Just when I was ready to accept that Gene Marks’ controversial “If I Was a Black Kid,” column — which has since changed its title to “If I Were a Black Kid,” to reflect the obvious need for the subjunctive tense — was little more than the writer’s desperate attempt at trolling for pay-per-click pageviews, he decided to re-ignite the debate by responding to criticism. First, take a look at an excerpt from one of the more humorous responses to Marks’ original piece: “Letter From a Poor Black Kid,” written by Baratunde Thurston, Director of Digital for The Onion.

Before your article, I never wanted anything more for myself. I used Google (thanks for the tip!), found the names and addresses of the school admissions officers, and showed up outside of their homes. It’s like they were waiting for me. They smiled, waved and immediately told me about their secret scholarship programs.

Private school was exactly like you said it would be. I went straight to the guidance counselor, and I said, “You know everything there is to know about financial aid, grants, minority programs and the like.”

And she said, “I sure do! And even though I don’t know your name, I’m going to help you get summer employment at a law firm or a business owned by the 1% where you could meet people and show off your stuff.” I love showing off my stuff, sir. You have no idea.

I took more of your advice. I got “technical.” I had no idea I could get technical. I learned software!

From there it was just a quick hop to a top college, marketable skills and an immediate job offer from a businessman starved for talent. Did someone say recession? I can’t see it!

Ah, the beauty of satire. But instead of taking the hint that his original suggestions were unrealistic, Marks responded to Thurston’s letter with one of his own. Here is an excerpt from that response:

What do I know about being a “poor black kid?” Absolutely nothing. I’m a middle class white guy. But I went to school. So I know about that. And I’m in the business of technology. So I know about that.

How can any inner city kid even have the chance to overcome the inequality that our President spoke about and have a chance at some opportunity?

1. Study hard and get good grades.

2. Use technology to help you get good grades.

3. Apply to the best schools you can.

4. Get help from a school’s guidance counselor.

5. Learn a good skill. This is what I said in my blog. I said this wasn’t easy. It’s brutally hard. And, unfortunately, it’s not funny.

Will any of these kids read what I wrote in Forbes? Probably not. I’m hoping that educators, bloggers and most importantly parents do. Because it will be very tough for any kid to do it alone.

This response is the very essence of “not getting it.” I have to at least give Marks a few points for grasping that, as a comedian, of course Thurston was using satire to make light of a serious problem and skewer Marks’ crappy piece along the way. As before, that’s all I can give Gene Marks credit for (and frankly as a grown man who calls himself a writer, I shouldn’t even be giving him that much). Not only does this nimrod miss the point yet again, but he reiterates everything that we already know — that working hard will help young people succeed — while ignoring the real problem with his original piece: he is saying nothing useful or well-informed, and in doing so is being blatantly offensive.

My favorite part of this whole thing is that Baratunde and I have something in common. We both attended our cities’ most elite high schools, and then went on to Harvard. My Philadelphia high school, J.R. Masterman, is even one of those mentioned by Marks as he lists the places where poor black kids should be clamoring to attend. Having this in common, we both recognize something firsthand that I think most black people also understand from sheer common sense: we’re all not going to go to Harvard. There is no way that every or even most inner-city youth will be allowed to attend Central or Masterman or Sidwell Friends, and certainly not on any special secret minority scholarships. It’s nice to think that if you were a poor black kid you’d try to be one of the “successful” ones, but guess what? People are already doing that. When I look at my private school class photo, as I’m sure does Baratunde, I see that there are only two other black kids in the picture for a reason — because that’s how many the school wanted there. Opportunity is limited by race, class, and a complicated set of factors stemming from each. This is how our country works. So what kind of solution is “work hard, rise above,” for the masses? Why, when 1 out of 2 Americans are living in poverty or near-poverty, has Marks chosen to make this a black issue? Why doesn’t he grasp any of this or know when to quit?

Marks will publish a follow-up to his piece on Forbes.com this Monday. Can’t wait.


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