Here's the plan to erase student debt for more than 42 million Americans right now.

There are two things that most of us can reasonably agree on:

  1. That education is important and should be provided to any American that needs, wants, or otherwise shows interest in obtaining it.
  2. That paying for that education has become catastrophically difficult. And though it used to be that one could go to college, get a good job upon graduating, and then buy a nice house complete with a fenced-in backyard in which to raise 2.5 children, that's now a pipe dream many university students can't even afford to think about.

So what do we do? Some cities, including San Francisco, have already made their community colleges free for residents. But that's just one small step towards a future where education's affordable for everyone.

On Monday, presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren released a memo on how the college system could be altered to make it achievable for all.


Warren's proposing that more college be free and that federal Pell grants be expanded. She's also suggesting that student loan debts should be wiped out, ensuring that future generations get a leg up on their futures.

"As states have invested less per-student at community colleges and public four-year colleges, the schools themselves have raised tuition and fees to make up the gap," Warren wrote in a post on Medium.

"And rather than stepping in to hold states accountable, or to pick up more of the tab and keep costs reasonable, the federal government went with a third option: pushing families that can’t afford to pay the outrageous costs of higher education towards taking out loans."

The result, Warren points out is "a huge student loan debt burden that’s crushing millions of families and acting as an anchor on our economy."

"It’s reducing home ownership rates. It’s leading fewer people to start businesses. It’s forcing students to drop out of school before getting a degree. It’s a problem for all of us."

Here's what Warren's plan would look like.

Under her proposed policy, Warren would wipe out $50,000 worth of student loans for anyone who's annual household income is less than $100,000. Anyone with a household income of less than $250,000 would also receive substantial reductions.

Those whose incomes are higher than $250,000 would continue paying off student loans without changes. However, as Huffington Post notes, the proposed plan would help 42 million people in The United States. That's 95% of anyone who's attended or is currently attending college.

Warren's plan also includes a significant amount of money being invested in historically black colleges and universities, more diversity in two and four-year colleges, and an end to the government-helping fund for-profit colleges, which prey on economically disadvantaged communities.

The policy sounds great — more students attaining college degrees while being allowed more control over their financial futures — but it's going to be a tall order to implement right now.

Aside from hand-wringing concern trolls who are already out in full force on Twitter, demanding to know why anyone would go to a college they can't afford (while ignoring that higher education has become so expensive that even state schools are out of reach for many), there's the very real issue of convincing voters that the $1.25 trillion the program would cost over ten years is viable.

Warren believes it would be possible by raising the tax on families that earn more than $50 million a year, something that might also ruffle some feathers during the next election cycle.

Still — a population that's educated and not overwhelmed with debt? That sounds pretty good no matter who you voted for in the last election.

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Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as someone refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

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