As I’ve watched a parade of right-wing pundits and lawmakers crying to anyone in earshot over the historic news, I’ve wanted to pat them (patronizingly) on the shoulder and say, “There’s more where that came from.” There must be.
As Black women, we’re taught to work hard, to get a good job, and to pursue a higher education. And then when you get out, you’re like, ‘Dang, this is all a false promise.’
— Takirra Winfield Dixon
Biden’s plan is undoubtedly monumental for potentially millions of people. Up to $10,000 — even $20,000 for some borrowers — of relief isn’t nothing. And capping some borrowers' monthly payments at 5% of their discretionary income is nothing to sneeze at. But the policy as it stands doesn't do enough for the most marginalized people in the country, who’ve been saddled with student loan debt from lenders who preyed upon their desire for self-betterment.
That group largely consists of Black women, who carry a majority of the country's student loan debt.
Maya Wiley, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, made the issue plain in a statement on Wednesday:
In order to benefit the students of color who are most impacted, the administration must raise the canceled amount to maximize relief, create an automatic process that will be easy for students to navigate, and take further action to reform our student loan system to protect former, current, and future students from the harms of our debt-financed system of higher education.
NBC News published a report in May that laid out the dire scenario many of college-going Black women face:
While Black students are disproportionately burdened by student debt, Black women face a particularly heavy debt load, according to a report by The Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates closing the opportunity gap for students of color from low-income families. Besides making less than other college-educated white women and Black and white men, Black women are also more likely to be parents in school, often burdened by costs related to child care that can result in them borrowing more for college, the report stated.
“The systems are set up so that it’s unequal for us,” Dr. Stella Safo, HIV physician and founder of the nonprofit Just Equity For Health, told me on Thursday.
Safo's student loan trajectory isn’t particularly unique when it comes to Black women striving for an education. She received a graduate degree and medical degree from Harvard University ... and left with thousands upon thousands of dollars in student debt. Like others I spoke with, Safo touched on a vital point: Racism has forced Black people — especially Black women — to pursue higher degrees in an effort to be seen as equal to white competitors in the job market.
“We have to work twice as hard to get half as much,” Safo said. "We have to take out loans to get those opportunities to even get into the arena to work twice as hard. And then once we get these loans, they are absolutely predatory in how they’re set up.”
Takirra Winfield Dixon, a PR professional whose clientele is mostly Black women, also shared her story of student loan debt with me. She said her father used some of his life insurance to pay most of her undergraduate student loans from her time at the University of Maryland. But when he died, Winfield Dixon had to take out tens of thousands of dollars to continue education at Howard University. She’s largely ineligible for student loan forgiveness under the Biden plan because almost all of her debt is from grad school. Though some graduate degree borrowers are eligible for forgiveness under the plan, like those who received Pell Grants, Winfield Dixon’s circumstances do not meet the criteria.
“As Black women, we’re taught to work hard, to get a good job, and to pursue a higher education," Winfield Dixon said Thursday. "And then when you get out, you’re like, 'Dang, this is all a false promise.'"
“[Black women] have labored for this country ever since our ancestors’ feet were forced on the soil," she added. "And we’ve been asked to show up for this country whether it’s at the ballot box or anywhere else. And the country does so little for us.”
Biden’s action is thanks to coalitions of Black and other nonwhite activists, Winfield Dixon added, with a caveat: “Although this will help many, it’s modest.”
It’s a reminder that the fight for debt cancellation — student debt and other predatory loans — doesn’t end with Biden’s announcement this week. This is just the beginning.