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I’m glad other people take the trouble to address stupid propositions. I just considered it invalid on the basis of “If I WAS…”


Thing is, it’s been done already.


Yes, people – the ONION articles are COMING TRUE, in a sense.


He’d have been better off to just sing it: “If I were a black kid, dee da dee da dee da da da dum!”


“I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family, singin’ and dancin’ down in Mississippi… “


I’m a middle-class white guy. I’ve got privilege and opportunity coming out of my ass. I’ll have to work to live, sure, but I’ll never be hungry. I didn’t get a job until I was 17 and had finished Year 12.

People should have to work hard to achieve. I don’t think anyone could really have a problem with that statement. But kids shouldn’t have to work hard to be in with a chance that other kids have got automatically just because of the circumstances of their birth.


Poor white kid representing here, and thank you for crafting a response to this dreck. The sheer tone-deafness of that article was astonishing, to say nothing of self-serving and shamefully dismissive of the realities of the situation.

I have a friend who’s gone into teaching middle-school, and he related a disturbing little anecdote to me the other day. Politics had come up in class, and a little discussion broke out over health care. One of the kids had this little nugget to offer. “Why is the government spending money on this? They should just lower taxes on the rich so they can afford to hire more poor people as servants, and the poor people can use their money to pay for their operations.”

Just thought I’d share that little moment of WTFery.


Ehn, Randroids. What can yah do?

Besides mocking them until they get angry, turn red, and start calling out John Galt’s name for guidance?


Wow. That people have that sort of idea, and can get it published in Forbes, really says everything it needs to, doesn’t it? My wife’s a teacher in a large, American inner city school system. She teaches high school English. If she gets a kid reading at a 5th grade level at the beginning of the year (which is really common, closer to the norm), and really works with that kid and gets him to read at 8th grade level by the end of the year, that should count as a success story. Unfortunately, thanks to brilliant legislation like No Child Left Behind, when the kid’s reading at 8th grade level at the end of 9th grade on the 9th grade standardized test, that’s a failure. So this kid who busted his ass, and was exception, is told, flat out, he was a failure. And that’s what happens to poor black kids.


I love that in the comments section he just keeps repeating, over and over again, “the opportunities ARE out there.” I can’t think of seeing someone just keep blindly missing the point so, so much.


This douche should watch Season 4 of the Wire



Admittedly..as a middle class black person, this has always been a topic im torn about.

On one hand, you see the bullshit. You see the impossible standard Black kids are held too and the damning self fulfilling perceptions/prophecies foisted upon Black kids day in and day out.

You recognize that it is some ways ludicrous to hold American Blacks to the same standard as immigrants(which is where a lot of this “WHY ARE YOU STILL FAILING, BLACK PEOPLE?!!?” subtext present in the original piece comes from ); given that, they are able to send their best and brightest here and have not had to deal with the both blatant and subconscious voice of “The Promised Land” telling you “you aren’t shit and won’t be shit”.

But on the other hand, you also see that as bad as the hood is, a lot of the trouble there really can be attributed to just self administered laziness, ignorance, and a lack of thorough decision making skills. You see that a lot of the hood is working poor (struggling mind you, but can still afford common luxuries) and that if a greater emphasis within the hood were put on education and buying items of real value, shit might be different.

So with that said, Ive always kind of agreed with the unfair notion that “poor Blacks” have to be exceptional. While one would say maybe its the not fully realized conservative streak in me that is a result of my own middle class privilege that compels me to feel that way, Ive always attributed it more to cynicism and defeatist pragmatism.

Ive long lost hope that the system of inequality will change. As unfair as it is to ask poor people of any background to be “exceptional”…its probably the best and only way to escape.


I just imagine an overworked editor at Forbes.com being handed this drivel, barely glancing over it, and saying “Whatever, whatever, just throw it on there. We’ve got space to fill damn it.”

Then he reads it, and realized he’s so fired. Of course, it’s Forbes, so maybe they all cackled evilly and decided to stick it to poor people with a condescending, ignorant essay devoid of the basic understanding of inner city America.


KD: I think community outreach programs to teach inner city people how to make better decisions might help.


