The Problem with ‘Poor Black Kids’ (According to ‘Forbes’)

Forbes columnist Gene Marks tells what he would do to succeed if he were a poor black kid. Except, he's white

“If I Were a Poor Black Kid…”

The title of the column written by Forbes contributor Gene Marks, who happens to be white, is getting the side eye from many in the Black community today. In his column, posted yesterday, Marks says he was inspired by a speech President Obama gave in Kansas about inequality in America. It began to make the author, self-described as a “a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background,” think about how much easier he and his children have it when compared to, say, kids in the inner city of West Philadelphia. But, Marks says, there are still ways that poor black kids can succeed in America. If he were a poor black kid, for example, he would “use Skype to study with other students who also want to do well in my school.”

So, in some ways, we guess he means, “If I were a poor black kid who had a computer at home so I could Skype my other classmates who could also afford a computer?”


LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK: Is Marks on point with his commentary or totally out of line?

Then see our rebuttal: “If I Were a Rich, Privileged White Kid,” by Alfred Edmond, Jr.

  • Dena brown

    This person is not only disconnected he is not in touch with the real world. Not everyone can afford a computer they go to the library afterschool and have a time limit. There is no skyping. Once again there is another know it all that knows nothing.

    • Gregory Reynolds

      Too some degree I agree with you but we continue to make the excuses of what we don’t have but I bet you that same kid has a smart phone (ie iPhone, Android) that has a skype and facebook app. There’s also the library with computers and if they don’t use Skype because of video cameras not available they can at least go to to learn the things they may not be getting taught at school that can give them a leg up. There are also community centers and even United Way so we have to stop defending why and provide answers as to how.

      • Dee S. Knutts

        G.R. I don’t see excuses in that particular reply, I see “TRUTH”. You have a point when you say “I bet you that same kid has a smart phone” but did you know that most black kids want to perpetrate the things or trends that they see? Most of them smart phone that you think that have a ‘pay as you go’ type of phone, so some features that are on most smart phones are not included in cricket phones, unless you pay for it.

        Just like any generation of kids that follow trends, you have some young black youth that, unfortunately, glorify what looks cool or whats considered “in”. Just think if the environment that they lived in demonstrated and instilled in them a culture of hard work, being educated, and doing for self as well as others could possibly do for them….They have bad role models and poor excuses for standards to go by. So when all they see is the garbage that’s around them as being the norm, they will continue to reproduce that same garbage as they grow. Some “poor” young black men have no out look on life and consider it lucky to make it past their 25th birthday…..I believe that it’s all in the choices that you make regardless of your circumstances.

  • irma vaughan

    Let them continue to look at poor little black kids cause they will always attempt to analze them hoping to learn how can they still become a success when this country year after year promote policies that should guarantee their failure. A most famous man said jusge another by the content of their heart not by the color of their skin his name was Martian Luther King See Blk Enterprise that man cant see that poor blk kids soul and thats what scares him CreatIve Genius is not frm a computer but frm the heart. He need skpe poor black kids have soul. They will succeed

  • Victoria Shantrell

    The author said nothing new or thought provoking. He pretty much stated what has occurred time and time again and what will continue to exacerbate the huge chasm between the have and the have-not even within the Black community. In June 2011 and at the age of 22, I graduated from Stanford University with my BA and MA; I was one of those poor Black kids from a single parent household and all the other typical circumstances who “made it.” I pretty much did exactly what the author suggested but the thing is: I was going to succeed no matter what. And the poor Black kid that reads this article is going to succeed no matter what and all the other poor Black kids who have potential to succeed if the right sort of support and resources were provided will continue to be left behind and continue to be amongst the underclass. Without fixing the system– the system being a broken educational system as well as a broken society that continues to allow gross inequality and blatant racial and class discrimination to exist– we will continue to only give the most brilliant of poor Black and brown kids the access that a large portion of the most average (if not below average) white and middle-class children have. Those top-performing charter and magnet schools have a fixed amount of spots. Those elite private schools with financial have even fewer spots and often provide the spots that are open to athletes. Thus, the system as is, is designed to allow access and opportunity to only a very limited amount of those from underprivileged backgrounds. We should not being learning how to play within this system; those with power and privilege as well as those adversely affected should be challenging the status qua and demanding change. Complacency (tips on how to win rather than change) is the enemy.

    At the end of the day, the author pretty much said this: “Poor Black kids if you want to make it in this country, you need to brilliant, exceptional, and have way more drive and potential than we expect from our own children; if you have more ambition and are more mature than my own children you just might get the opportunity to work for me and my friends.” This is nothing new; this is the burden of being Black; some call it a Black tax; I just call it life.

