Slavery and the Student Debt Movement

30 05 2012

Let me preface this post by sayin that I am an active member of organizations that work to forgive student debt and increase college accessibility for everyone. I shouldn’t have to do this, but given the shitshow that crops up every time anyone tries to bring this up, I feel that I must.

Fellow White student debt activists, it is time to stop appropriating the images of slavery to make your point. It is long past the time, in fact. This should have never been the go to move for us in the first place, but as history demonstrates, Whiteness has no problem stealing from the cultures and histories of oppressed nationalities when it is convenient.

The imagery and rhetoric of this movement has centered around the image of the slave. Students in tens of thousands of dollars in debt are “slaves” to the federal government, to Sallie Mae, to whichever private institution holds their debt. The debt becomes the ball and chain of the person holding it. Pick your problematic slavery imagery and the student debt movement has probably appropriated it in one way or another. It is distasteful at the very least and incredibly offensive and problematic for White students in particular to be using this imagery and rhetoric considering our place in the system of racial privilege and oppression. While none of these White students were slaveholders themselves, White people continue to benefit from the enslavement of Africans centuries ago, and even the most basic comprehension of White privilege should be able to see that we are still very clearly benfitting from slavery, while the descendents of those enslaved Africans are very clearly not.

White privilege, just as any other privilege, clouds one’s ability to fully recognise when they are doing something harmful to an oppressed group. And just like with any other privilege, people do not always react positively to a call out of White privilege. The reactions of anger, dismissal or excuse making I’ve gotten was to be expected (and really, claiming that the imagery is supposed to represent indentured servitude instead of slavery is a terrible cover and embarrassing as an excuse.) If the student debt movement wants to be taken seriously, however, it’s White members need to get over being confronted about their privilege, and they need to do it quickly.

I believe strongly in this movement. I believe we can make a difference, and that a college education can truly be financially accessible for all who seek it. Alienating an entire segment of the population (a segment which is more vulnerable when it comes to student debt) is not how to build a strong movement and certainly not the way to make a difference.


“But We’re Not All Bad!” Is the Wrong Answer

25 05 2011

This might be my most favourite derailing tactic (and by favourite, I mean most facepalm-y) of all time. The old “we aren’t all like that!” trope, guaranteed to derail a discussion in 140 characters or less. If you are privileged enough to have never experienced this (if you haven’t already done it yourself) I’ll give you an example. Adjust the situation for the oppressed/oppressor relationship of your choosing:

Trans woman: Wow, I really wish cis LGB people would quit directly playing a direct hand in my erasure, denial of services/basic humanity and the often fatal harm of me and women like me. That would be great if all that would stop.

And on, and on, and on, and on, and on it goes. More derails follow, the discussion goes to shit and the oppressor often ends up getting consoled instead of the marginalized person being attacked (also known as white women’s tears) and the attempt for a meaningful discussion or call-out is abandoned at that time. All of this because of a six word sentence that has no validity in any of these discussions whatsoever.

Far too many discussions that need to happen do not, because there is always at least one privileged champ who comes in and fucks everything up with this tactic. It is not the way that one in a position of privilege should be reacting when a marginalized person speaks their truths. When a person of colour is talking about their frustrations with harmful things white people tend to do, the correct response isn’t “I don’t do that!/We aren’t all that bad!” The reaction of a person who is truly socially conscious should be to listen and learn. Only after listening and learning (not demanding someone be your Mystical Minority Teacher(TNM)) can you begin to maybe do something about this problem. Not throw a temper tantrum about how all white people aren’t in the Klan, but ask yourself “What can I do to reject my privilege, help end the systemic and oppressive problem the group I belong to has a history of doing, and how can I work to uplift marginalized people?”

The one in the role of the oppressor has no business to “prove” that their group is “not all bad” to a marginalized person. The fact of the matter is, these problems that are spoken of are systemic within the entire communities of privilege. It is not something that occurs only in fringe/extremist/super duper hateful circles within those communities of privilege, it is everywhere within the community. The goal should not be to to prove to any marginalized person that you aren’t all bad (attempting to deny the lived experiences of any marginalized person is fucked up in and of itself.) The goal needs to be to end the systemic oppression of marginalized people that requires these discussions happen in the first place.