A few years ago, Forbes had an article on why men should never marry “career girls” (among other things, a woman who can support herself without you can afford to divorce you). So no, not that surprised by this one.
Part of the trouble with this essay (aside from all the points MGK hits on) is that “someone worked his way up out of poverty, therefore it’s poor people’s own fault if they don’t do the same” is not a logical conclusion. It isn’t 100 percent in our own hands and there’s no guarantee we can surmount every obstacle even if we are exceptional. It’s like saying that as one guy escaped from Alcatraz, the only thing stopping all prisoners from walking out is themselves.


Another point, regarding all that internet research: 20 percent of Americans (IIRC) still don’t have Internet access.


And speaking as someone who while not a poor black kid was dead broke in his twenties, “you can buy a cheap computer” is a baseless assumption–I certainly couldn’t have, and I was only supporting myself, not a family.


Meanwhile, over at Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/12/what-do-low-income-communities-need/249962/), Megan McArdle explains that even if poor people had their own homes, college degrees and good jobs, they’d still be poor, because it’s all the result of their inability to make good decisions.

Edgar Allan Poe said on December 14th, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I read Forbes magazine once. In a waiting room in an Air Force base, of all places. It was when I noticed they had ads for private jets that I really got how much it wasn’t aimed at me.

Cookie McCool said on December 14th, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Wow, man, wow.


Poor black kids in West Philadelphia should just move with there uncles and aunties in Bel Air.

Geez people. It’s not that tough.



Honestly, I don’t do that with pen and paper — Only typing.


[…] how poverty is clearly the poor’s own fault. At Forbes, middle-aged white guy Gene Marks tells us that “If I Were a Poor Black Kid” (link is not to the article but you can click […]


I love how even people quick to jump on the correlation =/= causation bandwagon fall for this one every time:

“I worked hard and was successful, therefore I was successful because I worked hard.”

highlyverbal said on December 14th, 2011 at 3:39 pm

If I were a poor black kid, I would explain to Marks how the subjunctive works.


When I read essays like Gene Marks’ it makes me wish I was a Hindu or Buddhist instead of a Christian so I could have the luxury of imagining him being reincarnated a few hundred times as a cockroach.


It seems we haven’t come far from the trashy novels of Horatio Alger, and their admonitions to the youth of the 19th Century that they could make a fortune through pluck, hard work, constantly meeting people who would give them a leg up for no particular reason, and somehow never making enemies or being struck by disaster of any sort.


Perhaps he could have made his point better if he’d stood over a crowd of young urban youths while cracking a whip and shouting “Mush! Mush!”

If you work endlessly, study hard, and get lucky, perhaps one day you too can be given a job at Rich White Guy Company, crafting widgets and filing TPS reports for your superior executives. And if you are really good, Gene Marks might reach down from on high and pat you on the head to tell you what a good job you’ve done. That’s a position to aspire towards.


Generally I don’t comment on anything I read

on the internet ever
(in fact this might be the first time).

However, after reading this I cant help but

feel very sad about the underlying essay

that spawned this thread of discussion.

Growing up as a poor white kid, and having

grown up with some of these same “poor black

kids” that the essay is supposedly written

for; it makes me feel tired indeed. To hear

that it is just up to kids to do what most

adults find difficult to manage in order to

have the slightest sliver of a chance to

escape the cycle of poverty which will keep

them from achieving their dreams, goals; and

in most cases any sense of fulfillment in

their life is a testament to what is wrong

with modern society, and white middle

America especially. I grew up poor

(not absolute poverty, but government assistance and the like)

and I can tell you that luck and accident of

birth play just as big a role in adult

success as education and hard work. Being

poor and of color not only puts you in the

position of starting out from a

disadvantage, at starts you out at a

DEFICEIT. Just to get to zero level is an

accomplishment, let alone be able to put

ones self in a position to even be able to

have success come your way. When someone’s

basic survival needs are not met, they cant

even begin to focus on any sort of self

actualization (which is exactly what would
be required to realize at that young of an age what is going to be required of you).

The ability to step outside of your current

situation and see the big picture is

generally something that 99% of kids simply

cannot do, that’s why they are

called “children” at this point in their

lives, their not mature enough to understand

adult concepts. The determineizations for

most magnet schools are based on much of

the same criteria as a scout looks at an

athlete: raw talent and potential. how much

chemistry can a ten year old really study

and grasp if he doesn’t have some sort of

natural aptitude for it? The article seems

to imply to me that it is written only for

the cream of the crop poor kids, those who

by accident of birth were born into the low social cast and have the raw talent to pull

themselves up through sheer force of will.

which is great for them, but what about

everyone else? The funny thing is that this

Darwin like social theory is already being

applied in poor minority neighborhood all

across America, its just not used in

academia. The essay seems to mirror the

exact process by which many poor kids

(of all races really) escape the cycle of

poverty; athletics. That same energy which

the author suggests be funneled into finding

free computers and begging the admissions

board of every charter school is already

being focused for many on sports as a means

of escape. Its an easier road for the kids

to hoe, and by far one that most better

understand at that point in their lives.

