I was well into my mid-twenties before I heard of “the black tax.” In fact, I discovered the concept of “the black tax” when I was watching the movie Something New. In this particular scene, Sanaa Lathan, a talented accountant, was on a date with Blair Underwood, another ambitious professional. They were commiserating about life on the “plantation” (meaning the corporate structure), and how they had to incur “the black tax.” This meant that as black folk in predominately white settings, they had to work twice as hard, be twice as good, and be more on top of things than their white counterparts.
The belief in a “black tax” does a disservice to us emotionally and psychologically, which ultimately negates the underlining impetus of the tax, which is to make us more productive, creative, and professionally outstanding.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that institutional racism, microaggressions, and stereotype bias are not in full effect in most, if not all, workplace settings. They are. Even white boys with criminal records have a better chance of getting employment than black men with no criminal past and several degrees.
So, I get it.
I just think we need to reframe our energy and thinking around this “black tax” so it works to our benefit, not our detriment. Since we already know what it is like to grind, hustle, and be extraordinary, usually behind a computer and alone, let’s use this skill set to build and sustain relationships that will lead to both personal fulfillment and professional success instead of consistently leaving unrecognized and underappreciated.
Let’s grind around organizing opportunities to learn, connect, and grow with people that look like us in and outside of our workplaces in a strategic and meaningful way.
I am currently reading Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets to Success One Relationship At a Time by Keith Ferrazzi. Ferrazzi says it is important to leverage relationships in all of your social and professional using a Network Action Plan. To create one, divide a blank piece of paper into thirds or a Word Document into three columns. Under the first column, list three to five of your immediate and long-term career goals.
For each of your goals in the first part, name one or two people that can help you achieve this goal in the second column. Start thinking about people that you already know and people that you would like to know.
Finally, in the third column, start thinking about the best way to reach out to the people listed in column two. If the gatekeeper to your goal is someone you know, a simple call and request may be all that you need to help you reach your goal. On the other hand, if you realize that the person you need to talk to is someone you don’t know, then you will have to start small and build their trust. Try reaching out with a genuine compliment about the work that they do via email or at an in-person gathering, providing them with ideas that can make their jobs easier, or introducing them to people that can help them with their personal or professional goals.
We don’t have to own “the black tax” in the way that it has been presented to us. As a culture, we invented the remix. We took scraps and made it soul food. We took our plight and made hip-hop. The black tax? This ain’t no different.