Voting and Privilege

26 10 2010

Voting is largely inaccessible. Trans women and men, people with disabilities, people of colour, people living in poverty and people living in rural areas often are unable to vote because of the myriad barriers blocking access. This is a reason why there is so often low turnout among these groups (among other factors). This post, however, is not directed at people who are blocked from voting.

This post is for everyone who can vote.

If you have the privilege of access to voting, it is absolutely imperative that you vote consciously next Tuesday. It is important to research the positions that your candidates hold. Study voting records, speeches, debates, endorsements, whatever you can get your hands on and educate yourself before voting. It’s also necessary to recognise what great privilege you have with your access to voting. This is something that cannot be taken lightly and must be carefully thought about before exercising.

And what do you need to do after you’ve recognised your privilege of voting access? You can either use your privilege to uplift the people you oppress or you can ignore it and continue to harm (directly or indirectly) the most vulnerable people in our country. You can choose to vote for the candidates that are endorsed by marginalized people, candidates that truly seek to uplift oppressed people and make this country a better place for all of us. Or, you can choose to vote in your best interests. For tax cuts that will harm the poorest in our nation, hateful candidates who seek to exterminate trans women and men, candidates who are pro-corporations, candidates that, if elected, will “send a message to the Obama administration,” candidates who want to continue to harm the most vulnarable.

Or you can choose to sit at home on election day, throw your privilege around in the faces of those of us who don’t have voting access and tell us that voting doesn’t matter anyway, man.

I’m going to vote consciously next Tuesday. Will you?

The Stigma Attached to Community College

30 08 2010

I began my college career at a private, four year university in New York. The tuition was almost $50,000 per year, and even with scholarships and grants, I was taking out a considerable amount of student loans. The school was tiny, the department for my major offered little more than basic classes, and the environment was incredibly hostile for people with disabilities. And yet, I wanted to stay. Why? Two reasons.
A0 I wanted to be back in my homeland (homeland being the New York/North Jersey Metro Area)

B) My only other option was community college.

So, when I got a letter in the mail saying tuition was going to go up 4% each year (I was already taking out the maximum in Stafford loans) I was looking for a way to stay there. This particular school has a pretty bad retention rate, and I know a lot of people who left for more affordable state schools and community colleges. But not me.

When I was faced with the very real prospect of going to community college, I was terrified. It meant losing all of my independence (thanks, NJ Transit!), and besides, only stupid people went to community college right? Right?!

Wrong. So Goddamn wrong.

This thought had been drilled into my head from the moment I began high school. From teachers, friends, office staff, family, etc. “Do well in your classes or you might end up at Brookdale!” “Join some clubs, you don’t wanna go to Brookdale!” “Your college essay could put you at a top school, or community college,” Over and over and over for four years. This idea that only unintelligent people attend community colleges was drummed into me (and many other students) so much that I believed it.

Let’s break down this hateful stereotype, shall we?

Higher Education is a hugely inaccessible institution for most marginalized people. People of colour, poor people people with disabilities and trans women and men are routinely denied the opportunity to attend a four year college or university. There are many reasons for this, including cost, ability to successfully get through high school, rigid admissions standards, etc. From the way public schools harm oppressed children, to the absurdity of the SATs, it is made damn sure than marginalized people have a difficult time getting into a four year school. This is where community college comes in.

Community college accepts everyone, regardless of SAT score, incomeand high school performance. It is infinitely cheaper than a four year institution (and if you get a Pell like I do, you might even get a stipend), some majors (like Nursing or Criminal Justice or Education) will enable you to get a job without a Bachelor’s degree, andn many state schools have agreements with community colleges that allown for automatic acceptance upon graduation. These are only some of the reasons why it’s better to initially attend a community college, but because many students taking advantage of this are marginalized, it is seen as lesser by the Privileged. And since the Privileged deem it unworthy, it must be so.

My Beef With Self-Declared Allies

24 08 2010

If you have declared yourself an ally, you are not going to like this post.

Many blogs and twitterfeeds that claim to be about social justice like to put the word “ally” somewhere in their bio/about section. Trans ally, LGBT ally, POC ally, PWD ally, etc. This is supposed to signify that the writer is *really* about social justice and is *really* about helping the marginalised group of people in whatever way they can, right? RIGHT?!

Not so much.

