Outrage over Forbes race column

On Dec. 12, after President Obama delivered a speech on economic inequality in Kansas, Forbes contributor Gene Marks published a column entitled, “If I Were a Poor Black Kid” in which he clearly oversimplified solutions to age old questions of race and poverty in America. Marks recommended a list of technology and educational tips poor black kids should follow to almost magically transform their stations in life.

The post drew more than 500 comments, but they were mostly comments of outrage from black and white readers, as well as authors educating Marks on the challenges of being black, and/or poor, in America.

Akiba Solomon of Colorlines wrote:

“The irony of Marks’s vision is that it’s so thoroughly mediocre. He can flaunt his own ‘I don’t know much about much’ ethos because he’s not a poor black kid. The reality is that to compete in earnest with the children of middle class, white male tech writers, poor black kids (and their brown, Asian and Native American sistren and brethren) have to be beyond excellent.

“Marks could have used technology himself and Googled to find a few of the structural barriers he glances past. In just the past couple of months we’ve seen news that black students get suspended at a far higher rate for the same infractions as white students; that all but four of the students NYPD arrested this summer and fall were black or Latino; and that those poor black kids who evade the police-state in their schools and make it to college aren’t finding Marks’s easy-grab scholarships, since one in three of them owe more than $38,000.”

Kelly Virella of Dominion Of New York wrote:

“The problem is that Marks seems to think it’s okay to require black kids to be ‘special’ to ‘succeed.’ I don’t. The economic and social policies that require black children to be ‘special’ to succeed in America made a lot of sense to the racist lawmakers who designed them during Reconstruction. When they sat down after the Civil War to decide how freed slaves and southern whites would interact, Congress explicitly rejected proposals to level the playing field between them…”

Another Forbes.com blogger Kashmir Hill questioned whether the Forbes.com payment model rewards writers who bait readers with offensive material. She wrote:

“Gene Marks has proved to be pretty awesome at trolling the Internet. He wrote a post shortly after Steve Jobs’s death about how he was a jerk, and another about how most women will never become CEOs. Like his current post, these produced a lot of outrage — and also a lot of traffic. Marks’s current piece would have been far less offensive had it not been about race..”

Cord Jefferson wrote on Good.is:

“You find this sort of thing a lot among the white, moneyed, conservative set: “If only blacks and Latinos would work harder, they’d be fine.” I don’t think Marks and people who think like that are malicious, but I’d love to ask them how best to focus on your studies when all you can think about is the very real possibility that your mother is being assaulted in the bedroom where you’re supposed to find sanctuary at night. How best to prioritize learning to read rigorously over scheming to get home and be the man of the house in the stead of the father who left? How best to find joy in school with so much hate and bitterness poisoning the rest of your life?”

DNLee wrote on ScientificAmerican.com:

“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.”

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