The phrase “black tax” is the fairly recent and well-intentioned shorthand used to articulate the financial responsibility of providing for extended family.
“Black tax” also refers to the challenges faced by black people in a society characterised by pervasive and institutionalised white privilege and racism.
However, black tax is not a real thing. There is no “tax” for being black in the same way there is no tax for being a woman, homosexual, disabled or poor.
There are, however, real financial and social implications for being a member of one or more of those groups – people who are deliberately and systemically denied opportunities, equal rights and freedoms; who are paid less; who travel further to work; who have little or no social security nets; who come from backgrounds where there are fewer family members employed or educated.
What there is, if we are to be more honest and accurate, are the costs and consequences of inequality.
The major issue with calling it “black tax” is that it makes the nature of the high cost of being part of a disadvantaged group unique to black people. Black tax quickly becomes a pathology of black people – about the way black people are or what they do – rather than an articulation of their lived experience.
The need to look after family is certainly not unique to black people; it is not unique to working and middle class individuals in a global economy of diminishing income and job opportunities for those not in the top 1%.
The family unit is the foundation of almost all societal formations, including in South Africa. The concept of “black tax” looks at black families and black breadwinners in isolation and neglects to ask why black people have this particular lived experience that comes back to the various privileges black people continue to be denied.
There is a real reason black people feel taxed, but that reason is not family members who are unemployed, but rather what happens when you are disadvantaged in a global economy that is failing generally.
By now, we understand the neoliberal capitalist democratic project has not been the great fixer we had hoped it would be (whether foolishly or naively is no longer relevant at this point).
By using the phrase “black tax” to explain the disadvantage that black people are born into and very rarely get out of, no matter how hard they work, entrenches the systems and institutions in place that make being black so taxing