It went viral on that ol' World Wide Web a couple of weeks ago, so it's fitting that the Philly-rooted "If I were a poor black kid..." controversy has slowly filtered its way to the op-ed page of the Daily News:
Wrote Mr. Marks: "So life was easier for me. But that doesn't mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn't mean that there are no opportunities for them. Or that the 1 percent controls the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind. I don't believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed. Still. In 2011. Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia."
Well Mr. Marks, you were right on two counts: it was easier for you, and it's not impossible. The problem that many black youth face, particularly in inner cities, is that they believe it is impossible, and that alone can deter a young person from trying.
Until we as a society are truly ready to have a serious discussion about the state of black youth and the uneven distribution of resources; we will continue to see an alarming number of young people lose their life to the barrel of a gun, get pushed out or passed though the education system, going to sleep hungry or being forced to call prison home.
Actually, what's interesting about this "controversy" is that, in reading the original and all the responses, the most controversial thing is simply that a balding and (inexplicably) successful white guy from the suburbs had the nerve to write a piece called "If I were a poor black kid." On the substance, there's really little disagreement -- just a question on what to emphasize. Most of the critics of Marks' original article actually don't disagree with his point that any child from the inner city who succeeds does so because of resourcefulness and almost otherworldly determination. But they fault Marks for his blase attitude about the social barriers, including crappy uncaring schools.
You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see that the solution is both. Progressives are routinely accused of wanting "equality of outcomes" and certainly a handful do, but in America the majority of liberals want "equality of opportunity." Give children who are poised in life's starting blocks a fair start -- with schools in Philadelphia that offer all the resources that a kid across the border in Lower Merion gets. That way, the ambitious and determined with have a clear path to success, and the uninspired and unmotivated will fall by the wayside. But it won't be because we didn't give a chance to that "poor black kid."