Instead, what this usually means is the writer is badly in need of some hipster activist points and among PWP (progressives with privilege) this is an easy way to get them. Many of these “allies” who feel the need to tout their ally-ness are more interested in how they look as a PWP and yelling about what a good person they really are than in uplifting any marginalized group. This is best seen during any argument an “ally” gets into with a person of a marginalized group.

Ally: [does something incredibly privileged without realising it]
Marginalized Person: “Hey, try checking your privilege because that thing you said/linked to/endorsed was harmful.”
A: “Check my privilege? What do you mean privilege? I’M AN ALLY.”
M: “Be that as it may, you still have a fuckload of privilege and you are currently using that privilege to silence me. Stop it.”
M: “You are still doing it, and now you’re derailing the conversation. Stop it.”

The “ally” will typically then rattle off reasons why they’re such a good ally, or why there’s no way they could have done something privileged. The person the ally claims to be helping will suffer, and the ally will continue to do harm under the guise of “being a good ally.”

If you truly want to uplift people you oppress and use your privilege for good, you do not need to tell everyone that you are a Super Ally. But, if you were *really* interested in doing those things, you would already know that.

Marginalized People and the Self Fulfilling Prophecy

15 06 2010

Last semester, in my Minority and Intergroup Relations class, we did an exercise where we were Social Workers who were trying to help find work for a young African American cis male and a 50 year old white cis woman. Lots of legitimate suggestions came up (computer classes, technical school, etc) and then a brilliant person mentioned the Self Fulfilling Prophecy.

“Well you know, sometimes minorities will believe that people are going to discriminate against them and so they’ll act like they’re going to and then they’ll end up not getting the job.”


That’s right.

Marginalized people, who face discrimination in every aspect of life, bring employment discrimination upon themselves. It’s their fault they can’t get a job! They should stop acting so black/trans/disabled/gay if they want a job!

I was discussing finding a job with my case worker today, and she asked me if I thought I’d been discriminated against in trying to find a new job. I have experienced quite a bit, as employers think because oif the disability they can see, I won’t be able to work. But I probably just set myself up for failure because I know that employers will discriminate against me because of the way my eyes look.

Blaming the marginalized person for the hatred and discrimination they face is a silencing tactic. It makes the victim of discrimination feel as though they are responsible for the hatred they face, that they are somehow deserving of it. And when this happens, discrimination goes unreported, privilege goes unchecked, and hatred is allowed to flourish.

Leah’s Guide to Vacationing

11 06 2010

The season has officially been in full swing for about a week now, and as a resident of a resort town, I thought I’d give you all some tips on how to decrease your chances of getting your asses kicked by a “local.”

1) Do not expect everyone living here to serve you.
Like most people who live in resort towns year round, we are poor. There are very few jobs here to begin with, and most people work here during the summer serving other people. However, when you step out of that hotel, or out of that restaurant, do not expect people who live here to continue catering to your needs simply because you are a tourist. We live here, we do not live here specifically to serve you.

2) Do not complain about the condition of the town.
Here in Wildwood, beyond the beachfront condos and boutiques, there are abandoned stores and public housing projects. During the season, the town does it’s best to try and whitewash over all of that and divert the tourists to other areas so they aren’t frightened off by the scary locals (poor brown people). That doesn’t mean people aren’t going to see these things, and when they do, they make it a point of complaining. To everyone, regardless of whether or not they are a city official. Most people only get the chance to work during the summer, and it’s usually a minimum wage job. We can’t afford beautiful homes with lush, green lawns and white picket fences just to make you feel a little bit better while you’re here exploiting people.

3) Don’t do anything to further exercise your class privilege over us.
When you are coming to our town for vacation, leave your smug sense of superiority at home. Oh, you have a six figure job and live in an upper class PA suburb? Good for you. You aren’t “better” than us because you overpaid for a tiny vacation condo you only use a few weeks per summer (yes, we know how much you paid for it) and you don’t own us because we clean your condo, serve your food or sell your waterpark tickets.

4) Do not forget that we are human beings.
You may come to our towns to get drunk, lay on the beach, or enjoy some time with your family, but these are our homes. All we ask you to do during our stay is to respect us, and respect our homes. Don’t expect us to cater to your every whim, don’t make nasty comments about our homes and lives, and don’t think your money gives you the right to treat us like dirt.