I happened upon a tweet this morning that linked to this article on Forbes.com and I’m not sure why this article was the one that drew me out of my blogging hiatus and not any of the other ridiculous things I’ve read in the past year and a half. But alas I’m here. This article just rubbed me the wrong way for so many reasons that I couldn’t just let it slide. So let me try to summarize the points the author was trying to make and why his point of view just made me itch.
Let’s start with the title
If I were a Poor Black Kid
Why are you calling out black kids like poverty and lack of privilege only know one color? Nothing in his article even dealt with the factors that are tied to race specifically. Everything he called out was more or less about economics and access. Of course he would have likely been even more off base if he would have actually tried to tackle some racial factors because I doubt this guy would have had the subtlety to give the complex issue of race and privilege or lack there of its just due. And I since I need to be writing a term paper not a blog post, I don’t have the time to give it its just due either. (Nothing like procrastination to get the wheels turning on something completely unrelated to what you’re supposed to be doing.)
It’s easy to say what you would do if you were born under completely different circumstances. I can easily say if I were a billionaire I’d donate 75% of my money to starving kids all over the world and give scholarships to all the non-athletically inclined high school underachievers who were pretty smart but just needed a little push (These kids really do kind of get ignored. Someone should do something about this because everyone isn’t gonna be in the top 1%, and if you think they can you probably need to sign up for a course in basic statistics.) But the truth is I have no idea what I’d be like if I had billions of dollars at my disposal and I couldn’t be sure who was my friend because I’m infinitely awesome and who was just there hoping to be my plus one when I got invited to Barack and Michelle’s Easter brunch. Until you walk in someone elses shoes you have no idea how they got that bunion on their pinky toe.
Now on to the finer points of his piece…
He goes on to list all the wonderful things he’d do if he were a poor black kid raised in West Philadelphia. Because if f he were a poor black kid in West Philadelphia of course he wouldn’t be spending most of his days on the play ground, cooling out maxing, relaxing all cool and all or shooting bball outside of the school because of course that’s what kids from West Philadelphia do. TV taught me that. Ok where was I because you know I just sang the whole Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song in my head and lost my train of thought. Oh yea the finer points of his article.
He says he’d do the following:
Get the best grades possible
Make it his #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently
Use the technology available to him
Become an expert at Google Scholar
Visit study sites like Spark Notes and Cliff Notes to help him understand books
Watch relevant teachings on Academic Earth, TED, and Khan Academy
Get free books from Project Gutenberg
Learn to do research at the CIA World Fact Book and Wikipedia to help with his studies
Use homework tools like Backpack and Diigo to help him share work with classmates
Use Skype to study with other students
Take advantage of study websites like Evernote, Study Rails, Flashcard Machine, Quizlet, and other online calculators
Use the internet to better high schools and find out how he could get admitted, find out the names of the admissions person and make it his goal to get admitted to one of the good high schools
OR get a scholarship to a private school
Develop a relationship with the schools guidance counselor
Learn to write code
Make sure his writing skills stayed polished
Well Eureka! He’s totally figured it out! This is a great list of helpful websites. On the real I might see if some of these sites can help me pass this grad school class I’m taking right now.
But how many people reading this blog post, poor kid from West Philadelphia or not, have ever heard of all of the resources he cited? How many of you were that driven when you were between 14-18 years old to seek out that many resources if they would have existed back then? How many rich/privileged kids do you know who are driven enough to seek out that many resources to help them succeed? But this guy is saying that if he were born into the type of circumstances that often land a kid on the other side of the tracks that he would be a super star and seek out every single opportunity at his disposal and overcome all the hurdles that make even seeking these opportunities challenging. Minor distractions like any one of a multitude of bad family situations, poverty, crime, lack of someone who even knows about these opportunities there to tell him about them, not to mention the normal distractions like peer pressure that come with being a kid wouldn’t get in his way, not this guy. He spoke of the parents being able to afford a cheap computer and internet but if his parents couldn’t afford that surely he’d have time to take the bus to the library to use the internet and teach himself to write code, and research scholarships all while possibly working part time to help bring money into the house, and dodging violence just getting back and forth to school. Because if he were a poor black kid he’d be the most super poor black kid ever.
Maybe a poor black kid should write a response and say if I were a rich privileged white kid I’d get drunk and smoke pot every other weekend, blow my parents money on wild spring break vacations in college and still manage to get a decent job because my dad would of course be well connected. It would have just as much, actually more, merit than this guys article.
Basically what I gathered from this article is what I already learned from Chris Rock which is the opposite of what I’m sure the author intended for me to get from this. In one of his routines Chris talks about how got to his neighborhood by being one of the top comedians in the country while his neighbor got there by being a regular old dentist. Yes there are opportunities out there for everyone. Success is possible regardless of the circumstances you were born into. It’s just that some people have to jump through hoops and walk on fiery coals to get to where some privileged white kid can trip and fall and wind up. And of course the guy who tripped and fell into success is going to look at the guy with his feet on fire jumping through hoops and ask them why it’s taking them so long to get to the promised land.
I don’t know anything about the author of that article so I have no idea how much work he had to do to achieve whatever it is that he’s achieved to make him think he’s qualified to tell someone how to overcome all the circumstances they were faced with.But it’s pretty clear based on the things he says that he’s writing from a place of white privilege. He in no way manages to even scratch the surface about why economic inequality is a real problem and without intervention most poor underprivileged kids will remain poor and underprivileged. I wonder how driven this guy actually was when he was a teenager. Did he take advantage of whatever the equivalent of all those resources was back in the dark ages when he was a teen? And I wonder how many high schools in West Philadelphia the author has visited to share his infinite wisdom on how he would make it out of West Philadelphia.
White privilege is real in America and it has real effects, like people writing articles telling us what they’d do if they were a poor black kid. And if white privilege is real then it’s converse is real and needs to be acknowledged. Sitting around blaming people because they didn’t jump through all the hoops or step on all the fiery coals when it is indeed possible to do so is not going to fix the problem. Or should we face the even uglier truth that most people who benefit from white and or economic privilege don’t really want the problem fixed.
Not surprisingly, someone wrote a response to that guys post already. There have probably been several already because, even though I’m sure that article was written to get a bunch of page views, the article was just that ridiculous.