I recently listened to a podcast between Oprah and Trevor Noah. In the podcast, Noah’s reference to, “The Black Tax” in his autobiography, “Born a Crime”, became the topic of discussion. Now what is the “The Black Tax,” you ask? It is essentially when a person obtains a level of financial security (which may not be secure at all) and becomes required to financially take care of close and extended family.
If you are of African descent or have any friends in the diaspora, you may know of a friend who is constantly sending money back home to help relatives, a mom, father, sister, brother, aunty, nephew, cousin, the old lady that lives on the next junction who took care of them when they were a kid, and on and on… And the situation is no different in the African American community. If you’ve graduated from college or have a sustainable job (which doesn’t mean you are financially independent), you are now required to take care of your mother, father, sister, brother, aunty, nephew cousin, and the old lady that lives next door who used to rat you out to your parents whenever you got home late and tried to sneak into the house! As a woman of African descent, I have had random family members contact me to send money back home. The reasons vary, it could be to assist with educational fees start a business, or just maintain the household.
I once had a relative who was married call me asking for “The Tax”. I had to explain to her that I am in a single-person household as opposed to her situation, living in a two-person household. I also explained to her that I should not be looked to as a means of support for her household: that she and her husband should come up with a reasonable plan of action that would prevent them from contacting me to ask for “The Tax”.
Could “The Black Tax,” or, as I have christened it, “TBT” be setting women up for failure? Is there an obligation to take care of your entire family back home when you? are not even well situated with your finances and career? A recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies shows that black household’s wealth is on track to reach zero by 2082. With odds stacked up against us such as that, how are we as Black women in the diaspora supposed to build wealth?
In many white homes, the opposite of TBT often occurs. In an article published by Brookings, white households have assistance from tools such as inheritances and other intergenerational transfers to have more wealth. Financially stable white households create investments that, decades later, will work to help their children financially advance in life. The child in turn repeats the same behaviour, which in turn creates generational wealth for the family. In contrast, having to give your money to your relatives, close and distant, may prolong financial instability and generational wealth for women of colour. And what about the guilt women feel for not wanting to participate in TBT? Since we are always looked at as nurturers, there seems to be this unspoken obligation to help.
In a 2018 article entitled, Black Women Cannot be your Superheroes; India Card discusses how this, “Superhero complex placed upon Black women is dehumanizing.” The effects of this unrealistic image of the Black women leads to pressure and stress from fulfilling obligations that we should not bear. In his autobiography, “Born A Crime”; Trevor Noah states that his mom promised him he would not be a victim of TBT. A TBT survivor herself, Oprah agreed with this sentiment in her podcast. Noah’s mother is commendable. She acknowledged TBT and the negative impact it had on her life. She also took it a step further to say she would not continue this tradition with her kids. But of course, that circles back to the Superhero characterization of us as black women, always the nurturer, always the protector, always expected to be the sacrifice.
TBT exists, and to say whether it is negative or positive may be subjective and up to the financially supportive woman. A generous act goes a long way; we cannot deny that but if this generous act is causing detriment to your life, it may be time to have a heart-to-heart discussion about TBT. As a woman if you find yourself in a circumstance of TBT there are many questions you should ask yourself before you commit:
Am I financially independent?
Have I purchased my first home?
Have I paid off my student debt?
Is this marriage to someone I really love or just someone that will enable me to support my family?
If any of these questions are answered with no, you should not feel guilty not participating in The Black Tax. Say no to TBT! To be honest, I think the reverse should happen, when a woman decides to go abroad to further her education or life, her family should support her by being there for her mentally and financially.