The Case For Reparations: Should Black People Pay Taxes?

May 27, 2014  |  

 

If you haven’t by now, please read Ta-neshi Coates’ phenomenon piece entitled The Case for Reparations, on why it is a scam that black people in America pay taxes.

In fact, go read the article first and then come back and read this because seriously without the context, this entire conversation will likely confuse you. And I am not saying this to be snarky. But rather acknowledging the depth of information and valuable perspective, which is covered within this 17 page cover story.

I know this sort of dedication might be too much for the TL, DR clan (okay that was a bit of snark), so I will try to capture the gist as best I can: basically Coates wants us to consider Mr. Clyde Ross of Chicago, whose lifetime of enduring systemic racism and discrimination policies, specifically as it relates to housing, has left him and his family as permanent second class citizens, unable to build wealth. And worse, many of these discrimination practices were co-signed by the government including redlining, and the denial of low-interest home loans through the government sponsored G.I. Bill (which ultimately led blacks to seek out homeownership through predatory lenders), the state-sanctioned air-bombing of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the denial of blacks into the newly formed suburbs, etc…

He also goes to great strides to dispel myths that the failures of our communities in America are due to African Americans not trying hard enough, being lazy and criminal or lacking moral integrity. In one of the more compelling passages, he writes:

From the White House on down, the myth holds that fatherhood is the great antidote to all that ails black people. But Billy Brooks Jr. had a father. Trayvon Martin had a father. Jordan Davis had a father. Adhering to middle-class norms has never shielded black people from plunder. Adhering to middle-class norms is what made Ethel Weatherspoon a lucrative target for rapacious speculators. Contract sellers did not target the very poor. They targeted black people who had worked hard enough to save a down payment and dreamed of the emblem of American citizenship—homeownership. It was not a tangle of pathology that put a target on Clyde Ross’s back. It was not a culture of poverty that singled out Mattie Lewis for “the thrill of the chase and the kill.” Some black people always will be twice as good. But they generally find white predation to be thrice as fast.”

I should preface my thoughts by noting that this is not the definite case for reparations; just a really good one. As someone, who has been championing the cause of reparations for a while (And by that I mean I made a White House.gov petition on the issue not too long ago, but nobody gave a damn so…), I feel like this is our only grievance politically. Not high crime or low graduation rates. Not single mothers or deadbeat dads. Not littering in Harlem, rolled eyes or sagging pants. Not unemployment, underemployment and not have the right job skill training. All of those issues, as far as I see it, are only symptoms to the largely issue of black subjugation in this country – if they are issues at all. Sometimes what we perceive as “issues” are just diversions to derail the conversation we need to be having: and that is how America plans on really addressing past and current injustices against black people.

However it would appear that even among us black folks, there is an inability to even consider the possibilities And I mostly get it: “what’s the point? It’s not going to happen anyway. Plus what does reparations look like and how will it be paid anyway? And to whom are we to pay considering there is no way to know who is descendant from slavery?” These are just some of questions, which have come up lots in the last few days since the article was published. Although I believe these questions to be defeatist, I do believe they are legitimate. And while there are more studied and brilliant minds around, I would like to take a stab at answering them.

What should reparations looks like?

Good question. Here is one of my ideas: Black people should not have to pay taxes. No income taxes. No sales taxes. No wage taxes. No business privilege taxes. No property taxes. No gas or utility taxes. No Exise taxes. No telecommunication taxes. Not a single iota of money, which is collected by the United States government should come from the pockets of black people. It is just unconscionable at this point to ask people, who are descendants of slaves to foot the bill for any maintenance of this country. And the way I see it, the lack of tax burden will provide incentive and space enough for black folks to acquire and more importantly maintain wealth in this country. It certainly would serve as an incentive for global corporations to seek out partnerships with black owned businesses, who too would benefit from not having to be held down by a whole bunch of business-related taxes

This is an important point considering many black folks, with newly acquired wealth find themselves indebted to the government for failure to pay taxes including Lauryn Hill and Wesley Snipes, who both went to prison for failure to pay back taxes. So did Ron Isley too. And then there was Lil Kim, Nas, Kelis, Chris Tucker, Toni Braxton, Doug E. Fresh, Lil’ Jon…the list is honestly way too long to just be a coincidence. And according to at least one study, targeting blacks in particular is actually quite common.

