ROUND-UP: Critiques Of Controversial Forbes Piece

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UPDATE: Forbes Staff Writer Kashmir Hill writes that she felt the column Gene Marks wrote was offensive.

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“As soon as I saw the title, I groaned. “This is going to be offensive,” she wrote in a blog post. Hill also mentioned that Marks is one of 850 plus Forbes writers whose work often posts without any editorial review.

She continued by saying he is paid based on page views and return visitors, thus his outrageous headlines that are bound to generate massive hits. And it worked, Hill notes. But she asked a very relevant question as it pertains to pay for controversy type of stories: Is it worth it?

Read the rest of her post here and give us your thoughts below.

Gene Marks of Forbes.com really riled up the Internet with his highly-charged commentary of the state of poor, black children in America. So far his column has generated 9,400 Tweets, more than 9,200 Facebook “likes,” 979 Reddits, and more than 91,000 page views on his Forbes page alone.

But Marks has other precincts of the Internet abuzz as well.

Michael Denzel Smith on TheGrio says Marks column was doomed to fail from the start:

The problem starts with the title “If I Were a Poor Black Kid.” Marks isn’t a poor black kid. And he made no attempt to understand what it actually means to be a poor black kid in the West Philadelphia neighborhoods he mentions. He imagines that if he were a poor black kid, he would act as a middle-income white man. It’s condescending, insulting, misguided, ill-informed, and just plain stupid.

Marks has no idea what he would do if he were a poor black kid. I gather, from his writing, he doesn’t know many poor black kids either. That doesn’t preclude him from having an opinion. But his article revealed his distance from the lived realities of poor black children and a failure to do one basic thing that would have helped him tremendously: talk to a poor black kid.

Elon James White, writing for TheRoot, had a more satirical response to Marks:

Wait — poor black kids should learn how to read? Get the eff out of here! Where was this man all these years?! Learn how to read? Now he tells us! Sir. If you’re going to hold these secrets and just spring them on us randomly like this, you’re going to have to give a warning so we can prepare for the sudden increase in knowledge our poor brains can’t handle, sir.

Knowledge. I need to print this article and do an airdrop over poor neighborhoods. Make it rain WhiteLove™ knowledge for those poor black children.

Sorry. I momentarily blacked out because of my own ridiculous amount of sarcasm.

But do you see where I’m going here?

Akiba Soloman of Colorlines used Marks’ own recipe for success against him saying he should have done some Googling of his own:

The irony of Marks’s vision is that it’s so thoroughly mediocre. He can flaunt his own “I don’t know much about much” ethos because he’s not a poor black kid. The reality is that to compete in earnest with the children of middle class, white male, tech writers, poor black kids (and their brown, Asian and Native American sistren and brethren) have to be beyond excellent. And they still might not get the fucking scholarship. Hell, they might not even have a secure, safe place to live. (Thanks subprime housing market!)

Marks could have used technology himself and Googled to find a few of the structural barriers he glances past. In just the past couple of months we’ve seen news that black students get suspended at a far higher rate for the same infractions as white students; that all but four of the students NYPD arrested this summer and fall were black or Latino; and that those poor black kids who evade the police-state in their schools and make it to college aren’t finding Marks’s easy-grab scholarships, since one in three of them owe more than $38,000.

Brande Victorian of Madame Noire gave a more balanced response:

On one hand, the idea of not letting any circumstances get in your way that Marks is proposing is a good one, but on the other, it speaks to the disconnect the majority of white America has when it comes to understanding the complexities of life as a poor black kid. It’s not that these children don’t want to be helped, it’s that they are vulnerable to less-than-desirable circumstances that have an influence on their lives that is often much greater than the seven hours or so they spend in school each day. And unfortunately, that negative influence wins in too many instances. When all is said and done, you could do everything Marks suggested and still not get anywhere because of a little thing called institutional racism, which he neglected to discuss.

Some critics, like James Crugnal of Mediaites, says the self-described “middle-aged white guy” should stick to the tech stuff and leave the social issues discussions for the more-informed:

Marks ignores that many of these urban school districts suffer from serious economic shortfalls and red tape. Many lack the essential resources necessary to help kids of all races succeed. As a quick aside — SparkNotes? Really? Come on, when I was a high schooler, I used those as slacker tools, not because I genuinely wanted to learn the material.

Poor black kids aren’t blind to the realities that surround them. They have to deal with them every day. Many of their families are struggling to put food on the table. Marks should stick to bashing smartphone apps and leave those kids alone.

But DNLee from Scientific American says we shouldn’t really be surprised by Marks’ commentary. In fact, she says it’s pretty typical:

Gene Marks’ privilege allows him to make self-deprecating comments about himself and still be taken seriously as a professional accountant. Yeah, that trick doesn’t work for the poor kids born 2 miles away with darker skin tones. Heck, that trick doesn’t work for grown black women with PhDs. I’m smart, I know it and have to reassert that fact often.  And the misfortune isn’t the GPS coordinates of where those children were born, it’s about the wealth state they were born into and which neighborhood they occupy which is influenced by the economic resources available to their parents.

Gene Marks (and I have met way too many like him, worked with them, too sadly) has got a really bad case of White (and/or Middle-class) Savior Complex. I think of all of the ways to insult someone, the savior offensive is perhaps the worst and most divisive.  Thanks to a variety of experiences and opportunities of being the sole colored person in the room, I am very sensitive of the Savior-to-all-most-unlike-me.

I think most black folks reading this post would agree with you DNLee. But let’s talk about this Savior-to-all-most-unlike-me syndrome many folks of fairer skin tend to have towards the “darker natives” of America.

Do you know a white savior who has all of the solutions for black America, but whose most common interaction with black people is likely the janitor at their job?

Sound off!

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