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August 2012

Thoughts About “Useless Degree” Lists…

It is not a coincidence that the knowledge, perspectives and skills (obtained through degrees) that directly correlate to the betterment, uplift and empowerment of marginalized groups in a White supremacist capitalist patriarchal society are also the degrees often deemed “useless.” It is not a coincidence that other than medicine (and not because of the “care of life,” but because of how it is so amazingly profitable for the health insurance industry and other business industries—not even speaking of doctors here), any life, health, education or social/cultural knowledge-reaffirming degree or job is often deemed purposeless and assigned a low value in dollars (salary, the only way that value is measured in a White supremacist capitalist patriarchal society).

As I tweeted:

We live in a society that conveys the message that studying people and their cultures is stupid and “useless,” but studying to own the companies that make and sell the objects of mass consumption that some of these same people make (often as slave labor or low-paid labor) is “purposeful.” And, we (including me—I, like every other person in the U.S., has goods made overseas) profit from it.

Studying business and economics today (especially within a frame that serves to protect the status quo) is often labeled as “purposeful.” Studying, for example, how the slave trade in the U.S. directly correlated to economic productivity and war in the 19th century, is deemed “useless.” Too much “race,” “humanities” and “cultural studies” are involved in the latter. The “purpose” evaporates if someone wants to examine how the American economy as is, is simply not possible without exploitative labor at its base and slave labor in its history. Too much “race” and “humanities” stuff.

Does it not seem even remotely ironic to some Black people (who seem to have no fear of sub-prime loans, upside down mortgages, and expensive car notes) that their student loan fears seems to scare them more than any other debt? Why is this debt more frightening than debt over objects (again, where studying the creation/production/ownership of these objects is deemed more important than studying the people who create them) that are foreclosed on and repossessed, in a way that an education cannot be? It’s because it is marketed as something to fear, while debt over consumption, or consumption itself, is not. (I know Black people with low-paying jobs, due to lack of education, who have astronomical debt from consumption, yet even $1000 in student loans frightens them. I do wonder if it is a smokescreen in order to stay away from school because of built up fear and discouragement over facing microaggressions and stereotype threat in their K-12 years, or simply being unprepared because they attended a poor-performing high school that ignored their needs.)

Do Black people understand that the sheer existence of more STEM jobs versus social science and art jobs bears zero correlation on actually acquiring one of these jobs? You’re still Black when you apply (whether your name is Sharon or Shemika). And, as I’ve watched many friends, this knowledge that is deemed “purposeful” did not make getting hired in these fields easier simply because more jobs exist in these fields or that these jobs are deemed socially “worthy” and rewarded with a higher income. It meant that they had more places to send a resume—not that they had an easier time get hired.

Even one of the most brilliant (Black) scientific minds, Neil deGrasse Tyson revealed his respect for the humanities during a talk about his book, Space Chronicles - The New Frontier. Someone asked him if historians (History…you know…one of the degrees often called stupid or “useless,” since it usually falls under the arts side of arts and sciences at universities) are important to society since he knows scientists are. deGrasse Tyson said this:

If you don’t know the conduct of humans and what motivates them and the relationships between nations, then go back home, you’re not useful out there if you want to bring real solutions to real problems. Historians are really important in this, particularly historians who put things in context rather than just re-tell a timeline of events. Context matters. Attitudes matter. Cultures matter.

And…are Black people going to continue to fetishize Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg? Our stories will no more be their stories than their stories will be Trayvon Martin’s or Troy Davis’.

As I tweeted:

These three messages are consistently portrayed to us and then eventually by/between us:

1) Education debt is the worst and scariest debt, so pursue consumption debt, on a lower paid job (due to lack of education), and skip education altogether.

2) Skip college altogether since it works out for exceptional cases of people marketed as products (Black celebrities) or privileged White males in technology. (Americans, in general, love exceptions, special cases, celebrities, flukes, magic and other remnants of exceptionalism).

3) If you couldn’t be convinced to avoid or drop out of college…well then…major only in whatever is deemed “useful” and appropriate by a White supremacist capitalist patriarchal system. Evaluate education and degrees in a simplistic way: i.e. the Blueology major must be a Blueologist at Blue Inc., or he/she is not “using” their degree.

When the same people who control a White supremacist capitalist patriarchal society are the ones controlling the hiring (down to rejecting hairstyles, zip codes, and “ethnic names”) and are the same ones deciding what degree is valuable, the correlations can’t be ignored. If they decide that anything not of interest to (usually White) men individually or White supremacist capitalist patriarchy itself, has no purpose, and punish people for making educational choices outside of what currently serves a market that has no social or cultural loyalty to or interest in the greater need of social justice, then the “useless” label is really a social construction to exclude whatever can create a threat to the status quo.

If Black people are going to smile and nod and agree that anything on these “useless degree” lists are in fact “useless,” at least know WHY we are agreeing, and what this word “useless” is really conveying.

(I’m definitely not saying that post-secondary education itself doesn’t need a makeover in some areas and deconstruction/reconstruction in others. This post isn’t about how to reform schools, the cost of schools, 2 year/4 year state schools vs. proprietary schools etc., but about recognizing the source of some of the labeling in  regards to education in its existing form.)

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    "Studying business and economics today (especially within a frame that serves to protect the status quo) is often...
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    whoaaaaaa A+ omg DISCLAIMER: i am very white and have tons of class privilege. i was very touched by the parts i could...
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    These three messages are consistently portrayed to us and then eventually by/between us: 1) Education debt is the worst...
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