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The Urban Scientist

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If I were a wealthy white suburbanite

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Small Business expert and contributor to Forbes recently wrote an interesting and compelling article, If I Was a a Poor Black Kid. Piggy-backing on the inspiring and truth-telling recent speech of President Obama about the nation's economy, Gene Marks, offers his own high-five to the President plus his own recommendations for how people can gain access to the middle-class. Which got me thinking, what would I do to change the realities of the socio-economic equation of this nation?

If I were a wealthy white suburbanite ... then I would host holiday coat drives for the inner-city children. I would rally others to contribute money to give away free gadgets and gizmos for them. I would sponsor bus rides and offer them free admission to the science museums. I would come and speak to them at their community events and tell them how much more reading and writing and arithmetic they ought to be doing. I would completely insult them, their families, and their communities by not acknowledging how much work is already being done by their parents, their teachers, their neighbors, community organizations, or their churches like the African Methodist Episcopal Church, or civic organizations like the National Urban League or the NAACP or by chapters of National Pan-hellenic Council, that share these very same messages plus physical, fiscal, and spiritual support and have done so for many, many years.

The nerve of him (and so many others) who think they can tell other people not only what’s wrong with them, but also rattle off solutions as if it were as easy as casting seeds unto ground and like magic, new crops will sprout! Instantly. Effortlessly. Easy.

What's got me so annoyed?

You don't know? Other than the fact, this, THIS guy is presenting his thesis to poor black kids about gaining access to the middle-class in which he and his children are so well-rooted, then pull up a chair. Let me count the ways….

1. The author assumes that his nirvana is brand new, as if the fact that poor black inner city kids (or any poor kid, for that matter), have never, ever, never been told to make education a priority or that education is the key to having more options. Yeah, I guess Carter G. Woodson was just talking into a vacuum or heck, their parents, pastors, teachers, and grannies never said it. Thank you so much Mark Genes, for spelling that out! Whew, that great path to opportunity is crystal clear, now.

It takes brains. It takes hard work. It takes a little luck. And a little help from others. It takes the ability and the know-how to use the resources that are available. Like technology.

2. The assumption that he thinks he really is addressing poor black kids, writing under the tent of FORBES Magazine...Yeah, everybody in the 'hood reads that.

3. The presumption that being born to a poor or working class family and being black automatically means your values for achievement, success, ambition are low. Those kids in West Phillies come from communities and have families that want as much as families from his nice neighborhood.

4. He only addresses children in his trope. Why is he only talking to kids, as if they have no parents or other adults in their lives who want the exact same thing for them?!

My mouth fell open as I read line after-line of his recommendations, imparting his values on them and I have seen it in real life, too. Individuals and organizations inserting themselves into the lives of needy children, and completely ignoring or even dismissing the parental guardians in their lives.

Many of these kids don’t have the brains to figure this out themselves – like my kids. Except that my kids are just lucky enough to have parents and a well-funded school system around to push them in the right direction.

Privilege: All day, everyday

Gene Marks has a massive dose of privilege syndrome – of the white and middle-class variety.

My kids have it much easier than their counterparts from West Philadelphia. The world is not fair to those kids mainly because they had the misfortune of being born two miles away into a more difficult part of the world and with a skin color that makes realizing the opportunities that the President spoke about that much harder.

Uh, Mark, your kids have it easier than those West Philly kids because YOU are their father...the same man who writes about Tech and Business for Forbes (the magazine about money and wealth), who is a Certified Public Accountant, and former senior manager at KPMG, and now the owner your own accounting, auditing, and consulting business. Mediocre, my ass!

Gene Marks' privilege allows him to make self-deprecating comments about himself and still be taken seriously as a professional accountant. Yeah, that trick doesn’t work for the poor kids born 2 miles away with darker skin tones. Heck, that trick doesn't work for grown black women with PhDs. I'm smart, I know it and have to reassert that fact often. And the misfortune isn’t the GPS coordinates of where those children were born, it’s about the wealth state they were born into and which neighborhood they occupy which is influenced by the economic resources available to their parents.

Gene Marks (and I have met way too many like him, worked with them, too sadly) has got a really bad case of White (and/or Middle-class) Savior Complex. I think of all of the ways to insult someone, the savior offensive is perhaps the worst and most divisive. Thanks to a variety of experiences and opportunities of being the sole colored person in the room, I am very sensitive of the Savior-to-all-most-unlike-me.

The sense of privilege that he, a multi-generation white middle class guy has to share his awesome wisdom with all of those 'poor black socially-orphaned children out there in the West Phillies of the world’ is astounding. White Daddy has spoken and said you, too, my chillins, can inherit the world, just work, real, real hard for it and maybe you can get a little nibble at the pie in the sky.

Much like the malevolent step-mother in Cinderella who promises the let Cinderella go to the ball, if she does ALL of her chores and doesn't get into trouble, telling someone working hard is all that it takes is only part of the story. Cinderella sadly learned that after busting her hump all day, Step-Mother and her daughters of privilege nix all of her dreams of a fair shot. They throw in last minute obstacles and other excuses of why she still hasn't earned the right to go to the party. Plus, what will she wear and how will she get there?

These heffers were playing bald-headed games.

That's what it's like growing up as a poor black or brown kid in most cities and other economically distressed places in this nation. In other words, there’s more to getting a foot-hold in middle class than simply knowing how to use Google Scholar. There are a number of complex and tangle-ly mazes to maneuver when one is climbing up the socioeconomic ladder. Working hard is important; but let's not be naïve. Gene Marks gives no real mention of the hard road ahead it will be for this kids like – access to a full range of technology, transportation to these those fancy-pants magnet schools. And what about supplies, equipment, oh and perquisite education just not offered at those lousy public schools. You see, no matter how hard a kid tries, when the smartest student from a poor-functioning school district walks into my freshman biology class, I can tell. And from day one, she or he is playing catch-up with the kids who attended those private or suburban school districts.

Are his recommendations for working hard, making good grades, and trying to get into better schools bad? No, not all. It’s just that those recommendations are being made and followed everyday by poor black kids all over this nation. If he (and others like him) want to make a real difference in the lives of these communities, then I recommend working with folks and organizations already in place and leveraging that privilege to get more resources to those poorer parts of town.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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