Last week, as I was walking through the Horseshoe, I stumbled across a plaque acknowledging that this portion of campus was built by slave labor. It is supposed to honor the enslaved people who were forced to build this school brick by brick.
While this was a well-intentioned gesture, it is ultimately just for show if no real action is taken to make up for the transgressions that my ancestors received leading up to USC’s establishment in 1801. That's why USC should offer reduced tuition to Black students.
The plunder and exploitation of Black bodies were widespread and normalized 200 years ago. Western textbooks give a SparkNotes summary of the abomination that was slavery, but we are not taught how brutal and long-lasting the effects of slavery were. The remnants are reflected today in Black people’s low socioeconomic status in comparison to white counterparts.
The argument surrounding reparations in America has been one shrouded in controversy and debate. While a majority of Black folks agree that reparations are necessary (whether they know why or not), other groups believe the concept of reparations is unfair.
“Slavery is over. Y’all got Obama! Why are you still complaining?”
The ongoing effects of slavery can be clearly observed today. Black people disproportionately live in ghettos and have a diminished chance of upward mobility, as opposed to white people, who inherit generational wealth as a direct result of slavery.
According to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, the median income of Black families in 2018 was $41,361, the lowest of any ethnic group in the country. Compare that to the median white family income of $70,642.
We live in a capitalist society that tells us getting a college degree is the most direct route to personal success and financial freedom. America prides itself on being the land of equal opportunity where anyone can pull themselves up by the bootstraps and achieve greatness. Unfortunately, that isn't the case.
Black people are disadvantaged from the moment they are born because of an atrocity that happened before any of us were a thought. Many of my peers were born into poverty and will more than likely continue this generational cycle because of a lack of resources and education. Concepts such as going abroad or families owning yachts were foreign to me before I stepped on USC's campus, which is a testament to white privilege.
If education is the key to financial freedom and financial freedom is necessary to attend a “good” school, how can this system expect marginalized groups with the least financial freedom to succeed? The catch is, the powers that be know this system is broken and will not take steps to fix it because of capitalism. The system is designed so that Black people, and other marginalized groups, fail.
In his essay “The Case For Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates mentions a bill proposed by the late Congressman John Conyers Jr. that lays out a concrete strategy for the lingering questions surrounding reparations in America. For 25 years, up until his resignation in 2017, Conyers proposed this bill, but it never even made it to the House floor. The powers that be know there is a viable solution for reparations but refuse to acknowledge it.
While national reparations would be ideal, smaller-scale reparations in the form of reduced tuition for Black college students would be an appropriate way to ensure upward mobility. For a university that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, that sentiment is hardly reflected in the demographic makeup of campus. Black students make up less than 10% of the total student population. The university should be ashamed that it is not more representative of the actual ethnic makeup in this state.
A common barrier for attending esteemed universities is the cost of tuition. Because we are at the bottom of the economic totem pole, that barrier often discourages Black students from even applying to the university. If USC wanted to truly acknowledge the people whose backs this campus was built on, it would give their descendants access to equal opportunity.
At a school in large part built by enslaved Black people and which gains significant profit from the free labor of predominantly Black athletes, I find it ironic that Black students are still forced to pay full tuition. After being exposed to the ongoing effects of slavery and acknowledging the importance of education in our society, it is willful ignorance to deny the necessity of reparations.
Black people in America have always been taught we have to be “twice as good” to succeed, but let’s remember the reason we have to be twice as good in the first place.