If I Were a Rich White Guy
A Poor Black Kid
Gene Marks, business owner and column writer for Forbes and the New York Times, has written an excellent piece about how I can overcome the massive structural economic and cultural barriers that make it extremely probable I’ll continue to live a life of poverty here in the slums of West Philadelphia.
Marks points out that if I happen to be a good deal smarter and much luckier than most of my “cohort,” as they say in the University of Pennsylvania sociology class that I will never attend, all I need to do is work extremely hard in school, get my hands on some computer technology one way or another, use it to somewhat magically acquire the cultural capital regarding the world of education that Marks acknowledges was a birthright for his own children, and then squeeze some scholarships out of the limousine liberals on the boards of Choate or Phillips Exeter. This will allow me to get into college, which as Marks is well aware guarantees Americans today a solidly middle class — as a writer for Forbes he defines this as a household income of $250,000 per year or higher — lifestyle.
This is just a terrific set of unspeakably useful suggestions for someone in my admittedly daunting social situation. Thanks rich middle-aged white guy!
Now let me return the favor.
If I were a rich white guy, I would also have a lot to overcome. For instance, I’d have to fight constantly against the massive structural economic and cultural forces that would be constantly impelling me to act like a clueless jackass. These include a cultural ideology that somehow gets people who are not developmentally disabled to believe the thesis of your essay, which can not unfairly be summarized as: “If it’s not literally impossible for a black child born into the world of our poverty-stricken, strictly segregated inner cities to escape that world, this fact has great significance for public policy, and should be highlighted for the purpose of convincing people that the social problem of race-based poverty in America can be overcome through individual effort.
Yep, if I were a rich white guy I might actually get paid cash money to write op-ed pieces based on that proposition. Think I’m exaggerating? Check it out:
The biggest challenge we face isn’t inequality. It’s ignorance. So many kids from West Philadelphia don’t even know these opportunities exist for them.
All things considered, I have serious doubts regarding the perspicacity of this social analysis. Because after all, Rich White Guy, exactly how many of the kids in my neighborhood are supposed to go to Choate and Princeton, or for that matter Magnet School and Penn State? What about the 99.9% of the kids in my neighborhood for whom your unsolicited self-improvement plan is utterly unrealistic on so many levels that they’re not even worth listing, since they are, if you’re not someone prone to spouting absurd “advice” that could only be a product of a combination of extreme social privilege and money-sheltered ignorance, too obvious to point out?
Here’s your stirring conclusion:
Technology can help these kids. But only if the kids want to be helped. Yes, there is much inequality. But the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.
Maybe the biggest problem we face really is ignorance.