Black Tax: Responsibility or Burden?
I was reading an article last week which showcases young professionals who are making money in their various fields of endeavor, when I came accross the phrase Black Tax for the first time. A cursory check on Google revealed a phenomena that is quite familiar to me and is as old as the black man’s history.
The phrase Black Tax is said to have been coined in South Africa and has featured in several articles ,books and even has a series named after it. The Urban dictionary defines it as “the extra money that black professionals are expected to give every month to support their less fortunate and extended family”.
The Black, Yellow, Red or non Caucasian race as always favored communal living and it has been the unwritten rule passed down from generation to generation in each family, that each successful person in the family ( success being defined as having more than the others) is obligated and duty bound to help uplift the other members of the family. The rule which can be said to be the grundnorm of the constitution of the family structure in Africa, Asia and South America is premised on the ground that a child belongs to the community which jointly raises him or her and that in turn, that child must pay back and pay forward the community’s investment in him or her.
There is no doubt in my mind that each and everyone of us has been a beneficiary or payee of Black Tax. For a majority of us, we began to pay it from our childhood, some of us as early as 3 -4years when we hawked or took up neighbourhood jobs to contribute our own quota to the family purse. For others , we joined the system after some level of education mostly secondary school when we had to drop out of school and get jobs so we could help pay for rent, feeding and our younger siblings’ school fees. Some stayed in school and did odd jobs so they could send money home. For a minority of us, especially those of us who were blessed to have parents who were educated and had jobs, we joined the payroll after school when we got a job.
For yet a tiny proportion of people they joined at middle age, caught in between meeting their needs, the needs of their children and that of their retired and aged parents whose pension cannot cater for their needs in a depressed economy. For those in the diaspora whatever their age, it is a mandate they must fulfill after spending at least 1 year overseas, they are to send money home to their less fortunate family members who may or may not have contributed to their sojurn abroad
No matter what stage we joined the system, Black Tax is an obligation, nay a debt we all pay and gladly too for the most part even though at times we wish the tax master doesn’t come too often. It’s what we know, what we have seen our parents practice, what has been drummed into our consciousness since we were toddlers at our mother’s breasts and what we are taught, encouraged, pushed, harassed and manipulated into doing.
A lot of us continue to pay Black Tax albeit grudingly because we understand its benefits to our family system. There is no doubt that we as a people, are more caring, more involved in one another’s lives, more responsible to our families because of the system. It has made something of people who ordinarily would have fallen through the cracks and has been the hand of God for many individuals. It is a good system and a lot of us owe it our unending gratitude.
However, like all things it has its disadvantages and can become a weapon in the hands of unscrupulous relatives who see one as their meal ticket.
It is one of the main reasons why most people of color cannot pass on wealth to generations behind them as it makes it difficult for individuals to save, invest and consequently generate a good foundation for generational wealth. This in turn leads to each generation having to start from scratch as there are no ready financial launch pads unlike the Caucasians who are better enabled to transfer wealth through generations.
It breeds an entitlement mentalility and co dependency. We all have and know family members who think that the reason we work is to meet their needs, who believe that they need not work hard or work at all because we will not allow them to starve or deprive them of the neccesities of life.
Although it may help bring families closer, it can also lead to severing of the ties among family members as the more successful members of the family ultimately distance themselves because of the incessant and overwhelming appeal for help.
It is a major cause of stress and ill health as people undertake several jobs in order to have money to meet the needs and demands of relatives and this may lead to a low self worth as some parents compare their children to their mates who spend lavishly on their family.
The truth is Black Tax is an intrinsic part of our culture and it will not vanish. Intrestingly, a huge number of us are active proponents of it, not only because we have been brought up to do so but because of the power it gives us over others through a messianic complex and because it satisfies the inordinate need we have to be wanted, to be needed and to have people who look to us for everything. In a bid to curb the excess of black Tax I humbly suggest that we :
A. Imbibe the mindset that no body owes us anything and that we are not God the ultimate provider of all of mankinds needs.
B. Priotise the different catergories of black tax and set a budget for it. Black Tax should be for neccesities such as rent, school fees, medical bills and not to buy asoebi, throw a party or marry a new wife.
C. Learn to say No without feeling guilty especially when you have helped in the past and cannot afford to help presently.
D. Save and Invest for the future so we do not become dependent on our children and repeat the cycle. You may ask how this is possible, I learnt to do this by doing a direct debit on my salary account which took effect on pay day and was transferred into an account I could not touch for at least 2 years otherwise I will be liable to pay a default fee. In doing so, I could truthfully say I had no money to give when I was being taxed by family.
E. Have an insurance plan that will cover emergencies and unforseen contigencies. My friends had an insurance plan that covered their parents death and when one of them lost a parent recently the payout was helpful towards the funeral expenses.
F. Discourage dependency, so rathe than dole out money, enroll relatives in school or in a skills acquisition programme so they can learn to fish for themselves.
G. Have discussions with people about how they spend their money. It may be uncomfortable but it will help them understand your position. Also, while you have no obligation to tell them how much you earn, let them know what you can and cannot afford and instil financial discipline in immediate family members.
We may have bought the lie that our family members cannot do without our monthly contributions to their wellbeing and lifestyle but the bitter truth is that were we for one reason or the other incapacitated and unable to make those contributions, they will live well or even better than when we helped them.