Athletics causes people to see beyond color

and frankly, just treat people differently.

This is never truer then at a young age

where talent can be easiest to spot, and

develop. Even if this doesn’t end in a

million dollar pro career, this skill set

taught through organized sports can and is

enough for many to get into the position for

opportunity to find them. Beside the free


(which is the most obvious benefit) the work

ethic and personal relationships formed can

and are used to create the leg up that the

article describes as being essential to

getting ahead. The problem is that we as a

society know that only the best or the

pretty damn good can take advantage of this

system. With this in mind is seems silly to

promote what is already a standard set up to

favor only the talented and the lucky and

tout it as a social cure-all for income and

social inequality. A PSA during an NFL game

that only 3% of all kids that play make the

pros; (or whatever the real stat is) is this

that much different that hopeing your going

to be one of the few that get that full ride

to Harvard based on good math scores? The

underlying issue of a horrible disparity in

the distribution of wealth and that the

middle class is essentially evaporating
while those at the top push for one more

giant money grab seems to be lost in the

sauce of the hard work=success argument,

which at its core is as much a fantasy as

the toothfairy. To truly solve the problem

that causes poor black kids to struggle and

fail, would require a redistribution of

wealth (not solely money). This would only

be possible by a social revolution of some

sort that would change the fundamental way

the game is played, or collapse of modern

society as we know it. Any mention of income

redistribution (let alone wealth)is

immediately labeled as socialism, which

since were still in the red scare, must be

seen as inherently wrong. Its a line fed to

those at the bottom in order to keep them

placated.To start any discussion on the

matter with the assumption that the majority

is just screwed from the outset, is truly

abhorrent; yet it also absolutely honest

because that’s exactly the way that the

system is presently operating. Those kids

only real hope is that they can find

something that they have a natural affinity

for, and practice it till they are the

absolute best they can be at it. Even if it

is something that doesn’t seem immediately

popular, they only have to impress one

person that can appreciate the talent to

start opening potential doors for them.

Frankly, looking at this from the standpoint

of the white, middle class, author saddens

me and makes me wonder if their is any hope

in correcting a situiation that many wouldnt

even agree exists. In my line of work ive

seen so much wasted potential it will make

you outright sick. It should be seen as one

of if not THE greateset injustices of our

generation. Thats my ten cents anyway.

(written in one draft, not checked for grammer or spelling)


Well said, Sly. Well said indeed.


MGK, it’s nice to see someone addressing the basic point these folks always miss: it’s about math. When a few folks to succeed economically, that means most other folks must fail. When you’re entering a game where, knowing nothing else about it, odds are 10:1 that you’re not going to win, blaming you for losing is kind of an unutterably douchey move. I’ve written a bit about some of these issues at my blog, with a spin on it as to how it relates to gender issues. Good to know one of my favorite bloggers is fighting the same fight.


A few years back Glenn Beck said lots of stupid stuff. I actually read some of it, as much as I could stand. He doesn’t make as much money or have as much clout these days, but he still makes a living being an “entertainer”.

Sounds like this guy is another Glenn Beck. Do I rely on one person to decide things for me so I don’t have to, or do I waste my time and attention (and ultimately lend weight to) reading Marks? Both are losing propositions in their own way, but at least one requires no effort.

FeepingCreature said on December 16th, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Just a note here – the Raspberry Pi ARM-based microcomputer will sell for $25 and be able to plug into a TV.



“A few years ago, Forbes had an article on why men should never marry ‘career girls’ (among other things, a woman who can support herself without you can afford to divorce you).”

I’m kind of surprised. The type of Forbes reader I imagine would be the kind of person who also holds the belief that all women make it their goal in life to suck all the money out of men through marriage and divorce.

Dilettante said on December 16th, 2011 at 6:09 pm

It’s interesting this was published; I hear this kind of thing sometimes (it’s possible for some people to work hard and do well, therefore people who aren’t doing well aren’t working hard) but not usually in a major publication (ok, Forbes, but still).