    I just hope that in my lifetime we have people who rather write articles and spend their energy making the opportunities for all children better rather than telling us how to make it in this cruel and unfair game.

    .. (excerpt from another comment I made about the article)
    But, I must also say that we Black folk have to be active participants in this change. We need not only be involved in the politics; we also need to look at some of the socio-cultural agency we possess as well. Although the educational system is currently broken, we can be using the resources that are available to us more effectively. Yes, I know mamas with 2-3 jobs be tired when they get home and just want to relax but they should make time to check to see if their child did their homework. Even if the mama don’t know if the answers are right or wrong, just showing that you believe it’s important is better than not showing any interest at all. If you have a computer in the house with internet, you should spend time with your high school student on it looking up colleges they’re interested in attending rather than just letting them sit there and facebook, download music, AIM, and watch WorldStar. And if you don’t have a computer or internet, you should be thinking about getting that before you go ahead and rent a Wii or buy an iPhone or cop new J’s , etc. We do have to start prioritizing our success better. In 2012, there are a lot of resources that are at our disposal; we gotta take advantage of them.

    Complacency is the enemy no matter if it’s coming from a government agency or an individual.


    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.

      Speaking as another one of those poor black kids who got the right support and would likely have succeeded no matter what (I was identified as academically gifted as a 4-year-old in the Head Start program), I totally agree with you. I’ve met the author, Gene Marks, and believe that he wrote his blog with good intentions. However, Marks is simply, well, off the mark.

      Remember the funny, but bitingly accurate, comedic commentary of Chris Rock: “[My only three black neighbors are] Mary J. Blige, one of the greatest singers of all time, Denzel Washington, one of the greatest actors of all time, and Jay-Z, one of the greatest rappers of all time.” His white neighbor? “A dentist. And he isn’t like the greatest dentist in history either. I had to host the Oscars to get that house — a black dentist in my neighborhood would have to invent teeth.”

      The truth is, we still ask black people, and black children in particular, to be exceptional, just to gain the rewards that are equal to, and often less than, the rewards that average, ordinary, even mediocre white people can take for granted.

      • Gerard Head

        I too was a poor black kid growing up. I was the only one of my child hood friends to graduate high school, and go through life thus far without having a criminal record; and go on to graduate from college, and now have a nice career as an IT Engineer and a small business owner. Its plan and simple, “opportunity plus preparation equals success”. I understand the challenges of growing up without the greatest support system at home; I didn’t have the best support system at home either. Those kids have to find something in themselves, and say, “I deserve something better, and I am going to work as hard as I can to achieve something greater because life can be way better than this”.

        • Alfred Edmond, Jr.


          A kid can’t say he deserves something better unless: 1. he knows what better is and 2: he is convinced that to the degree that better exists, he does, in fact, deserve it. The vast majority of poor black kids, and most kids of color in our nation’s failed and failing public schools, are told the exact opposite both directly and indirectly by teachers, parents, peers, media (including Forbes) and their very environment. Black people who made it out and achieved success didn’t do it because we chose to be exceptional, but because we were the exceptions. The vast majority of kids will only see and believe the truth and reality the people around them endorse.

          • Gerard Head


            I knew a better existed; maybe it was my imagination from watching movies, and saying, “these people aren’t living like me”, and me wondering what else the world had to offer. I knew the changing of my environment when I went off to college would be my opportunity. I did choose to become exceptional. I chose not involve myself in criminal activities when some of my friends chose to.

      • Reda StCyr

        Excuse me but No one writes for Forbes, with good intentions towards people of color Trust me!

    • Reda StCyr

      Very well said my brother I to was one who got away an kicked the doors to these unfair systems open I was one who came from the hood an made it all the way to the top levels of Govt but it was never an easy ride I spent 36yrs, fighting an unfair system, that now wants to dismantle a system that somehow mistakenly allowed a few of us, slip through the cracks It should never happened an the game now is to make sure even fewer of our kids make it!

    • T. Brown

      I also grew up in a “poor” household on the south side of Chicago. Had the “bad” school, gang infested neighborhood, and an average GPA upon graduating high school. After that, I CHOSE to enlist in the Army and “be all that I could be” like the commercial said at the time. I somehow made it through 20 plus years with all of my limbs and a sound mind. Benefit= college degree paid for, pension for life, and access to entitlements that my service has provided for me all courtesy of Uncle Sam. The downside is that midway through my career I was chosen to be a representative for the Army as recruiter. I spent the last 10 years of my career trying to convince young black kids that in life, you may have to make decisions to better yourself even if it means sacrificing your life to serve the country. Most of what I ran into was the glorification of what you see on BET rap videos: Weed, Materialism, promiscuity, and irresponsibility. I was disappointed that I could not make a difference with the youth, but I slowly came to realize that if you want better you will do better to elevate your current situation. The only blame goes toward you when you fail to challenge yourself and learning that you get a better appreciation of life if you WORK your way to what you want….IT TAKES TIME.

