Friday, December 16, 2011

If I Were a Poor Black Woman: If I Were a Poor Black Kid Response

Most of you have probably heard or read about the Forbes editorial called "If I Were a Poor Black Kid" written by Gene Marks, a middle-aged White man. It was about his list of things he would do to get out of poverty, including buying an inexpensive computer, using internet resources, making good grades your number one priority, trying to get a private school scholarship etc. Okay, please don't send me death threats...but when I first read it I thought it was a good article with great advice! I thought to myself, if I had those resources growing up I would have done even better in school! Well, there has been TONS of negative feedback about the article. It seemed almost unanimous that people thought the guy was out of touch. I guess that means I'm out of touch too. The feedback made me realize that I can't relate to African Americans in many ways, especially poor African Americans. The first step is admitting it right?

My parents grew up poor in the Caribbean (worse than American poor in some ways) and then came to Canada. They both obtained university degrees (my mother has 2). They were middle class. They always pressured me to do well in school and acted like anything less than an A wasn't good enough (that hurt my feelings at the time but I guess it was for the best). So I worked as hard as I could in school, got an undergraduate degree, master's, and now I'm almost finished my doctorate. So when I read Mr. Marks' editorial I thought about all the ways his advice fits with what I was told in the past what I think would have helped me. A few years ago I actually tried to gather online resources that would be useful for the Black community, so even then I thought using the internet and technology was a great idea that could help us.

I am middle class and I like middle class people and their values. I think Black people make up only 2% of Canada's population, most of us are from the Caribbean (some from Africa), none of our ancestors were enslaved here, and there was no Jim Crow. All the people I know, went to school with, and will work with in the future probably think like Marks too. I think I might get along better with him than many of the people commenting on his post. So what does that mean? Well I think that negative stereotypes about Black women affect all Black women, no matter where they are from, or what class they are in. Because we are a minority group outside of the Caribbean and Africa, we will be categorized as an "other" and the majority will think we are all the same (i.e., they will expect most Black women to be loud, obnoxious, promiscuous, obese, etc. before they even meet us). So that means all Black women need to work on the image of Black women. But it also means that I am giving advice from my personal experience that may be quite different from African American women or women who are poor. Yes, I've read several books about African American history, but that's not the same thing now is it? Also, I'm not planning on joining any community groups or trying to change the system either because I have to focus on my own life right now (just like most people).

Reading the negative feedback made me really notice how much anger and defensiveness there is in some African American people! When I was reading AA history I became angry too and blogs and videos maintained the fire. I became angry about racism and discrimination that holds Black people back even though (despite a struggle) I have succeed at my educational and career goals. I was mad about slavery and blamed all White people even though no one alive today participated in slavery, especially the people in Canada. Online there was so much anger, self-defeating talk, competitiveness, sexism, and extreme negativity! So for a while I stopped reading, commenting, or thinking about Black issues to get away from the negativity. I went back to dating interracially and not limiting my entertainment to Black culture. I just like what I like now and try to look for the good in things rather than rejecting things entirely. I stopped being an angry Black women who didn't have much to personally be angry about. I finally came back to start this blog after seeing that YouTube video by that Ethiopian woman that assaulted the image of Black women. Her negativity made me want to do something positive, in my own way, with my limited student budget, that might help on an individual level (just as Mark's thought his editorial could help on an individual level).

So, am I much different from him? I read things and blog about it. I find things that I like and incorporate them into my life and I share that with everyone. I give suggestions. But I know and acknowledge that many women won't have access to the internet or this blog, and won't have the means to buy new clothes or make-up. But I do provide online resources that they obviously have access to if they are reading this blog (the same thing Marks was probably assuming). People complained that little kids would never read Forbes...but other adults obviously have and have spread it all around the internet. Maybe they could give the article to their kids and see if they are actually overwhelmed by it or it they want to try some of his suggestions. At least maybe they will visit the websites he suggested. If you are not a poor Black kid, how do you know they would reject everything he said? If not a poor Black kid, maybe a middle or working class kid of any ethnicity might like it. In the end though, it was just an editorial, one page of suggestions from one it really such a big deal? What advice would you give to a poor Black kid?

1 comment:

  1. I know this is an old post but I thought I would add my thoughts. I was a single mother living in an undesirable area. We were financially poor. My son applied some of the ideas suggested by Mr Marks. He taught himself how to write code (back then those Internet study aids were not available so he visited software developer forums). I used to wonder if he would ever come out of his bedroom (I laugh now because he is a well travelled man now). He now makes a five figure salary and is in high demand. Meanwhile many of his friends he grew up with have yet to secure a job. I'm here to say it can be done. And by the way he did not go to university or receive any career guidance. He worked and worked until he finally landed a job which was willing to give him the chance to demonstrate his skills. He's 28 and I'm extremely proud of him.