In Southern Africa, the Black Tax is an interesting factor in feminist discourses simply because financial welfare can be a conduit for independence. It would be a disservice for me to make the argument that this issue is only limited to Southern Africa or even sub-Saharan Africa. It is called the Black Tax precisely because Black people everywhere, even in the diaspora (especially in the diaspora?) experience it. The use of Black signifies the influence of race and highlights the intricate systemic economic injustices that are consequences of colonial and slavery histories. Since the building of the Western Empire on the foundations of violent systems such as slavery, White family lineages have been able to, and continue to accumulate wealth that has been handed down from one generation to the next. Wine farms, land or companies – the list is endless!
In 2018, taxpayers in the UK were still financing one of the largest British loans in history, used to pay off former slave owners as a result of the abolition of slavery. It is well known now that the British government had to borrow £20 million to compensate slave owners. This might not sound like a lot, but to put it in context, it represented about 5% of GDP or £148 billion pounds in today’s money. If this legacy of Black Tax is systematic and the aftermath of various injustices, is it possible for us to avoid it?
When individuals ‘make it’ and secure some coins, there is often an unexpressed expectation that they will support the family and participate as a financial resource because individual wins are for the family and, as the adage goes, it takes a village to raise a child. So is it possible to avoid the Black Tax? Well…yes. And no.
You can’t come and kill yourself, abi?! – Have boundaries.
Having boundaries on who, where and when to help can aid in avoiding the worst effects of the Black Tax. Draw the line on whom you help, when you help and how much you help. Beware, the notion of the Black Tax has evolved beyond only financial assistance as it refers to sharing resources beyond money. Do you have 24/7 Internet access? Well, you are expected to download educational materials or apply for jobs on behalf of people. Do you have your own place in the metropolis? Expect it to become the halfway house for all and sundry traipsing in from the village or, if you live in the West, from the old country.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that you turn your back on your relatives; some of us have been grateful recipients of the Black Tax. However, those family members and friends who tend to misuse the Black Tax and then accuse you of selfishness and wanting to make it alone need to be excised from your life. In my experience, what worked was blocking and unfriending a lot of people and that has been the best decision ever!
Don’t fall for the guilt trap!
Ubuntu, Umoja, Koryɛ, I won’t lie, it is easy to be trapped into feeling guilty because one has been there and knows the struggle but you need to know that gaining upwards social mobility does not absolve you from the challenges in the new space. For instance, if I am awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge, it is a good win (in fact a great win!) but that does not mean that I have won the lottery and am free of financial concerns. In fact, studies show that it costs far more for someone to settle into a new place than for locals who may already have a support system and hence do not have quite as many outlays. In this situation, the last thing you need is that family member is busy wanting Nike Air Force 1 React LX or an iPhone 12 for Christmas when you are barely making ends meet! If you have extra cash to spend, by all means, spoil the family but don’t let that be at the cost of your wellbeing! You’re not Asaase Yaa, goddess of plenty! Or Santa!
Prioritise your wellbeing.
I cannot stress this enough; when you’re trying to juggle two jobs, lectures, rent, the weather is dragging your edges ALL the way off and it all seems likely to end in tears – you need to prioritize yourself. Buy yourself flowers, eat a healthy diet, be kind to yourself and reward yourself when necessary; self-care is not a frivolous frittering away of your money in the face of endless demands for assistance. The best self-care could be learning to say NO. If you do not prioritize your wellbeing, you could be facing a breakdown or burnout; being away from family, familiarity and friends is hard enough – don’t add to that stress by carrying other people’s unnecessary demands.
My rule of thumb has been ‘show up and step up where the same energy is reciprocated’ and by all means offer the same level of support where you feel loved and held up, elevated and winning! If the ‘it takes a village to raise a child‘’ group is not there during the struggle, then you do not need them to validate how you pay tax.
The Black Tax is a very real phenomenon and, necessary though it is for Black Women especially to lift each other up, there is a constant risk of being dragged down and defeating the object of helping each other. Prioritize yourself, help only when you can and say no when you can’t, with no guilt at all. You cannot pour from an empty cup.