Why white people don’t support student debt relief, explained

OPINION: The GOP’s opposition to student debt relief is just the latest example of white America’s hypocrisy on the policies that created their economic advantage.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Hey Michael, I heard that you were some kind of ecologist who could explain this student debt controversy for me. 

I’m a wypipologist and economist. I studied macroeconomics and white people. But I think I can explain this student debt thing. 

According to a recent report, advisers in the Biden administration have considered canceling student loan debt for college borrowers, much to the chagrin of white people like Fox News host and two-time winner of the little-known Nobel Prize for Evil (the Nobel Committee is very inclusive), Laura Ingraham. Like many white people, Ingraham is allergic to happiness and equality, so she…

Why do you always have to shade white people? Why would a Scientologist like yourself hate them so much? 

It’s “economist” or “wypipologist.”

I’m glad you asked that question. But first, you have to tell me why you insist on insulting my mom. What has she ever done to you to make you call her a bad mother? My mother taught me how to read and now you’re sitting here telling me that she didn’t know what she was doing!

Why do you hate her so much?

What? I didn’t say anything about your mother!

True. But I didn’t say a single thing about “all white people.” 

See, when someone explains that cars need gas, we understand that they are not talking about electric vehicles or Fred Flinstone’s Cavemobile. Most people can hear someone say “birds fly” without interrupting with: “What about penguins and emus?” When someone uses the phrase “white people,” the reason we don’t include the names of every single white person who has ever lived is that we expect non-stupid Americans to understand that we are describing a majority or a statistical plurality. 

For instance, economists talk about “white homeownership” because data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the non-Hispanic white homeownership rate currently stands at 74 percent while the percentage of Black homeowners has never reached 50 percent. The reason Oprah doesn’t object when we discuss the Black-white wealth gap is because, according to economists at the New School and the Duke Center for Social Equality, the average white high school dropout is worth more than the average Black college graduate. Even though LeBron James earns more money than Joe the Plumber, we know that, when adjusted for education, experience and geographic location, the average Black worker earns about 75 cents per hour for every dollar a white man earns

Regardless of education, ability or experience—white people have an economic advantage in America. That is a statistical fact that can’t be disproven by the existence of a poor, uneducated, underpaid worker named Brett who can’t make his rent.  A reasonably intelligent person knows that no one ever means “all.”

So, when you asked me about “all white people,” I assumed you were insinuating that I couldn’t read, which is an insult to my first reading teacher—my mother. 

Let’s move on.

But why do you accuse white people of opposing student loan forgiveness? Can’t you lose your cosmetologist license?

Wypipologist. Or economists. I don’t do hair. I do math and white people.

In 2020, 61 percent of whites told Data for Progress that they oppose student debt forgiveness for every borrower and were split evenly on forgiving $50,000 in student loans for borrowers who make less than $125,000. A December Politico poll found that 32 percent of whites believe that the federal government should “not forgive student debt at all”—twice as many as any other demographic. And it’s not just older white people. According to an April Harvard youth survey, 73 percent of Black respondents, 67 percent of Hispanic Americans and 69 percent of Asian and Pacific Islanders believe the government should cancel student loan debt—either for all Americans or those most in need. 

In each of these cases, white Americans were the only race or ethnicity that didn’t have majority support for student debt forgiveness. 

Why don’t white people support student loan forgiveness?

The truth is, student loan debt isn’t really a problem white people have to deal with. Here are a few facts:

  • White people don’t need student loans:  40.2 percent of white undergraduate students use student loans to pay for school versus 50.8 percent of Black students.
  • Even when they do, they don’t need government help: Remember what we said about homeownership rates? Well, even when whites borrow money, they are more likely to borrow against the value of their property or get non-federal loans, according to the Education Data Initiative
  • White people pay less for student loans: White borrowers take advantage of private financing and lower interest rates. Even when they have the same credit and income as white borrowers, Black and Hispanic pay more to refinance their loans. 
  • White people’s student loan debt is less oppressive: Because whites earn more than their counterparts with the same education, have more wealth and get lower interest rates, they can pay off loans quicker. 
  • Most white people don’t owe student loans: According to the Federal Reserve, 53 percent of all the white people who borrowed money for college have paid it off. Meanwhile four years after college, most Black borrowers owe more than they borrowed. In fact, 50 percent of Black student borrowers owe more than their entire net worth in student loans.

Well, with those facts, doesn’t it make sense that they wouldn’t support student loan forgiveness?

