I am an adult of age (whether in spirit also remains to be determined). It’s known and accepted by everyone, including my parents, but there are still some things that my mom doesn’t let me forget despite this new phase of my life. Un: She brought me into this world and, if she needed to, could take me out of it. Two: it would be wise to portray her well as someone she raised, or as she puts it, “don’t embarrass me there.” And three: I have a decently sized debt hanging over me, waiting to be taken care of after I graduate in December.
She will bring this into our conversations every few months or so and urge me to think about how I can repay the loans I have taken out. I never really get an answer, so I rely on my nonverbal communication skills—heavy sighs, low grunts—just to stop her. I know she won’t.
It bothered me until the sight of the end of my college experience began to creep into my life. Today, it’s squarely in plan, but it’s not exactly centered. Soon, however, a director will wave his hand, signaling him to go up some stairs. In a few months, I’ll be done, and I’ll have a degree and tens of thousands of dollars in loans to prove it.
When President Joe Biden announced plans to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt for American borrowers, my mom and I talked about what it meant to me. Sure, that’s a reduced amount, but it only reduces a dark 6-foot figure to, like, 5-foot-10. My debt is basically the average size of an American man. The match was not canceled. I’m always being waved on the mat, and I have to find a way to pin it down. For reference, I am only 5ft 3in.
Writing this has been easy so far, but now I’m getting nervous. At some point, I will have to bring up the topic of how I accrued this undisclosed amount of debt. I can already see the comments on Facebook about people who got away with it and paid for their education without any help, especially government help. I imagine that if the text could speak, the last part would be whispered. Who is to blame besides me and my lack of financial literacy? they will ask. They will ignore my words that blamed no one, and they will also ignore any evidence that larger systemic issues may be at play for the $1.75 trillion student loan debt this country has.
To them, I’m just a black girl complaining and angry that I couldn’t get an all-expenses-paid trip to higher education. Maybe that’s right. What’s not fair is that student loan debt disproportionately affects black students, making them the racial group most likely to have higher student loan debt and not be able to repay it. What’s not fair is that without at least a bachelor’s degree, people will earn an average of $30,000 a year, according to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. For those who borrowed large sums just to earn a coveted degree that was supposed to propel them toward upward economic mobility, a good portion of their post-graduation earnings will now have to be repaid.
There’s no way the level playing field will ever be level as long as there are people drowning in debt. Up to $20,000 forgiven is a good start, but it’s not a solution.
I would not write this without having taken out loans. It took a lot to go to a private school in my first two years of college, but since the transfer, I’ve always found myself having to use them to pay my rent. I couldn’t dedicate myself to learning to be a journalist without doing it.
In addition to loans, I have a job and scholarships, so I have the privilege of not having to worry about money now. However, I cannot deny that the fight that I and so many others have fought and will have to fight to repay our loans is frightening. And after December, I’ll have new access to a part of our world that often feels like it’s betting people like me to lose.