Gene Marks has rocketed to the top of the notoriety heap with his recent Forbes.com article, “If I Were a Poor Black Kid,” in which he attempts to offer bootstrap advice to young inner-city minorities. “I would read a lot of books,” and so on. One of my favorites is “I would use Skype to study with other students who also want to do well in school.” Though Mr. Marks appears somewhat clueless and almost refreshingly naïve in his piece — and apparently so controversial that one of Forbes’ own staff writers has questioned Marks’ journalistic motives — I appreciate the fact that he has, however awkwardly, started a conversation about an important issue in today’s society. No, not the disenfranchisement of America’s underclass, or even the gaps in technological access and opportunity inherent in today’s educational system. No, the issue to which I refer is the rampant underachievement of Rich White Men.
Rich White Men are failing left and right to realize the promise of the opportunities that are afforded them in today’s world. Why should they have to suffer? Sure, it will take some hard work and a little luck, but there is no reason why Mr. Marks and his friends can’t reach their full potential one day.
If I were a Rich White Man, I’d start by making sure I got into a good college. I’d prefer Harvard, of course, but I’d settle for Yale. I suppose it would depend on where others in my family had attended. I’m sure it’s totally based on merit, but if my father had graduated Yale, I think I can make a pretty good case of why I should be a Yalie. While in college I wouldn’t spend too much of my energy and time studying, I would instead concentrate on making the right connections and laying the proper groundwork for my future endeavors. After all, it’s often not what you know but who you know.
I would use those connections to avoid the pitfalls and roadblocks that could easily derail me. Is an unpopular war going on? I would by all means necessary avoid the actual battleground and would prefer to serve my country by joining the National Guard. I would be sure to take lots of pictures while in uniform, as these will definitely come in handy in the future. I’d make every effort to become a pilot, because people tend to view pilots as heroic and smart. I’d also technically be able to say that I was a pilot during the war, even though the closest I’d ever been to the actual war would have been a postcard. Actual warfare is for poor people anyway.
I would get involved with the business world as much as I could. I would find some money somewhere (perhaps some small inheritance from a distant relative) and buy an oil field, or maybe a sports team. It’s not important that these businesses succeed, only that I establish myself as someone who is good at “making things happen.” I’d use my influential friends to help me run for some political office — maybe senator or governor. Who knows? Perhaps I’d even try for the White House.
As a C.E.O., I’d take advantage of all the generous tax breaks offered to me to keep my company from relocating to another town or state or country. After all, the jobs I’d provide will be essential to the economy, so the government will owe me at least that much. I’d also be sensitive to the needs of my stockholders, since they are people too. If restructuring my workforce becomes necessary in order to enhance the return on their investment, I’d put my own self-interest aside and act on their concerns. And during times of economic downturn, like we’re facing now, I’d even be willing to sacrifice a few million from my $10 million annual bonus.
At age 55, I’d retire to my ranch, secure in the knowledge that I’ve fulfilled the promise of the opportunities afforded to me, and that the blame for any mistakes I may have made will be left with my successor. “Passing the buck” is, after all, one of the more important strategies in the Rich White Man arsenal.
So that’s what I’d do if I were a Rich White Man. I’m kind of at a loss to explain why ALL Rich White Men are not attempting to go down this path. To quote Mr. Marks, “the opportunity is still there in this country for those who are smart enough to go for it.” Maybe they’re just lazy.
But while people are obsessing over privacy, my question is: Where’s my check?
The more I hear about the recent changes to Facebook the more irritated I get, mostly because I haven’t received my check yet. What check?
Listen, Mark Zuckerberg owes me something.
Let me explain. I’m not one of those people who are waiting for their handout from “the man” and I’ve never expected that I’d see my 40 acres and a mule. But I do understand one thing about the new economy: if you can deliver the right potential customers (leads) to advertisers, they will pay you for the service. And the more information you can collect about a person’s interests and buying habits, the better you are able to match that person up with advertisers, and the more money you will make.
This is not a new concept — over the past hundred years or so the advertising industry has made demographics a science. Search providers like Google, Bing, and Yahoo take it to the next level. Ever search for a new car and then notice that some of the display ads that you run across later in the day are new car ads for that same brand you searched for? Google calls this “retargeting” and advertisers are happy to pay for it.
Facebook, on the surface, is like a huge community center where your friends and family get together and share stuff that you like. Did you know that 4 percent of all photos are on Facebook? OK, I’ll wait while you read that sentence again. I’m not talking about 4 percent of photos taken last year, I mean 4 percent of all photos EVER TAKEN. So that community center is HUGE. And while I’m sharing songs and photos on Facebook, they’re taking notes. They know my favorite TV shows and movies, my hobbies, the last book I read . . . they know me almost as well as my wife. All of this information (which I’ve freely shared; no one held a gun to my head) has value.
I recently visited Facebook (and let’s not kid ourselves, it was 60 seconds ago; what can I say? I’m an addict). Amidst the status updates and Farmville accomplishments from my middle school classmates, I see an ad for Klipsch speakers. I like Klipsch — I’m even a fan of their page. I’m not offended or annoyed by the ad, and I’m actually more inclined to click on it simply because I’m interested in it and like the product. Facebook uses the information I provide to show me ads that I would be interested in. So as a target consumer I am pure gold to the company. And I hear that Zuckerberg guy’s got, like, a million dollars. You see where I’m going with this? I want some of that!
“But,” you say, “Facebook is free! Look at the benefit you get from it! Why are you so greedy?” Well, being broke makes me greedy, but that’s a philosophical discussion for another time. My point is that Mark Zuckerberg should be paying me.
