Five years ago, a middle-aged white man named Gene Marks wrote an article for Forbes titled, “If I Were A Poor Black Kid.”
The essay ‘examined’ all the ways that he would overcome systemic racism and poverty to make sure he found a path to success, despite the incredible odds he faced.
Marks wrote he would work really hard to get the “best grades possible” and that he’d “use free technology available to help me study.”
To those uninitiated about the true scourge of racism in our society, his recommendations appeared to be great learning tools. To those familiar with the true socioeconomic reality that being impoverished while black brings, his words fell impossibly short of meaningful.
In 2016, poor black children are being poisoned in some cities in our country. How hard could Marks study to overcome that?
If Marks were a poor black kid in West Philadelphia, (his example) there’s a chance that his building, the one he would’ve been brought home to as a newborn baby, would contain lead, whether in the paint, the dust or the water.
If Marks were a poor black kid, getting good grades would become incredibly hard because difficulty focusing is a result of being lead poisoned. While he says that he would make reading his #1 priority, the excruciating abdominal pain and vomiting would probably curtail that.
If Marks were a poor black kid, studying would be a problematic task due to the developmental delays and learning disabilities brought on by the poisoning.
But Marks isn’t a poor black kid living in a neighborhood neglected by state and federal funding with terrible infrastructure maintenance; therefore, he has no clue that accessing the American dream isn’t a matter of simple will.
Much of America is rightly focused on the very preventable water crisis/tragedy in Flint, Michigan. Last week, Newark shut down 30 of its schools’ water fountains due to lead discovery.
Since lead poisoning can be transmitted through water, paint chips, dust and even soil, areas without continued investment find themselves at the greatest risk. In 2010, researchers estimated that 7.7 percent of black children in America were impacted by lead poisoning — a number that skyrocketed to 26.5 percent when focused just in the Glenville neighborhood of east Cleveland.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that of the 37 million homes and apartments across America that contain lead in them, about 4 million of those homes have children in them, especially in cities such as Atlantic City, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
Although lead-based household paints were banned nationwide in 1978, Chicago still has thousands of homes, mostly government housing (Section 8), which haven’t been cleared of the lead, infecting and irreparably damaging all the children who come in contact with these buildings. This is also a huge problem in Baltimore, where many landlords simply refuse to foot the cost of hiring workers to remove lead paint.
Freddie Gray, the young man killed during his encounter with police last year, was a victim of lead contamination from the dilapidated home he was raised in. Before his death, Gray was found to have “damaging lead levels in their blood,” according to the Washington Post. Gray and his sisters sued the property owner in 2008, and the case was resolved with an undisclosed settlement.
The Newark story is another sobering reminder that the ‘bootstraps’ method of overcoming obstacles has extreme flaws. Some students cannot use water fountains in their school for fear of being poisoned.
How about we stop failing our children? Bootstraps that.