America is not a country that’s big on fulfilling dreams, or providing equal opportunity in achievement and education. It often seems to be a country set up on a principle of pointlessly wasting potential.
Racism, sexism and homophobia have killed the spirit and ambition of countless students, particularly in generations past. Is today’s world much better? Public education is supposed to “level the playing field” but relatively high percentages of minorities attend “bad schools” while more whites and the well-to-do benefit from “good schools.” The achievement gap begins in kindergarten; while on the other end of the educational spectrum low-income students suffer the worst harm from the student loan debt trap. Black students already stymied by socio-economic drawbacks usually take longer to finish school, hence accruing more debt; and higher percentages buckle under, leaving school with no diploma, only debt.
I fell into the pitfalls that hold back too many minority students — the classic inferiority complexes accompanied by anger against racism, and aggravated by an educational system that reinforced stereotypes. In 1985, I graduated from a severely dysfunctional high school to a supposedly sophisticated college that lacked a black studies program. I left after two years “culture-shocked.” I was the archetypal non-diploma-ed victim described by the statistics.
My real education came from working at a variety of low-wage jobs, which taught me comradery, community, as well as the survival skills this country requires of low-wage workers. I knew many Black people (and they included people with Master’s degrees) living from check to check, unable to use untapped abilities that could contribute to the arts and sciences. It might have been a different story if they lived in a society that reduced the income and education gap. Or a society which sponsored free higher education.
But I was lucky. In my late 30’s, an editor at the Washington Post spotted my material on an online magazine. Beginning professionally by publishing book reviews in The Post, I transitioned from parking cars to paying the bills by publishing freelance magazine articles. I write about race, class and poverty.