(RNS) – This week President Biden delivered on his campaign promise to reduce student loan debt, promising to forgive $10,000 of debt for Americans earning less than $125,000 a year and $20,000 for students low-income earners who received Pell grants. The measure is a step in the right direction, and as the President and many Democrats celebrated this political achievement, so did my own colleagues and acquaintances on social media.
For much of my social circle, however, it wasn’t much of a time to celebrate. I am a college-educated black woman who answered the call to ministry after turning 40. This meant going back to graduate school and taking out student loans while helping my children and other family members with their tuition.
As minister, I spent much of my time fighting financial predation, from state houses to halls of Congress. I work for equity every day, especially for black women, and know the realities of their finances intimately. Forgiving $10,000 in student loans is an inadequate response to the needs of black women and other women of color in America. He talks about the growing chasm of understanding between white people in America and the experiences of black and brown Americans. For the latter, the reduction in administration is at best a non-event, at worst a traumatic event.
A few figures will explain why. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, “women carry about two-thirds of the $1.7 trillion in federal student debt, with black women more than twice as likely as white men to owe more than $50,000 in debt. undergraduate student loan. Additionally, recent research from the US Department of Education indicates that “after 20 years of repayment, a black borrower still owes 95% of their original balance, and black women’s balance increases over time.”
A separate report by CRL and the National Consumer Law Center showed that “the $50,000 cancellation would render more than 75% of federal borrowers debt-free.” This would eliminate the loans of 36 million borrowers, according to recent data from the Ministry of Education, including more than 3 million of the 4.5 million borrowers who have been repaying for more than 20 years. In other words, the Biden administration’s limit on loan cuts is well below.
So forgive me for not feeling compelled to celebrate. In fact, despite President Biden’s flippant mention of disparities in student loan debt between black and brown borrowers, his announcement was triggering. It reminded me of a word that Ta-Nehisi Coates used repeatedly in his 2014 essay, “The case of reparations”: looting. “When enslaved Africans, plundered of their bodies,” Coates wrote, “plundered of their families and plundered of their labors, were brought into the Colony of Virginia in 1619…”
Looting is the reality I wake up to every day as a black woman trying to create change for my community. After centuries of plundering black and brown bodies, this nation must own the generational economic plunder suffered by black and brown borrowers in this country, rooted in official economic policy. This cannot be solved by $10,000 in student loan debt forgiveness.
The inequity of economic advantage is seen everywhere, not just in loan debt. Every year we commemorate Equal Pay Day for Women, measuring the pay gap between men and women. This year, Equal Pay Day fell on March 15, marking an extra 74 days that women must work to catch up on what the average man has earned by December 31.
However, this date only applies to white women. Asian American, Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander women earn 75 cents on the dollar, commemorating Equal Pay Day on May 3; Black women earn 58 cents for every male dollar and will commemorate our Equal Pay Day on September 21. Native American women at 50 cents on the dollar will mark Equal Pay Day on December 1, and Latinas will earn 49 cents on the dollar. Their Equal Pay Day is December 8 – almost an entire calendar year behind their white counterparts.
We cannot address fair loan forgiveness when we have not yet addressed pay inequity. It’s not enough to talk about economic inequality and sit idly by, as the president did.
As a black woman in ministry, I carry a double wound. Through the oppressive tactics of white supremacy and its offspring, patriarchy, men are often encouraged to enter ministry as teenagers. The average woman more often accepts her calling as a second or third career, incurring student loan debt later in life when we take on multiple financial responsibilities, often for our dependents and parents. We carry this weight while generally earning lower wages than our male counterparts.
As the President celebrated his political victory, I and many black women wept at the reminder of our failure to protect our children and ourselves from the tentacles of debt.
There is a Judeo-Christian concept known as the Jubilee. The biblical book of Deuteronomy teaches us that there should be a time when all who are held captive by debt should be set free with all their debts forgiven. This week of “Black August” – Black August, 403 years since we were originally plundered on this soil – has been a painful reminder of all the work this nation and the Church must do for all of us who have been plundered. .
To those, like me, struggling with debt incurred to achieve the so-called “American dream” of education: I see you. Let us continue to work towards the jubilee and the release of all who are held captive.
(Reverend Cassandra Gould is Senior Strategist for Faith in Action’s Religious Leadership Strategies Team and Associate Pastor at the Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, DC. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service. )