‘If I Were A Poor Black Kid’ Dude Responds to Baratunde Thurston’s Satirical Letter

Despite all the controversy, Gene Marks still thinks that if poor black kids in Philadelphia study hard and apply to the best schools they'll turn out fine.

By Jorge Rivas Dec 15, 2011

After Forbes contributor Gene Marks wrote the controversial column entitled, "If I Were a Poor Black Kid," writer and Director of Digital for The Onion, Baratunde Thurston responded with "Letter from a poor black kid" on CNN’s In America blog. On Thursday Marks responded to Thurston.

And an unapologetic Marks dug himself in to an even deeper hole. Below is his letter addressed to Thurston. (Followed by an excerpt of Thurston’s letter that prompted the response.)

Hi Baratunde,

Thanks for your piece – I thought it raised great points and continued the discussion. I wish you success with your new book too. And I read The Onion every day.

What do I know about being a "poor black kid?" Absolutely nothing. I’m a middle class white guy. But I went to school. So I know about that. And I’m in the business of technology. So I know about that.

How can any inner city kid even have the chance to overcome the inequality that our President spoke about and have a chance at some opportunity?

1. Study hard and get good grades.

2. Use technology to help you get good grades.

3. Apply to the best schools you can.

4. Get help from a school’s guidance counselor.

5. Learn a good skill. This is what I said in my blog. I said this wasn’t easy. It’s brutally hard. And, unfortunately, it’s not funny.

Will any of these kids read what I wrote in Forbes? Probably not. I’m hoping that educators, bloggers and most importantly parents do. Because it will be very tough for any kid to do it alone.

Gene Marks

Below is an excerpt from Thurston’s letter addressed to Marks:

You listed so many different websites and resources, at first it was overwhelming. But I didn’t let that deter me. I thought to myself, "If a successful, caring, complicated, intelligent man like Gene Marks says to do it, then I’d better head over to rentcalculators.org right now!"

I did not stop there. I became an expert at the CIA World Factbook, started using Evernote and made it my goal to get into one of those private schools you wrote about. Before your article, I never wanted anything more for myself. I used Google (thanks for the tip!), found the names and addresses of the school admissions officers, and showed up outside of their homes. It’s like they were waiting for me. They smiled, waved and immediately told me about their secret scholarship programs.

Private school was exactly like you said it would be. I went straight to the guidance counselor, and I said, "You know everything there is to know about financial aid, grants, minority programs and the like."

And she said, "I sure do! And even though I don’t know your name, I’m going to help you get summer employment at a law firm or a business owned by the 1% where you could meet people and show off your stuff." I love showing off my stuff, sir. You have no idea.

I took more of your advice. I got "technical." I had no idea I could get technical. I learned software!

From there it was just a quick hop to a top college, marketable skills and an immediate job offer from a businessman starved for talent. Did someone say recession? I can’t see it!

The amazing part is that I did all of this in two days! All thanks to your article!

I didn’t know any of these opportunities existed. My parents and I were too tired. We were all ignorant, and quite frankly, I could have figured it out sooner on my own if I’d had the brains to do so. Your article provided those brains. It wasn’t about my parents or ways to improve the school system or how to empower the community. It had nothing to do with history or accumulated privilege or social psychology. No, I simply needed to want success more and combine that with technology. You taught me that I can do all this by myself, and I have!

With that one article, you solved the problems of millions. Imagine the good you could do with three or four articles! Please don’t stop with poor black kids! What about children trapped in sex trafficking? How about undocumented migrant workers? And of course, there’s women. Have you ever wondered why there aren’t more women CEOs? I’m sure you have. You’ve thought about everything and figured everything out. You are a great man. Thanks again for teaching me about technology.