so little about the realities described here. I liked Greta Christina’s comments.

    Bella Abzug, some time in the early seventies. I am paraphrasing, not quoting. “Sure some super woman can succeed. But we won’t have equality till a female schlemiel has the same chances as a male schlemiel”.

    For male or female, substitute other deviation from the privileged norm.

  31. The mind boggles. Every comment I read, and the whole OP is ridiculous, and still wandering about in la-la land.

    I never ceases to amaze me how irrational and out of touch people can be when they consider things like this. This bullshit about “opportunity” is predicated on the erroneous (you would think obviously so to the people here) assumption that we are somehow “free people”, magical souls with infinite capacity for reason, learning, and understanding, driving around “bodies” like and ATV, choosing which doors we want to pass through in the maze to fame and fortune.

    Try thinking about this from a biological and statistical reality based perspective instead. If there is a lack of nutrients, that is damaging to the organism, which is a set of chemical reactions. Somewhere, a chemical reaction must not happen. That is on average definitely bad for the organism. You’re acting like a total airhead if you think two chemical reaction can be expected to not be very different when the quantity of reactants, and the environmental conditions is completely different, and totally suboptimal for the one.

    Same deal for stressful living environments, lack of access to information etc. It will inevitably cause harm. There is no two ways about it. Let’s just let the whole “opportunity” thing go and talk about it from this sort of perspective, shall we.

    That people are happy to blame people who are”stupid” as if intelligence was somehow not affected by having poor or ignorant parents are particularly icky.

  32. I wouldn’t read any article from some white guy that was littered with grammatical errors. “If I was a poor black kid?” If Mr. Marks were truly a poor black kid they would have tossed out his admissions essay because he couldn’t figure out how to use conditional verbs.

  33. Great writing as always, thanks! The problems you are describing are indeed universal, at least in the western world. As at teacher in Sweden I meet kids all the time who struggle because of their poor situation. And this in a society vastly more equal than the US, with for example all schools, primary to university free for all. But even here we see that the educational level and economic status of parents are very important factors for the kids success rate.

    A more equal society (with high taxes …) should at least increase chances, although I haven’t seen any numbers on that.

    By the way, our “poor black kids” tend to live in the suburbs and the rich 67% in the city … (It’s a differnent kind of suburb.)

  34. CreoleInDC: “I don’t think this guy was malicious in intent and we shouldn’t treat him as if he was”

    As someone once said, “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.” It isn’t about his intentions. It’s about the convenient excuses he is providing for people who want to believe it’s all the po’ folk’s fault for being poor.

  35. I see red on this subject. I’ve damaged a relationship with a family member (brother in law of my partner) because of a discussion in which it seemed like he was saying that poverty was an “attitude” problem, in that if only the poor would lift their gaze from the dirt, to have a little hope, and maybe just -try- a little bit harder, they would not be poor.

    I grew up not -poor- exactly, but most of my neighbours were definitely poor (I grew up in a co-op housing project surrounded on three sides by trailer parks (each with their own mini-socio-economic status)), and I am not equipped to be calm while explaining all of the thousands of factors that conspire to keep poor people poor.

    Thanks for challenging this guy and his assumptions. I don’t even have the patience or tolerance to accept the “at least he’s thinking about it” because to me it really does feel like it’s mostly an excercise in making himself feel better.

  36. Give this guy no succour. The intention was to prime the aspirational, ladder-climbing upper middle class with a line of argument which reinforces the policies of the right, not just in the USA but worldwide. The 1% need the other top 25% holders of political/economic capital, to campaign and regurgitate this nonsense about low taxes, just to remain in the 1% (or scrabbling ones way toward it, no matter how delusional this is in reality). Great response Greg, loved it!

  37. I don’t think this guy was malicious in intent and we shouldn’t treat him as if he was. We should acknowledge what was written and point out circumstances wherein his “solutions” won’t work…and then…together, maybe we can come up with different options.

    We can’t beat up people just because they don’t know the entire story. He knows what he knows from his experience and we all know he hasn’t experienced anything next to near what the real poor in America see BUT…he’s empathetic enough to research the problem and, with that in mind, he is probably open enough for REAL dialogue. Let’s give dude that…at least.

    It occurs to me that this is another manifestation of privilege. When you’re part of a privileged group, people tend to be so accustomed to showing you deference that even when you write something blisteringly stupid and astoundingly arrogant, people will make excuses about how you “meant well” and “just don’t know the entire story.”

  38. @Greg: After all this…he probably won’t want to talk and the cause will suffer AGAIN because the people who claim to champion the cause don’t know how to play the game well enough to build on opportunities of leverage.


    Oh, cripes, not THIS shit again…

  39. It looks like the original article has been yanked from

    Why waste money on editors? Just let their willing tools happily regurgitate the approved delusions to their hearts’ content, and the top execs can just delete whatever output gets noticed and debunked by outsiders.

    This is the same magazine that confidently predicted the Iraq invasion would give us cheap energy, prosperity, and trains that run on time. These aren’t the kind of people who feel they need editors.

  40. “If I was a poor black kid I would get technical. I would learn software. I would learn how to write code. I would seek out courses in my high school that teaches these skills or figure out where to learn more online.”

    It’s amusing and sad at the same time that he thinks that kids going to school to learn to be programmers in this day and age are successful. Programming is a very difficult field, often with long hours and often with low pay.

    Programming is an extremely competitive field – and for US programmers, the competition is in India and in (surprisingly) Mexico for the most part.

    This field is one of the fields that readers of Forbes have been offshoring for years. I work at a software company that has largely offshored development (there are engineers left in the US, but nowhere near what there was in the 80’s and 90’s), and even some product management and project management roles have moved to Bangalore.

    So how is the “Po Black Kid from the Inner City” supposed to succeed in that career?

  41. I believe I will write an article entitled “If I Were an Arrogant White Dick”…Can you hear me, FORBES?

    I can not believe this asshole actually got paid for this trash.


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