Hey Gene! What about the poor white kids?

At a certain point, it gets really tiring having people who have never experienced a moment of poverty pontificate about poverty and how they would deal with it. Of course as a Black woman, I get even more bugged by upper middle class white folks who appear to have the cure for what ails poor brown people. To that I say: Really? Then why haven’t you helped out poor white folks?
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See, if you were a Martian who landed in the United States and turned on the news, you would assume that most of the poor in this country are Black. Never mind that Blacks are still a minority, nope the take away would be “wow those Black folks are sure as shit deficient.” It seems the women can’t find mates, the men are either locked up or having closeted gay encounters, and they don’t have jobs, and on and on it goes. There are bits of truth in that but let’s be clear it’s not the entire truth by a long stretch.
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Yet it’s what creates buzz, as Gene Marks a writer for Forbes this week did with his piece “If I was a Poor Black Kid”, well the internet put the smack down on Mr. Marks and handed him his ass. None of what Marks said was particularly inspired and frankly much of it has been said before; problem is Marks is not a poor Black kid, nor was he a poor White kid and his so-called advice came from a douchebag paternalistic place where in the end anything good turned into that wawa voice from Charlie Brown…just static.
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I don’t want to spend much time on Marks and that piece, what I do want to discuss is, how is it that Marks appears ignorant of the fact there are plenty of poor white kids in the U.S.? See, thanks to being a black girl in Maine who works in social services I see em daily. In fact due to my move here almost a decade ago, I often joke in many ways I have become an ally to poor whites. Not something you expect from someone with an undergraduate degree focused in African American studies whose professional aspirations were to get a Ph.D. in African American Studies and whose major area of interest was media representations of Black women. Not exactly the poster girl for championing poor white issues. Funny thing though the universe moved me to Maine and my eyes were opened wide.
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Turns out many of the behaviors that pundits, sociologists and others ascribe to poor Blacks are identical in poor whites. Down to men who just leave, though one odd twist that I have seen more of in Maine (so not sure how prevalent it is elsewhere) is moms leaving. More than a handful of families have come across my path where it’s dad and kids, or dad and a new lady who is not bio-mom.
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Now schools in rural states like Maine may not rival an inner city school in say my hometown Chicago, but in less moneyed communities the schools don’t have a lot to offer. To be honest the schools aside from say the metal detectors looks identical.
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The thing is why is so much damn time spent on highlighting differences? Why can’t people like Marks look broader and think about poor kids in general? One of my growing pet peeves is how people section off the poor, yes there are some historical differences but in modern times, poor people and especially poor kids need help. They all need access to good schools, healthcare, they need parents who are in good shape and ready to parent. Drugs? Well drug use runs rampant in white communities too, very much like the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s and 90’s…drug of choice in communities that I serve trend towards prescription pills and meth and even the new bath salts. Here in Maine drug stores like CVS and Rite-Aid get robbed on a weekly basis. Yet aside from a few pieces here and there, the spotlight doesn’t shine much on this crisis. As I have said before on this blog the worse part of my job is because this is a predominantly white and rural state, funding for programs like the one I run are harder to come by. Never mind that with each passing year, the numbers of people we serve are on the rise.
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To some degree I believe we are all still stuck in the days of yesterday where it’s easier to see race as a barrier rather than class. We need to start having an honest dialogue and talk about the fact that poverty and its ripple effects are bad for all kids, not just poor Black kids!

6 thoughts on “Hey Gene! What about the poor white kids?

  1. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. It is absolutely bizarre to me how often race is conflated with class in the national discussion. But then again, the idea of using race as a wedge to preserve class hegemony runs deep in this country. When the poor are the majority (and increasingly so), it’s a convenient red herring to keep everyone intent on faulting each other lest they work together to improve shared conditions. (Hello, Occupy).

    I don’t know if you saw this other unholy piece of s*** but maybe this is the poor white Maine corollary: http://thecollegeconservative.com/2011/12/13/my-time-at-walmart-why-we-need-serious-welfare-reform/ but it’s a pretty good example of how quickly some people are willing to a)judge and b) assume the worst about each other. If this little chicky’s so proud of herself for “toughing it out” working at Walmart I doubt she’ll ever understand that for some people just living day to day is a harder job than she’ll ever have.

    • That article is an example of a young person who lack perspective and lacks a grasp of history. That young lady needs to be in the working world a little bit.

      BGIM, I’m with you 100%. This is why ALL working class people need to build alliances as working people and stop buying into your own belittlement. Racism hurts our common cause as working people, as does sexism, homophobia, classism and every means to divide that greater 99% from each other.

      Now I’m not saying that difference don’t matter, on the contrary we as working people MUST LEARN EACH OTHER. We must embrace our differences instead of trying repeal each other with them. Solidarity is our only option.

  2. I absolutely loved reading this and I love that you wrote this! Circumstances, whether bad or good, can affect any of us. The idea that all black kids are poor and all white ones are rich has always driven me nuts but it comes down to education, experience, and examples. Growing up in a sheltered community can limit exposure to any of those things. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Great piece. I had never heard about the bath salts until I read this! What will they come up with next?! I totally agree with you, there color of poor is now “multi” and people need to start realizing this!

  4. I agree with all of the above comments. Race is DEFINITELY a red herring used to distract from the real problem of poverty and class inequality in America. I argue with my fiance about this all of the time (he is 17 years my senior and a little old school as far as his opinions regarding race.) Either way, as long as we focus on our differences gay/straight; Repub/Dem; Black/White; etc. – people will forget that there is a small percentage that is making off with 99% of the wealth. It reminds me of the children’s book, The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss.

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