One thing, though: the major error here is also present on the left in defenses for affirmative action programs. That is, setting up a system so that some people have better odds of being one of the few successful people. You still face the same problem that the overall number of poor has not changed & the overall power dynamic is protected. Such programs advantage a few members of minority groups in order to justify the fact that most people in those groups have to deal with miserable conditions. In other words, it still sucks to be poor, still sucks for lots of minorities, but a select few get to escape that fate. (Well, it’s different in Canada with your social net and free health care, but true in the US). Granted, the ethnic breakdown of who is and is not poor may slightly shift, and that’s of some value, but it’s no replacement for substantive change.

So in a way it’s not surprising that this kind of justification bubbles up on the right. It’s only a mirror image of modern left thought – we needn’t really change things, we just need to make sure a few people have a chance. And we don’t need to worry about increasing the overall number of people who can move up economically or about making things better for those who can’t/don’t move up.


Most people on the left generally support broad measures to reduce poverty, in conjunction with affirmative action, don’t they? Certainly it’s fairly standard on the American progressive sites.


That’s actually a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of affirmative action. It originated as a half-measure compromise, something to try and tip the scales back a little bit since paying reparations to descendants of slavery and victims of jim crow persecution was impractical at best. As well, it was an attempt to change attitudes, to actively fight discrimination, since just saying “alright y’all, we won’t discriminate any more” simply did not work.

So yes, it’s imperfect and the right loves to tout their straw man versions of it as some kind of self-righteous proof of how the majority is victimized. It’s meant to be combined with broader anti-poverty measures (that help poor whites too) and other programs that ultimately create a healthier and happier labor force, at the expense of the occasional ivory backscratcher.

Fred Davis said on December 18th, 2011 at 1:54 pm

“setting up a system so that some people have better odds of being one of the few successful people.”

Yeah; no. The better odds you’re talking about as though they’re the worst thing ever are something like a 1-2% chance for a mediocre student to get into a mediocre college – Affirmative Action does nothing but force a college to accept SOME ethnic minorities, which means that the ethnic minority students scoring in the top 1% of grades have guaranteed places at any college they apply to… and in a world where there was no discrimination, that’s what their success rate would be anyway.

Your mediocre ethnic student on the other hand? Yeah, they’re not getting any help from affirmative action, and therefore have less chance .

But I know what you might be thinking; If the system was still especially racist, why wouldn’t The Man (boo!) have some system of affirmative action for white people that actually benefited white people in a way that was similar to affirmative action but oh so more bullshit? And I’m thankful that you thought that and then projected those thoughts into my fillings, because that lets me ride a segway into the topic that never for some reason gets mentioned by the crowd who are always so upset by how unfair affirmative action is – you guys know that Harvard and Yale and the other ivy league colleges in america automatically allows in students who’s parents previously went to those colleges, right? That’s how George W Bush got into yale, and GWB didn’t score in the 1% of top grades of his various demographics, but he had the 50% of parents who had previously gone to Yale, so was allowed in, and those legacy students literally get in at the expense of intelligent students, creating a situation where merely competent high scoring white students have to compete for regular places as fiercely as ethnic students have to compete for AA mandated places.

But I’m sure the real problem here is AA because “it” is the element of unfairness in the system.


Well, I’ve finally read the article in question.

My, the author is a self-important twunt, isn’t he? That’s OK, though, because as a former “poor black kid” from Brooklyn, I’ll throw my hat into the simmering Internet cauldron and add my own critiques.

First things first, this sentence is actually in his frigging byline-“I admit I’m a short, balding and mediocre certified public accountant (biggest downfall: if it’s close enough it’s good enough).”
He’s… he’s admitted to sucking at his job, yet he sees nothing wrong with judging others. It’s like he’s a glass house with arms and the arms are throwing stones in the air above the roof for fun. Does he really think that mediocre black people are allowed to keep jobs!!? I know from experience that the sole way for a “mediocre” black worker to keep his or her job in the private sector is to be the “token” (and tokens are called that for a reason: as blank slates, they’re infinitely interchangeable. I have friends and relatives who have made careers out of replacing the “token”.)

