To the Editor:

Would Canceling Student Debt Promote Racial Equity? outlined well the challenges massive student loan debt pose to the economy and recent proposals to cancel that debt, highlighting the disparity in student loan burdens by race and the role of structural racism in creating and perpetuating those disparities. The unwritten assumption in much of the current discourse around student loan debt is that cancellation must be applied equally to all borrowers, giving rise to much hand wringing over well-to-do college graduates profiting unduly.  While cancellation for all borrows may be what equality requires, it is not what equity demands.  

One of the single most effective ways the Biden administration can make good on the promises made to Black Americans during the campaign season, promises that propelled candidate Biden past the crowded Democratic primary field in South Carolina and to a landslide victory over then President Trump, is to support targeted relief programs for Black Americans. As Labor Economist Julianne Malveaux stated, “What Biden has to do that few presidents have been willing to do is target … if you have a population that’s been harder hit, you have to have specific remedies for that population.” 

Black Americans have been hardest hit by the student loan debt crisis because of systemic racism. In order for President Biden to make good on his campaign promise to make racial justice “core to every part of his economic agenda”, he must deliver targeted policies such as a program of limited debt cancellation for white borrowers and a program of debt cancellation for Black borrowers without a cap on forgiveness amount. 

Critics of student loan forgiveness have spoken out about fairness and the relatively well-off college-goers who might benefit from student loan forgiveness. Student loan forgiveness for Black borrowers is not about treating differently “students who avoided debt or paid off their debt”; it’s about making whole Black students who never stood a chance of doing so! Black student loan borrowers are hardly the relatively affluent some worry about benefiting unduly from loan forgiveness.

A program of targeted student loan debt relief for Black borrowers “would be a recognition of the disparities that led Black students to have to borrow in the first place” and should be a part of the larger platform of reparations for which some have called. As Representative Pressly said “It’s not a matter of or. It’s a matter of and.”  Black student loan cancellation and individual restitution and housing grants and business grants… 

Importantly, this broad platform of reparations would address what critics of debt cancellation decry as the “fairness” of forgiving the debt of student loan borrowers (many of whom are NOT college graduates) while doing nothing for “Black people…who didn’t have the opportunity to go to college.”  

President Biden signed an Executive Order his first day in office authorizing his administration to prioritize elimination of the racial wealth gap, and now he must act on that order. The administration’s stance on student loan debt relief is a test of whether it will simply speak the rhetoric of racial equity and espouse an aspiration of eliminating the racial wealth gap or be remembered as an administration that actually created targeted programs for racial justice and reduced the racial wealth gap.

Ricshawn Adkins Roane


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