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I was born to a 17-year old single mother in a housing project in Louisville, Ky. I struggled through elementary, middle
and high school. In fact, I rarely met a school book that I didn't hate. I was, in the words of Forbes Magazine columnist Gene Marks, a "poor black kid."
According to Marks, I was just ignorant, like all the other kids in my "predicament" (I didn't learn to use words like that until I was 40). I didn't know the value of this great country called "America" and all the wonderful opportunities that exist for those of us who are simply wise enough to see them. If only I'd been born a middle class white guy, then perhaps I might be able to see the world for what it really is.
Years later, after stumbling my way to a PhD, I figured a few things out. I realized that men like Marks are actually not much smarter than the rest of us, but that White Supremacy 101 teaches them that they are. You see, the best way to maintain the legitimacy of a two-tiered society which subjugates a minority group into the underclass is to get everyone involved (both you and the oppressed) to buy into the merits of the system. You don't explain to poor black kids that the guns, drugs, horrible educational systems, undeniably biased justice systems and depleted family wealth levels are the reason they struggle: You convince them that they themselves are the problem and that their own inadequacies are the reason that they are having such a difficult time... the same way I used to continuously change the rules of Monopoly to make my sister think she wasn't very good.
No one can deny the value of personal responsibility. Any Baptist minister in any black neighborhood across America explains that one every Sunday. But for some reason, white guys like Marks are allowed to live with the luxury of not having their capabilities battle-tested like black kids from "the hood." They start life on third base and think they hit a triple, sitting on top of a mountain after having been airlifted. There's nothing I love more than a paternalistic white dude who truly believes he's helping black folks by "civilizing us savage negroes." From the elementary school teachers polite enough to tell me that I wasn't as smart as the other kids, to my colleagues at Syracuse who've warned me not to ruin my career by doing "that black people stuff on CNN," I've been dealing with this kind of thing for my entire life.
Marks has never known the experience of a kid in South Central Los Angeles, who dodges neighborhood bullies toting AK-47s on their hips. He will never know the experience of a kid who goes to school every day, makes good grades, and then graduates with a fifth-grade reading level. He will never know what it's like to get into a little trouble as a black teenager who then experiences God-knows-what in jail because his family can't afford a good attorney. He will never know what it's like to live in a society where nearly every system and social construct is designed with a pre-built model for your destruction. Mr. Marks is no different from a Washington Bureaucrat, with no military experience, seeking to micromanage the activities of a soldier on the battlefield.
The stories that Marks tells in his column, about kids who study hard, make use of every opportunity and overcome every obstacle happen every single day. There are tens of thousands of youth (like myself when I turned 18) who find a way around their challenges and become successful. In fact, some of us can even be as great the middle class white guy who's had his life handed to him on a silver platter. But the racism behind Mark's words is communicated by the fact that he seems convinced that the answer to our society's commitment to systematic racism is to somehow mandate that every black child turn into Superman. That's no different from rigging a basketball game and telling the losing team that they should have simply hit 100% of their shots.
Sorry Mr. Marks, only deliberate and legislated changes to our society's infrastructure will make our nation into the beautiful meritocracy that intellectual munchkins like you would like to believe that it is. It took a prolonged effort by our government to create the imbalanced society we have, so it will take an equally prolonged effort to achieve the balance that the founding fathers falsely claimed to create. This country has been cited by the United Nations for numerous human rights violations for maintaining a set of policies which relegate African Americans to the socio-economic basement in nearly every category. In other words, being a white guy has its advantages, and it sickens me when guys like you try to pretend that it does not.
Mr. Marks, stay in your lane. Your article is one of the most racist and silly pieces I've seen this year. But then again, because we live in America, you'll surely be rewarded for your diatribe. Statistical data also indicate that the fact that you are a white male significantly increases the probability that you would be able to recite your ignorance in the pages of Forbes Magazine. You see? The game has always been rigged in your favor.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.