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War of words over Philly's "poor black kids" goes viral

If you've ever spent more than 5 minutes on, and you've somehow managed to retain your sanity nonetheless, you've probably noticed that a major thread running through the discussion here is always: Why do so many inner-city kids fail? Is it bad parenting and a lack of personal responsibility, numbing povery, a corrupt and inept school system turned over to the likes of Arlene Ackerman, or some combo, or something else.

Today, that argument went viral on the Internet.

It started with a balding middle-aged white dude named Gene Marks who's an author and business consultant based in suburban Bala Cynwyd and who took it upon himself to write a magazine article with the (I think we can all agree) unfortunate title, "If I Were a Poor Black Kid."

An excerpt:

If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible. I would make it my #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently. I wouldn't care if I was a student at the worst public middle school in the worst inner city. Even the worst have their best. And the very best students, even at the worst schools, have more opportunities. Getting good grades is the key to having more options. With good grades you can choose different, better paths. If you do poorly in school, particularly in a lousy school, you're severely limiting the limited opportunities you have.

OK. But I know what you're thinking right at this moment -- how would an Angry Black Lady respond to Marks? Here's your answer: Courtesy of the blogger known as....Angry Black Lady, proud alum of Philadelphia's Girls High:

I moved from suburban Maryland to Philadelphia in the middle of eighth grade. I went to Jenks in Chestnut Hill for about three months before beginning high school at Girls High. When I started at Jenks, the administration there took one look at me and my skin color and unilaterally placed me in math class with primarily black students. When my mother asked me how math was going, I told her it was too easy. I had done all the stuff they were doing. My mother asked me why I didn't tell the teacher that. I said "But, I did!" (I mostly likely whined it.) I had told the teacher that I knew how to do all the coursework, but she essentially ignored me. My mother had to take off a day of work and go and talk to the principal and my teacher (imagine the look on their faces, when they saw that my mother was white) and basically demand that I be put in a harder math class. Reluctantly, they put me in a more difficult math class (with all the white kids) and ultimately, I got an A in that class. I did well, went on to high school, college, and law school, and the rest is history.

My point is this: Being a poor black child trying to succeed in school is difficult for myriad reasons: lack of resources, parents struggling to put food on the table (often working multiple jobs), teachers paying less attention to black students than non-black students. But being a black child—poor or not—is also difficult because teachers and administrators take a look at you and make assumptions about your intelligence and abilities based solely upon your skin color. In my case, even after I told my teachers and principal that the classes in which they had placed me were too easy, they didn't believe me. It took my mother getting involved and putting her foot down.

The web smackdown has been going viral today, with Angry Black Lady's response the top story on liberal blogs like Atrios and the Daily Kos. And knowing how the world works, I'm sure there's some pushback on conservative blogs in favor of Gene Marks. If you have time, read both pieces and weigh in. My main thought is this: I'm a balding middle-aged white dude, and I've written and done some dumb things over the years, but even I would never write a piece entitled "If I Were a Poor Black Kid." For many good reasons.