I’ve been wanting to get this off my chest for a while and here it is—higher education is the new poverty pimp in Black communities with student loans being the latest form of predatory lending.
Recently I wrote a piece about how Joe Biden and Kamala Harris being elected isn’t a signal that the Black community has renewed faith in the Democratic Party and in it, I touched on how Biden has to honor his campaign trail promise to eliminate student loan debt.
Furthermore, [pullquote]if the Democratic Party wants to get in real good with the 87% of us that helped carry them to the finish line, then they have to actually be the representative and restorative body they’ve always claimed to be.[/pullquote] Translation: Bring us to the table, give us our reparations and finally let us get a piece of that American pie—and make it sweet potato, not apple.
With that said, student loan forgiveness is a good place to start—especially considering the fact that the capitalistic industry that is higher education is a culprit in perpetuating the cycle of generational poverty in Black communities.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-college or anything. But as a first generation student who was and has seen many of my peers either financially crippled by student loan debt, arrive at school unprepared and have to head out before getting that coveted degree—or both—I’m not with pushing one more Black kid onto a campus under these conditions.
First of all, can we talk about how this country has the audacity to tell Black kids that their primary pathway to success is through higher education all while trapping them in a K-12 system where quality is damn near equal to that of a third world country? This is straight game being run on us and one way they’re doing it is through graduation rates.
For example, in my hometown of Chicago, high school graduation rates for Black students in Chicago Public Schools have risen to 78% but, according to the report, “The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All,” district math and reading proficiency rates are at 12 and 18%. Now somebody tell me how in the hell these kids are graduating high school and ready to go to college if they can barely read and add? Make it make sense!
Then, the absence of financial literacy courses—honestly the absence of culturally and life relevant curricula, period—in schools is a setup for failure. Many of us have and are taking out loans without an in-depth understanding of how they will impact us in the future—no knowledge of how to calculate the debt-to-income ratio and overall, or how failure to repay will stain our credit and our ability to secure loans for houses and businesses—two things known to secure and build wealth.
In undergrad, I watched as so many of my friends tricked off refund checks on shoes, clothes and even cars without the forethought of having to one day pay that money back. Some of us came to college without a clue of what kind of career we even wanted to pursue and left with student loan debt three times more than what we made annually. And studies show that, post graduation, we often make less money than our white counterparts but are saddled with more student loan debt that we sometimes default on, contributing to the inflation of the racial wealth gap.
Finally, and to make it easier for students to get to college, some institutions have eliminated criteria requiring ACT and SAT scores for admission which sounds great but, to me, is another wand being used to manipulate this sorcery.
Let me be clear—I’m not a stickler for tests, especially not as a measurement of intelligence or ability. But, there has to be some kind of qualifiers that determine college readiness. And yes this is a controversial topic where some may argue rich white kids who attend better schools and whose parents have the coin to pay for all kinds of test prep are at a more of an advantage to ace these exams. But I’d counter back with [pullquote]if the K-12 system did its damn job, Black kids would have the same opportunity.[/pullquote]
Add all of this up and what comes out? Poor Black kids being finessed by the K-12 and higher education systems that consider them liabilities instead of assets because, after all, an educated Black person is a dangerous Black person.
So going back to my original point, yeah Biden definitely has to eliminate student loan debt if he really wants to advance the economic mobility of African Americans and expand access to high-quality education as stated in his “Lift Every Voice” plan. But if the higher education system wants to lose this rap of being the newest poverty pimp on the corner then it must stop capitalizing off the failures of the K-12 system and get in the business of making sure our kids get a return on their investment, too.
Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and advocacy of those that are often ignored. Tanesha wholeheartedly believes that education is the foundation for success. Her grand vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or ZIP code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. And that's what she works towards every day.
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