She must be white. And she must not be an immigrant. Her perspective on education, on employment, on debt, not to say anything of her opinion on the role of art for individuals or communities, all belie a sense of entitlement to being – just being – in the world.
She represents none of the things that I or my students of color, many of whom are also immigrants, know: an education, if it’s available to you in any form, no matter the cost, is priceless; big box discount retail work is there when pretty much every other door is closed to you or you need a second job to make ends meet; you take on debt to maintain a working level of dignity in a society that will consistently treat you like shit without certain markers but will treat you marginally less shittily (not better, less shittily) if you can acquire the right somethings – should you happen to figure out what those ‘right somethings’ are and where they might exist.
A friend and former professor of mine who is Puerto Rican and Afro-Latina adheres with perfect devotion to a program of self-love. Her clothes, her hair, the framework of her thinking and doing in the world, all remember her origins. Every opportunity she has she takes to use every resource available to recover and reclaim every aspect of her history, a legacy that this society has methodically endeavored to erase or forget. That is education. Furthermore, when it comes to research in her field, command of her subject, and the presentation of information, her rigor is unsurpassed. Her professional excellence isn’t the result of her passion for the subject; as a scholar and as an educator, she refuses to be complicit in any program of elision. Besides, if she was less than perfect as an academic, if she bullshat her way through, she wouldn’t be chuckled at or called “irreverent”, she’d be shamed.
And debt. Beyond the financial costs associated with post-secondary education of any kind, what is the debt in time and attention for active parents/partners/family and/or community members who perfect their crafts, polish performances, and memorize and produce instantly the names, theories, and accomplishments of relevant practitioners in their fields only to have to fight for the professional footing and recognition that goes so easily to ‘edgy’ white contemporaries? Time and attention are debts that cannot be repaid in minimum monthly amounts only to be forgiven after 20 years (240 consecutive payments). Time passes.
When I was 17, I passionately loved literature and was falling hard for photography. I was an adequate high school student; except for my English and theatre classes and the occasional history course, I was bored out of my mind. So, I, too, made the leap to a private college I could not afford where I also putzed around academically. I had a disastrous sophomore year. I dabbled in art history rather than take in a timely fashion the courses required for my English major. However, instead of flubbing the finale, in my senior year I took on more expenses and registered for and passed (more than adequately) all of the courses necessary to complete my degree. And I used loans to pay the last bill. My mother, my sister, my father, my professors, my ancestors, and any person for whom I’ve done any good since my undergraduate graduation were and are – always – more than enough reason for me finish what I start.
White people should duke it out over the cost of an education or whether the quality or cogency of that education is worth the price – they set the prices and the curricula (and, lately, in that order to predictable ends). But because she’s entitled to bitch about her fancy, expensive, unofficial BFA (which, let’s be honest, all she has to do is say the name of her school, she doesn’t actually need the diploma or transcript to get on with it), the rest of us have to cobble together the means to be in this world from available materials no matter the cost.