 

So are you saying that white people (and other non-blacks) should take care of black people?

No. I’m saying the tax burden of this country should no longer be placed on the backs of black people. Everything cost more in poor, particularly for black neighborhoods. Some call it a poverty tax, but it often results in mostly poor African Americans and Latinos paying in upwards of thousands of dollars extra in fees because they live in economically disenfranchised communities.

 

But for how long?

Well how long was slavery? Around 250 years. At least that long plus time incurred through Jim Crow and American apartheid to present installations of subjugation and inequality. Monied white folks certainly were able to benefit from all that free labor we gave them. So around 350 years should be long enough for black folks to play catchup.

 

But how do we determine, who should receive reparation by way of the tax exclusion?

Ah yes, the ole’ but everyone is mixed up argument. It would be a legitimate concern if not for the fact that throughout history, local and state governments, sanctioned and often co-signed by the federal government, put into place certain structures, which already help us determine such colorful issues. And I’m talking about the “purity” laws, which were mostly enacted to deter the miscegenation of the white race. Not only were interracial marriages and families banned, but places like Louisiana, as well as other places down South, often established freedoms based upon how much “black blood” you had.

Such was the case of Alexina (Jane) Morrison, who in 1850s sued her slaveholder on three separate occasions for freedom, claiming that her blonde hair and blue eyes meant that she “been born free and of white parentage.” She eventually won, due to a forged bill of sale provided by the owner. However if not for the fraudulent piece of paper, it was likely that Morrison, who for all intents and purposes was a white woman, would have to spend the remainder of her life as a black slave.

The point is that this system of color coding people has longed been used to help the government determine who could be kept for enslavement and who could be disenfranchised legally. And I don’t see how we can’t use the same system as a way to properly award restitution.

 

But Charing won’t that result in white folks today being hurt financially and economically based upon past injustices, which they had nothing to do with?

Yup but that’s the point. A transfer of power so that it is no longer held by a select group of people based upon race. And to put it crudely – some folks are truly going to have to ante up. And while some non-black folks might see their wealth decline, black owned enterprises and industries in particular will now have opportunities to rise in their places. And without justice, there is no equality. The real question to ask is how fair is it that America should continue to reap the benefits of inequality?

 

No seriously, how is that fair though? Not every white person held slaves.

True. However it is safe to say that the majority of white folks benefitted from slave labor and American apartheid. And it doesn’t matter when they arrived in this country and by what aim; they too benefitted from the spoils of slavery. After all great grandfather Johann from Poland likely couldn’t have bootstrapped his family up through society, based upon his own merits, if not for the total exclusion and denial of access from those same merit-based opportunities. From colleges and universities, to country clubs to neighborhoods and parks and trails and museums, etc and so on, Your ancestors got access to places where mine could only enter by holding a broom and a mop.

 

But where will the government get the money?

Where did the government get the money for two damn wars at the same time? And black folks are around 12 percent of the population, so I imagine that it would cost lots less than what we are led to believe. Besides, the government should consider suing or even taxing corporations, who have ties to the trans-atlantic slave trade.

 

But Charing, the Republicans are never going to take it serious though. I mean it’s not really realistic to think of that.

Again another truism, but the obstructionists in Congress also has to be the dumbest reason not to pursue our just cause. I mean, if that is the case, why do I bother to go vote considering the Republicans are just going to block and hinder progress. Just like every cause we have fault, it will be up to us to make reparations a political issue. We must not only speak on it but be infatuated in our claims. Likewise we have to hold our politicians and civil and human organizations accountable for their lack of leadership in getting reparations into the national conversation.If gay rights and immigration are national platforms, why can’t the cause for black reparations be treated with the same dignity and respect?

 

So that is my plan for helping to right the wrongs of the past. And just like Coates, this is not the definite idea of what reparations looks like; just one (and a damn good one I think). I’m curious as to what are some ideas folks have about what black reparations should look like. Remember at this moment, there is no right or wrong answer; just as long as we are talking and thinking actively on the issue.

 

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