But, let’s go forward.
“If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible.”
I’m speechless, simply speechless. Poor people live with multiple distractions (whether they’re ghetto-bound or countryside-bound. I know, as I’ve lived in both environs.) It’s hard to make good grades a priority if your parents are abysmal (hah hah, crackhead mom and deadbeat dad here). It’s hard to make good grades if your main concern is whether you’re going to be able to eat dinner that day. It’s hard to make good grades when you’re greeted at your local school with the news of a classmate’s death. It’s hard to make good grades when your neighbors have no problem blasting rap, salsa, bhangra and other forms of music as loudly as possible. It’s hard to make good grades when the “coolest” person on your block is trying to recruit you for his gang and you’re weighing the pros (no more public beatdowns, extra money selling crack) and cons (jail, ass rape, death, etc.)

“If I was a poor black kid I’d use the free technology available to help me study./And I would use the technology available to me as a student.”
Aside from D.C., I don’t know of any majority-minority urban area in the country in which free technology is just given to students (also, AFAIK, the laptops for students program fell by the wayside in the capital years ago.) If a family can (barely) afford food, or if the family provider(s) have to work too many hours to make ends meet, the kids aren’t going to have any form of extraneous technology to use! Here’s a newsflash: Some cellphone companies give away smartphones for free with their plans (the owners don’t have enough money to buy them on their own, and most of them can barely afford to pay the minimum balances!
) If they have to scrimp and save and wait for the yearly specials to get a bargain-basement Droid, how the hell are they going to be able to afford a tricked-out laptop? Piracy?

“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./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.”

This, this is simplistic thinking to the extreme. It’s as if he’s never considered the fact that “elite” schools have limited spaces for students. What, does he honestly think that the schools would be able to accept a few thousand “strivers” per year after accepting their paying students? Or that they’d even want to do so? Never mind the fact that the majority of their scholarship students are “student athletes” (IOW, the type of student that will eventually/hopefully be featured on the back page of the local paper wearing a sports jersey, or on a Wheaties box.)

“If I was a poor black kid I would get technical. I would learn software. I would learn how to write code”
Umm, doesn’t the U.S. issue thousands of visas to Hindi and Chinese people every year for the purpose of writing code (with the implicit reason for doing so being that imported workers are cheaper?) If they aren’t hiring white, middle-class, computer-savvy since childhood American workers to do the grunt work, why the hell would they hire black workers who would be (close to) a decade behind the available workers in skill and training? For that matter, even with a boost in salaries, code crunching isn’t anywhere near as profitable or prestigious as any of the other jobs that a person with in-depth computer experience could potentially have. The reason for America’s excessive output of law and finance degrees is directly tied to the fact that computers are boring, less profitable and far less sexy than investment banking or law (if you hit the major corporations in NYC, you’ll see that there’s no end to the amount of I-bankers, stock brokers, lawyers and other businessmen who avoided getting into the research industry because scientists don’t get laid!!! I drink with these people on a regular basis. There are people working for companies like Lehman Brothers and Goldman-Sachs who “get” the jokes on BBT, own lightsabers and can banter about the Higgs-Boson particle, yet they’d never even consider making a living in science (because as I said before, there’s no pussy or prestige or profit in the sciences1). And yet, the author is seriously trying to convince actual poor people to take jobs that are “beneath them” (remember, anyone who’s intelligent enough to code is intelligent enough to sell stock for 10x as much take-home money. Yeah, that’ll work)

In summation, this is what I’ve taken from his “helpful screed”-“Hey, you, n*gga! Yeah, you! Here’s an idea: bust your ass to learn as much information as possible, repeatedly try to enter schools that will reject you for not adhering to the current stereotypes held against black people, spend tens of thousands of dollars to earn a degree that will qualify you to do work that most corporations outsource to cheaper workers, then ignore all of the cushy jobs and devote your life to getting one of the leftover degree-specific jobs that aren’t taken by temporary workers. And if some guy offers you a hundred dollars to hold some drugs for him , go to bed hungry so that you can make my… I mean your future vision a reality. By the way, did I mention that I’m a shitty worker at my own job?”

Eric S. Smith said on December 27th, 2011 at 3:34 pm

It’s worth remembering that in order for a poor black kid to receive all of this useful advice, the poor black kid has to be reading Forbes magazine. You know – as poor black children are wont to do.

One imagines that Gene Marks is pretty sure that their failure to read Forbes is a moral defect and has deservedly led to their present state of poverty.


[…] you – if an argument is gratituously stupid enough I will backslide into mockery (witness my response to that “If I Was A Poor Black Kid” thing a while back). But even then I’ll […]

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