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Earlier this week Forbes contributor, and also (White American) Gene Marks did the unthinkable, and suddenly became a poor black kid. After reading his article it’s clear Mr. Marks has spent little, if any time with poor black kids, and little time considering the true sources of our nation’s achievement gap.

I’m somewhat shocked he didn’t pull the classic “I have two black friends and they’ve been to my house” as a qualifier for how he could suddenly understand the plight of a poor black kid. I’d like to say I’m enraged and taking it the streets with pepper spray but I’m not. I’m inspired by the opportunity to help another human. One whom I don’t believe is genuinely racist but simply unaware of his long time love affair with privilege and the effects this unshakable mistress has left on his life.

Yes Gene, you’re in love with white privilege. But don’t worry, side effects don’t include STDs or anything but regular cases of bold ignorance that might even encourage a white man to write a ridiculous article entitled “If I Was [sic] a Poor Black Kid.”

Perhaps only the antithesis of a poor black kid, a white male, could write such a simplistic article akin to the 1-2-3 home improvement books found in Home Depot – on the steps that a poor black kid should take to become successful. Only someone so unaware to the sometimes crippling effects of discrimination and stereotype threat (see Claude Steele) could write such a profoundly out of touch article.

Unlike you Gene, I’ve not only spent time being black but also time with poor black kids. Real life isn’t like the movies (see Lean on Me) where the poor black kid acts as your favorite protagonist, studying like crazy and suddenly on their way to college.

We won’t eradicate our nation’s achievement gap with the latest technology or just individual hard work. Our achievement gap is deeply rooted in not only racism, classism, and almost every other ‘ism,’ but also many schools’ inability to offer differentiated learning opportunities, and dedicated educators prepared to teach early childhood education.

Why technology alone is not the answer.

“I know a few school teachers and they tell me that many inner city parents usually have or can afford cheap computers and internet service nowadays.  That because (and sadly) it’s oftentimes a necessary thing to keep their kids safe at home then on the streets.  And libraries and schools have computers available too.  Computers can be purchased cheaply at outlets…Professional organizations like accountants and architects often offer used computers from their members, sometimes at no cost at all. “

But Gene, did not your friends also tell you that many of those computers are out of date, few in comparison to the hundreds of kids who need them, and unhelpful without a support system who can guide computer instruction? The simple existence of an in-home computer doesn’t equate to any child’s success. Even yours.

READ: What Being The Black Girl On “Big Brother” Taught Me About “Post-Racial” America

While many Americans still adhere to the old adage ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’, others of us know we’ve ALL received some help. I agree that there’s no substitute for hard work and luck but to close our gap we need a collective effort. Your 1,2,3 approach left out what our parents, teachers and other professionals must do to help. But this shouldn’t be hard to believe, as you noted that your kids have a community and parents who are supporting them down the right path. Kids in low income communities need the same. As David Brooks’ describes in “The Social Animal,” we understand ourselves through other individuals, and we form our identity by reenacting internal processes that we pick up from others.

When we’re living in a country where on average, nine year-olds growing up in low income areas (predominately students of color) are already three grade levels behind their affluent peers, do you really think that shoving a computer in that poor black kid’s hand with no instruction, or support structure is going to be their key out of the ever widening achievement gap?

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Gene you’re not a poor black kid, but a white man with good intentions, just completely unaware of where to put them. Your psyche doesn’t include knowing that some people are intrinsically scared of you because of your skin color, and it probably never contributed to your inability to perform well on a standardized test.

I’m unfamiliar with your efforts to close the achievement gap but if you really want to help, acknowledge your privilege and consistently challenge your personal biases. Stop writing articles and perhaps start a scholarship fund. Join a community board and begin to understand the real issues plaguing these communities. Learn about school leaders like Julie Jackson and organizations like Urban Prep Academies in Chicago. Ask them about the real issues preventing poor black and brown kids from achieving. With just a bit more research, I’m sure you’ll stop dreaming about being a poor black kid and start acting like a white man who finally understands his role in helping to close our nation’s achievement gap.


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Jovian Zayne is a writer, photographer and occasional radio co-host in New York City.  Read more from Jovian on her personal blog Word Up Haay! Join her on twitter via @jovizi for laughs, encouragement and your daily dose of quick wit.

But Gene, You’re Not a “Poor Black Kid,” Now What?  was originally published on