If You Were a Poor Black Kid

This Forbes piece, “If I Were A Poor Black Kid,” has been making the rounds, and I gotta say, it’s cool that a middle-aged white man is interested in putting himself in the minority role, to try it on for size, so to speak. Putting oneself in another person’s shoes, especially when that other person is coming from a position of lack, can facilitate understanding in myriad ways. But, and you knew it was coming, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

For instance, in the article author Gene Marks says: “If I was a poor black kid I’d use the free technology available to help me study.” So, what if said poor black kid doesn’t have Internet access and there’s no one in the home to tell him to go to the library and use the free computers there?

The problem isn’t necessarily in the kid. This article puts a lot of responsibility on this mythical child, when that responsible belongs to this invisible little person’s parents.

Marks says: “If I was a poor black kid I would get technical. I would learn software. I would learn to write code.” That’s silly. Because if you were a poor little black kid you probably wouldn’t have a decent computer, and if you did, again, there likely would be no one to introduce you to the idea that code writing was a viable career for you.

Marks is writing as a middle-aged white man who sees the writing on the wall. He has the distance and the perspective of someone with a considerable amount of experience and exposure, thus his efforts to put himself in this particular pair of shoes doesn’t wash.

He says: “Technology can help these kids. But only if the kids want to be helped. … opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.”

Yes, technology is an answer to the educational ills that plague minority children, but that last bit about being smart enough to go for it? That’s dumb. If you only know what’s within the three- or four-block radius where you live, and your parents aren’t concerned about exposing you, either because they don’t know, don’t care or don’t believe a better life is possible, or all of the above, it’s extremely difficult to want anything more than what you see.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t take some responsibility for their futures. They should! They’ll have to. But sadly that realization may come far later than it should without guidance. The key is as Marks states it: “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.”

Until I read that, the tone of this article brought to mind a stool missing a leg. Without that push, that guidance, if you were any poor kid, your disadvantages would be so great it could take a miracle of mentors, luck, brains and hard work to get you on the right track.

Let’s shine a light on the parents’ role in all this. Educating them is the first step to educating their children.

Kellye Whitney is a managing editor at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at kwhitney@diversity-executive.com.