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.


Don’t Wish Me A Happy Thanksgiving

25 11 2010

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. A holiday that is presented as one to spend with family and friends, reflecting on how thankful we all are for the things we have. This idea is crammed down the throat of every American from the point of Kindergarten. As we grow older, we learn more about the real history of this holiday, and even after being presented with the facts, we continue to celebrate it “for what it is now.”

The flagrant denial of the history of this nation and this holiday is an attack on every Indigenous person.

This does not need to be a long and drawn out post with detailed explanation because quite frankly, everyone knows this. If you have lived in this country your entire life and are over the age of 14 you cannot claim to not know at least part of the real history of this holiday.

What you do with this information is ultimately up to you. I am choosing to not ignore history today, how about 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.

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.