Mr. Z, I need to get paid based on the amount of personal information I provide to Facebook. Sharing my hobbies? Three . . . no, five bucks each. You want to know what cars I would maybe like to test drive? I’ll let you know for twenty-five. And I’d better see some serious coin, otherwise I’ll clam up like a . . . clam.
And the real power’s in numbers. Facebook doesn’t care about you as an individual; they simply want to be able to deliver thousands of interested eyeballs to their advertisers. So, the only way that this will succeed is that you, dear reader, have to work with me . . . tell your friends, tell your family . . . post this to your status. If enough of us post, Mark Zuckerberg won’t have any choice but to cut us a check!
Otherwise, we can all just migrate over to Google+, where they’re still trying to figure out how to make money off of us.
BYE-BYE BORDERS: The erstwhile retail giant announced last week that it's closing its book covers for good. Stores like this one in Augusta, Ga., began liquidating inventory last Friday. Photo: Newscom.
Last week, I learned that Borders Books and Music is about to leave this earth forever. While I was truly saddened to learn of its demise, there is something I have to get off my chest. So let this serve as an admission of my guilt and an official confession.
I am a murderer. I killed Borders.
First of all, I suppose I should come clean. Borders was not my first “brick and mortar” bookstore experience; I remember spending hours in B. Dalton and Waldenbooks in my youth, as well as Barnes and Noble. And of course there was the Beloit Public Library. But for the last half-decade plus, there has been something special about Borders. Whether it was the proximity to our house, or the convenience of being able to hang out there before and after seeing a movie at the mall, I’m not sure. But my heart has held a special place for Borders, which by definition makes this a crime of passion.
Borders was where I saw my wife for the first time. We shared a coffee and smiles, and I bought her a copy of The Time Traveler’s Wife there. We kissed in the parking lot. Over the years our daughters have enjoyed numerous story-time sessions and have come to view Borders as a shopping destination second only to Target in sheer awesomeness.
We have parted with much coin at our local Borders. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is blood on my hands. I may not have pulled the trigger, but my hands were on the grip. I killed Borders.
Can I be blamed for falling victim to the seductive wiles of free shipping, unlimited selection, and low price guarantees? I love the indescribable pleasure that my finger feels after I’ve clicked my mouse and made a purchase …
My mistress — let’s not be coy; her name is Amazon — first courted me years ago by offering me half-price DVDs on Tuesdays. Now I consult her for everything; she has replaced Best Buy, Fry’s Electronics, eBay, and, yes, Borders as my preferred shopping destination for the cool stuff that I think I need. I’ve even used my phone to take pictures of books I’ve leafed through at Borders in order to check the price on Amazon.
It’s embarrassing to admit that, but confession is good for the soul, I guess.
When I explained to my 6-year-old about online shopping and Borders’ demise, she asked, “Why would anyone get in their car and drive to the bookstore?” Why indeed.
I mourn the loss of Borders. And as the guilty party, I can only offer my sincere condolences to the victim’s family. I feel, however, that I must also share this troubling fact.
I can’t stop.
While I’m not sure who my next victim will be, I do know that this isn’t over.
President Obama reads letters from the public, as he sits at his desk in the Treaty Room Office in the Private Residence. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza, 2009.)
Now that we’ve all had a chance to settle down and let this most recent and unfortunate situation fade into the mists of past news cycles, I just wanted to humbly offer a few words of advice. In the future, please refrain from telling the truth about racial situations when asked. Clearly some of us in America aren’t quite ready for it yet. In fact, many are still trying to come to grips with the fact that you got elected in the first place.
Now, between you and me, we both know that the existence of your presidency doesn’t erase the centuries-long tradition of racism in America. Many of us — or our parents and grandparents — can still remember the days when segregation was an institution and a daily fact of life … not just a word waved around in the month of February.
You ran on the promises of hope, change, and a unified America. When I saw you speak at the Democratic Convention in 2004, I thought to myself, there’s the man who should be leading the country … and the thought was so incredibly far-fetched at the time. Even after you announced your candidacy, it seemed impossible to even dream that it would actually result in having you as our President. When Joe Biden uttered those ill-chosen words, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy …” we knew what he was trying to say, but it underscored the delicacy of the racial situation these days.
But you have to admit that we’ve certainly come a long way in these past few years, though I know we’re not there yet. However, in these critical early months of your administration, it’s important that you recognize the need for the masses to hold on to their warm, fuzzy feelings about your victory last November — not to mention their need to keep their racial blinders firmly in place. Is the danger of being stopped for “driving while Black” still a reality in 2009? Of course not! And do young Black men and women still get watched more closely in the store than their White counterparts? No! That is all completely behind us! Let’s move on; after all, slavery was a long time ago. We’re equal now!
Sure, we’ll hear the reports of the occasional group of school kids turned away from a swimming pool in the Philly suburbs … but that wasn’t a racial issue, that pool was simply too crowded. And we know that the situation with Professor Gates had nothing to do with race (not in this day and age). If Professor Gates would’ve just taken a deep breath and showed the proper respect to Sergeant Crowley, understanding that police officers seldomly treat people differently based on the color of their skin, there would be no need for your beer summit today.
Let us continue to believe that racism is dead in America, and that racial profiling is no longer an issue in our cities. Be patient with us, Mr. President … perhaps in a few years we’ll be able to engage in open, honest dialogues about race and racism. But for now, let’s just keep it our little secret. Give my best to Michelle and the kids.
Christopher Linder, Color-Blind in Atlanta