Hey, I’m a poor Black kid. I just found out this morning that you’ve been talking about me. Sorry I couldn’t respond sooner, but I don’t have access to the Internet outside of school … and even in school we only have computer class once a week in the mornings and the teachers just have us play math games.
Anyway, I heard you all were handing out advice to me and all, which is cool. But, I thought it might be cool to, like, actually share some of what’s going on with me, too, and maybe you could re-think the advice you gave.
See, I’m a poor black kid and I’m about 5 years old about to enter public school. My parents never got married but were living together until I was 3. My Dad was always looking for work and he just couldn’t find anything. My folks started arguing and one day he just up and left. Now the reality is that an African American job applicant with two years of college is 3 times less likely to get a job interview than a White applicant with a high school diploma. A statistic that has remained constant for almost 30 years, that might’ve contributed to my Dad’s not being able to find a job and he and my mom breaking up. But I’m just a Black kid so I don’t know that.
I’m still a poor Black kid and now I’m 9 years old, and I’m doing terrible in school. I’m not sure why but I just have a lot of trouble concentrating in class and there are 30 other kids in here with me, and my teacher is trying but she’s really just working a couple of years to pay her husband’s way through law school. If I wasn’t a 9 year old kid I would know that Harvard University Professors have shown that IQ levels of Black, White and Latino kids are the same and Black students fall behind by second grade due to poorly trained teachers and bad schools. But I’m only 9 I don’t know any of that. All I know is that as a boy I’ve already been tracked as a discipline problem and put in remedial classes with mentally retarded kids. That embarrasses me, I get angry and I do even worse in school.
I’m not stupid, you know, I just have trouble reading. If I’m a girl there’s a 1 in 5 chance that I have been a victim of some type of sexual assault but it’s not like I have anyone to talk to about it. My mother joined the Army to get healthcare, she’s been deployed to Afghanistan and I’m living with my 63 year old grandmother. She has no idea what to do with me.
Yes, I’m still a poor Black kid. I’m 12 now and it turns out that the reason I couldn’t read well is because I needed glasses, but it took three years for anyone to identify the problem so I’m already a grade level behind and have a school record for fighting with the learning disabled kids. As a poor Black girl I’m hitting puberty, mom isn’t here to really explain things and grandma has no damn clue about anything. I mess around with boys who are older than me but I’m gonna be careful to not get pregnant. I get home from school, I don’t have any textbooks because the school system has cut the budget, so I’m supposed to read worksheets on history. See if I weren’t a poor Black kid and a rich person instead with an education, I might know that a large part of the academic troubles of African American youth stems from poor diet and nutrition. That simple healthcare needs like glasses or hearing ads are hard to come by for poor Black kids which contributes to difficulties in school and leads to disciplinary problems, poor records and tracking to low performance classes. But I’m just a poor Black kid, I don’t know any of that. All I know is I get home and watch a lot of music videos where people have a lot of s**t that I don’t have and it makes me mad. My Mom is dating some new guy with kids, my dad moved to D.C. with his new girlfriend and I spend most of my weekends hanging out with friends. We don’t get any homework because class is always about getting ready for standardized tests.
I’m a 15 year old poor Black kid and I am so tired of school. I’ve been put into this weekend program for ‘at risk youths’ whatever that means and these older kids from Temple come to the school and read to us and stuff. It’s actually cool. Derek and Tanya help me on weekends with math and tell me about college, Derek is from around here and he’s really cool. They tell me I can do anything and all that crap, but Tanya’s mad serious when she says I can write. I spend all winter break writing this story to show them in the spring and when I go back the teacher says the summer program was a ‘block grant’ that ran out or something. All I know is I don’t see Derek or Tanya anymore. It doesn’t matter – they were on some bulls**t anyway. I just want to get a job and get out of here.
If I wasn’t a poor Black kid, and I was perhaps a politician with any common sense I would have read thousands of reports showing that afterschool programs, in particular those that partner inner city Black youth with college-aged Black students reap incredible dividends in school performance, behavior and attendance for program participants. But I’m not a politician, I’m a poor Black kid, so I don’t know any of this.
There’s like only one kid in my school who went to college and he was playing basketball – I don’t play so what’s the point of talking about college? My grandmother died, so we had to move out of her house now I’m living in my Aunt’s house with my Mom and 7 other people. It’s cramped, I hate it and I can’t even think. I sneak out as much as I can. Dad never calls.
I’m 18 now, I guess I’m not a kid anymore but I’m still poor as s**t. I try in school but I have like a B- average, I play on the football and basketball team but I’m not the best player and there’s like one Guidance counselor for all three high schools in my area. Even if some scholarship program found me my family moves around so much that I’d probably miss anything in the mail, and all the scholarship sites I found on-line cost money to join. I’m angry all the time, this is bulls**t. I never got in trouble, I don’t do drugs, I never got or got anyone else pregnant but I’m f***ing stuck. I have to take some bulls**t job at 5 Guys in the strip mall where my chances of being promoted to manager are next to zero. Of course, I’m a poor Black 18 year old kid so I can’t contextualize any of this. You see, if I was a White kid with the same mediocre resume I could probably stumble my way into a local community college since my mom was a Gulf War vet. Or better yet if I was a rich educated White guy I could read some very basic statistics about how the skyrocketing costs of college mix with state cut-backs in high schools and community colleges are squeezing out average kids who just need a chance. Of course, I’m none of those things. I’m just a poor Black kid.
You see Gene, and Mr. Yang you don’t know the first damn thing about my life and you don’t care either. The only Black kids you think about are the future thugs and those “exceptional” Blind Side kids who are super smart, are great at sports or play some instrument like Stevie Wonder. You don’t have anything to say to us kids who did the best we could out of some bad neighborhoods and lousy families and our only crime is not being bad enough for Special Needs and not being Good enough to be your pet mentee. American domestic policy is targeted at making sure that White people who do just enough to get by end up being taken care of.
But Black folks?
Every statistic in this country since the Moynihan Report is telling me that I’m not going to make it and I’m just supposed to play super negro and it’ll all be better. And if I’m not successful it’s my fault. It couldn’t be those same institutions that you created to prop up White mediocrity routinely discriminate against Black mediocrity as well could it?
At least, if I were a Black PhD in political science who had the benefit of reading all of these reports, knowing public policy, history and having the writing skills and technological access to express my views online … that would be different. But I’m not any of those things. I’m just a poor Black kid who was cursed with being just ok. So all I really have to say to you is: Do you want fries with that?