After President Joe Biden’s August announcement that his administration would cancel up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers, Republicans — evidently intent on becoming the pro-loan shark party — tested all sorts of excuses for why millions of Americans shouldn’t be freed from mountains of school debt.
None of them made much sense.
For example, some Republicans claimed that the plan would help privileged rich kids — but those aren’t the people most likely to have student loan debt. (Because, of course, they’re rich.)
Demonstrating the incoherence of the GOP’s response, some of them suggested, conversely, that the plan would help lower-class “slackers” get ahead. Here, the conservative dog whistle got louder. But excluding overtly racist language — while denouncing something that would disproportionately help nonwhite people, as student loan forgiveness would — gave some conservatives the modicum of plausible deniability they may have wanted to avoid being deemed racists.
A right-wing group in Wisconsin has, thankfully, dispensed with the facade that the GOP’s aversion to student loan forgiveness is about anything but preventing marginalized racial groups from bettering themselves.
In a lawsuit aimed at stopping the plan, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty claimed that the Biden administration has an “improper racial motive” behind the initiative. And what is the group — whose leadership appears to be almost exclusively white — using as evidence for this nonsensical allegation?
The organization said in its filing that the White House’s touting of racial equity — that is, rooting out historical, government-imposed inequality — as a potential benefit shows that the program is functionally and fundamentally racist. To be clear, the Biden administration has never once said the primary goal is to improve the standing of one race in comparison to another. Rather, the administration merely has noted facts about student loans: Black borrowers are more saddled by the debt than any other racial group.
Studies have shown that Black people have higher student loan debt on average, which is different from the total number of people who take out loans. To that point, studies indicate that white students will likely benefit most in terms of the total amount of debt forgiven. And I’ve reported here on the shortcomings in the Biden administration’s forgiveness plan as it relates to Black women, who often take out large loans for private schools in search of educational attainment — loans that aren’t included under the current forgiveness plan.
But the Wisconsin group’s court filing operates under a belief that policies that might address racism, which are described as such, constitute an “improper racially discriminatory motive.” It’s not just an intellectually stupid argument. It’s politically stupid as well.
Federal data out of Wisconsin last year showed that about half of student loan borrowers in the state would be eligible to have their debt eliminated under Biden’s plan. And recent polling showed that a majority of Americans support the effort.
The Wisconsin plaintiffs are swimming against the current, but let’s be grateful they were so clear about their motives: They know student loan forgiveness is powerful. And they’re upset about some people — Black people — reaping the benefits.