Oh my god! Why are you trying to recruit me to your anti-gay, Islamophobic hate group? I won’t do it!

Why do you keep saying stuff like this? I didn’t say a single word about the LGBTQ community or worshippers of Islam.

But you’re insinuating that you’d understand why I oppose laws to protect gay people and Muslims just because I’m straight and not religious. I think anyone who truly cared about their country would want everyone to be protected and not just the group to which they belonged. That’s a really shallow, bigoted protective. 

First, you hate my mother and now this!

What if they’re just concerned about the cost to taxpayers and the economy?

That’s a great point.  

Now show me where the same people stood up to oppose the tax breaks, stimulus checks and farm subsidies that benefited white people. 

Because of the white homeownership rate, the mortgage interest deduction effectively subsidizes white homeowners to the tune of $17 billion a year. White families comprise 65 percent of the population but account for 89 percent of the money saved from capital gains in excess of $2 million while only 1 percent of those saving benefit Black people. Curiously, no one complains about the $250 billion in tax savings we give to white pensioners. White-owned businesses received more than 83 percent of the first wave of PPP loans and white farmers received nearly 100 percent of Trump’s relief program for farmers.

White people don’t work harder. They aren’t smarter. They aren’t more financially savvy. The reason the wealth gap persists is that the tax code, government incentives and the entire financial industry are constructed to subsidize white wealth. From the New Deal to private school vouchers, they have built their wealth with government handouts yet somehow bristle at the notion of their tax dollars going to anyone who has never asked if you’re “ready to rock and roll.” 

Well, when you put it like that, I can see why you’re upset with white people.

Why do you keep putting words in my mouth?

If I explained why my dog doesn’t like thunderstorms, I’m not shading clouds or Great Danes. Similarly, when I use demographic information, poll numbers and economic data to point out a few objective facts, I am not disparaging white people. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I believe we owe white people a debt of gratitude.

Wait, you just explained how white people have benefitted from economic inequality for years. Why should we thank them?

Because they are proof!

If I wanted to convince someone that loan forgiveness works, I could pull out mounds of academic research and quote economists until I’m blue in the face but people would still reject my hypothesis as just another negro ranting about economic inequality. 

But, thanks to white people, I don’t need to explain that loan forgiveness is a sound economic policy. I can just point to the National Bureau of Economic Research’s explanation for how the New Deal’s grants and zero-interest loans built the white middle class while raising more tax revenue. Instead of convincing people that free college tuition can lift people out of poverty, I can just cite the Black WWII veterans who were excluded from the G.I. Bill that gave homes and tuition to build the generational wealth of white veterans. White children get better educations because majority-white school districts are better funded. Predominately white institutions of higher learning receive more federal funds than historically Black colleges. The five largest financial institutions in the country have all been sued by the Department of Justice for giving nonwhite borrowers higher interest rates.

And, while you may see this as white privilege, I like to look at the bright side. Since August 1619, Black people’s labor, intellectual property and tax dollars have been used to bankroll a 400-year, intergenerational study on the macroeconomic result of white privilege. All those headright patents, segregated neighborhoods, federally funded suburbs, whites-only farm subsidies, small business loans, tuition breaks and housing grants that created white financial prosperity serve as proof that government-funded economic stimulus works. 

You should thank them for their service.

As a wineologist, do you think all these facts will convince white people to support debt relief? 

It’s pronounced “why peep ollie gist” And the answer is…

Wait. Did you just ask if I think white people will ever change? Bruh, if you keep disrespecting my mother, I’m gonna have to fight you!

I didn’t even mention your mother! How is that disrespectful?

Think of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, voter suppression and racial tyranny that this country still refuses to confront. Yet 250 later, white people still don’t fight for economic inclusion and equality. White people still don’t support reparations. They are the only group with a majority who still doesn’t believe in white privilege or Black history. No matter their age or generation, one-third of whites believe Black people are lazier than whites and 40 percent believe Black people are less intelligent. 

It is the year 2022. 

By asking if I think white people will ever give up their privilege for the sake of living in a more inclusive, equitable country, you were questioning my mother’s childrearing techniques and her teaching methods. My mama didn’t raise no…

OK. I apologize. Let me guess…Your mama didn’t raise no fool.

I was gonna say “Laura Ingraham.”

But in wypipology, it’s the same thing.

Michael Harriot theGrio.com

Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in 2022.

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