The Reading: The GI BIll
The author discusses the GI Bill, and how redlining and other consciously racist policies and practices made it nearly impossible for black GIs to use their GI Bill. I hadn’t been aware of this until I saw an episode of “Race: the Power of an Illusion” during a class at work. When I saw that, my first thought was to wonder why the other GIs didn’t raise hell. But then, I realized that in that place and time, they mostly wouldn’t have known, any more than I did. WWII – Jim Crow still in effect – once they came back from the war, they wouldn’t have seen black men they served with, and that wouldn’t have seemed odd. So if the black GIs didn’t buy houses in their neighborhoods, the white GIs would just have assumed they bought in “black neighborhoods.”
(This – that half a century later I, as a veteran, could still not know that – was my first big “a-ha!” about the real nature of “systemic” oppression in the US. That so many things which seemed like individual efforts could work together to achieve both intentional and unintended goals in ways designed to keep them “invisible” to those not directly affected. Maybe the white GIs wouldn’t have done anything. But maybe people who had fought a war together would stand together. That things so neatly dovetailed to prevent history from knowing the answer to that was just one coincidence too many for me…)
When the author described her father going to law school using his GI Bill, I was floored.
College was one of the things that I hoped the service would allow me to do. But when I looked into it, I didn’t see how it could possibly work. The limitations on how I could use the money, the things it didn’t cover – I’d need to work full time and go to school full time in order to cover costs – except that working full-time lowered the amount they’d allow – I couldn’t find a way to make it work. I did finally get my degree – but not til about four years after my GI Bill eligibility had expired.
It took a bit of research to understand – but I got out of the Army at a time when college tuition was rising rapidly, and before the GI Bill was revamped. I found the charts showing the cost of college vs minimum wage over the years – “how many weeks did you have to work full time, to pay for a year of tuition.” Until about 1970, it was ten weeks. By the time I graduated high school, it was 20. When I got out of the Army, nearly 40. I was on my own – and tuition alone was 3/4 of a year’s pay. the GI Bill theoretically covered some living expenses – but when I did the math, it covered less than half. And it didn’t cover things like student fees or lab fees or books.
Maybe it was a coincidence of timing. Maybe it was just that the GI Bill was at its nadir of effectiveness – or that it assumed a returning GI was returning to something – a family that would feed and house him, for example. But ultimately, the money I gave the Army to pay for my GI bill benefits was money burned. I couldn’t find a way to make it work for me until I was able to cover more of the cost myself, and by then it was too late.
I have benefited. Without VA loan guarantee, there’s no way I’d be a homeowner.
“Nowhere as far as I can see, is any advantage as hard-hitting and enduring as skin color. My white skin, an epidermal gold card, has greased the skids for a life full of opportunities and rewards that I was sure were available to everyone. My notions that America offered a level playing field disintegrated.”
Girl, all those advantages aren’t even available to everyone who’s white. What on earth made you think they were available to people who were still marching to end Jim Crow while you were spending idyllic childhood summers at the lake? Again, I run into a space where the author and I come from such different places, I can’t even connect to what she is saying.
The Role of Government
“I thought of how hypocritical my belief in small government was, now that I understood how well big government had served me through programs and policies such as those entwined in the GI Bill”
I learned in school that the ultimate purpose of a government is economic. Protect your territory? Land has value. Protect your shipping? Commerce, goods are valuable. From there it wasn’t a huge leap to realize that the rich and powerful run government to serve the rich and powerful. And the idea of giving a tiny percentage of that up to feed the people that they have left starving somehow makes them feel like those lazy, poverty-stricken SOBs are stealing from them, or at the very least that it’s money wasted.
To this day, “comfort food” is grilled cheese sandwiches – similar to the ones we’d make from the Wonder Bread and huge blocks of Velveeta cheese the government warehouse people would dole out. When family crises occur, my sister has us all over for pinto beans (and a ham hock!). These are the foods of our childhood.
Guess it’s a good thing for me that there were at least some folks in power who didn’t think feeding me was a waste of their precious money.
On Being Powerless
“I ruminated on this question: If my childhood of racially organized comfort and opportunity had made me feel like the master of my own destiny, full of confidence, and certain of a bright future, what did this imply about people on the flip side of the coin – people who’d been shut out of a world of comfort and opportunity? How does one construct dreams about the future under these conditions? How can one bear to watch TV shows depicting lives of comfort and ease for people with a skin color you don’t share?”
For me, at least, it worked the opposite way. If you don’t have much else, then you have to have dreams. If you can’t stand to look around you, you can look inside your mind instead. Watching TV – that’s easy. Even when they have your skin color, those people on TV aren’t like you – that’s fantasy. It’s just someone else’s dreams put out for you to watch. If “Leave it to Beaver” is as different from your life as “Love Boat” – they’re all just fiction. None of that is real, and none of it has anything more to do with you than the science fiction novel you borrowed from the library.
The Study Question
Have you ever uncovered a family secret or piece of information about a person or place that countered your previous perception?
Secrets? No. Lies? All over the place on my mom’s side. Getting to know her family once i grew up gave me a whole new view. And on Dad’s side – lies, misinformation or lost information – but not from him. The things he had been told about who is family were and where they came from – stories he knew inside and out, told over and over again – things that he “knew” to be true stories of his father’s family – didn’t stand up to later research. He didn’t know that side of his family well, even as a kid, so had no way to dig or to know anything more than his dad told him, and he died believing them. It wasn’t until after he was gone that I accidentally found evidence to the contrary.
Once you learned the new information, were you able to look back and see clues that had been there all along but that you didn’t recognize as evidence of a narrative you didn’t yet know about?
Nope. In fact, the provable facts I found seem to directly contradict dad’s family photos and I have no idea what to believe. Still working on figuring that out…