  • Reda StCyr

    So Mr Right Wing Forbs, with your super smart ass After all the accomplishments you mentioned are accomplished by young black kids an they continue to be denied opportunities, in favor of young Whites with less abilities then they do an all the hard fought civil liberties an rights to protect them are snatched away by you rich White folks who don’t see a need for them What then Mr Forbes? This happens over an over an over, while you use you high priced disgusting magazine to promote your warped views on why many of us are not successful, all while you do all that you can to make sure it continues
    Go to hell, along with your view of the problem with poor Black kids! Oh an should you not want to post this Don’t worry about it because I’ll see it get a proper audience My way!

  • Former Yankee

    I don’t take issue with Gene Marks remarks because he is trying to understand the plight of poor Black children. I appreciate his desire to understand. It doesn’t mean he’s unrealistic or that he has no clue. I didn’t grow up poor or in a Black neighborhood and I am Black, and I too, don’t completely understand the plight of many, Black or otherwise. If you haven’t been through it, you don’t know. Keeping it real, I have somewhat of a desire to know the plight of others and I choose to understand and help who I want. We (Blacks) must open our minds as well to constructive input and criticism and use it for as much as it’s worth. With respect to computer access, there are several ways a child can have access to a computer in a free public school and public library system. But they and their parents have to make it happen even if it means having to go the extra mile for themselves or their child. I go countless miles to make sure that my children are at the top of their game which is why they are all outstanding students and they will accomplish great things in their lives. We must stop making excuses or finding fault in a free country that has so much available to us. Just imagine if we lived in a third world country or island.

  • New York New York

    At what point will poor black women stop having so many unwanted children in the Black Community? Statistically, African American females with comparable education have fewer children then their white counterparts. Therefore, I think we should all agree that education is important.

    As an African Male who supported his own three children, I think society is at a point where they are tired of bothering themselves with someone else problem children!! In this global economy these kids are being left far far behind there piers from other countries. The final analysis is, the people who need them the least are having the most and they have nothing to give them! “The have nots will continue to have not”!

    • Karon

      I say as a tax payer I’m being bothered with so many things that I may not want to be a part of but to live in a civil society a structural-functional approach most be present. All parts of society most work together to promote equality, solidarity and stability for all humanity. “I am my brothers keeper”

      • T. Brown

        @ Karen…your comment is the very essence of what America is supposed to be about!

  • Damu

    @ Lana:почему ужас? Mag’an o’te unaiydı. Qazaqstan (Qazaqstan Respublikası) — Evraziya irgeaitinmn’ ortasında jaylasqan ma’mleket. Arqa jag’ında Rossiya Federatsiyası menen (6 467 km), qubla jag’ında Tu’rkmenstan (380 km), O’zbekstan (2 300 km) ha’mde Qırg’ızstan (980 km) respublikaları menen, shıg’ısında Qıtaymen (1 460 km) sheklesedi, batısta Kaspiy ten’izimen, on’tu’stikte Aral ten’izimen shayıladı. Jer ko’lemi — 2717,3 mın’ sharshı kilometr. a0|a0

  • Karon

    I’m in utter disbelief to think that someone could even believe that a black child academic success is based on Skype communication. So, to improve conditions of the public schools,teacher that are in urban areas who really care about these disenfranchised children, nutrition, resources to improve daily life most not be a factor in his, so called brilliant analysis.

  • that white guy

    here’s an idea, How about if the black community (with a few notable exceptions) quits acting as though everyone, and especially whites, owe them something. Your forebears were sold by your fellow blacks to europeans. If they had not been, you would be in Africa with all of the famine, war, plague, and death that goes with that. How you got here sucks and says horrible things about the europeans of that time period. The africans that invaded spain did things to the spaniards that sucked and painted a horrible picture of africans…… the difference is that you don’t hear spaniards crying out for reperations or apologies from the 6x great grandkids of those african slavers. You want people to quit locking their doors and clutching their purses? Crossing the street and not meeting your eyes? QUIT HATING US FOR SOMETHING YOU NEVER EXPERIENCED!!!! Quit acting like the savages you say we treat you as. Quit calling that white bouncer “Aryan Nation” because you can’t be bothered to learn his name. Quit assuming that the white guy/girl taking issue with your volume, or the volume of your music, or your crass language, or your poor grammar, or the fact that you’re taking up both lanes or an entire sidewalk…is taking issue because you’re black. They’re taking issue because you are culturally IN-CON-SID-ER-ATE. This means that you don’t take others’ potential reactions to your actions into consideration before doing what you do.