'Black Tax' is a New Book Exploring the Toll on Black South Africans Supporting Their Families

Sometimes taking care of our families 'back home' is more a burden than it is a privilege.

When I finished my final year of high school, I was anxious about how I would fund my studies at universities. Fortunately, I received a scholarship which would take care of all my financial needs. This was during the time when I had lost my father and my mother had moved back to my grandmother's house in Zimbabwe with my brothers because we had lost pretty much everything. Part of what excited me about the scholarship was that I'd be getting an allowance to do with as I pleased. It wasn't a lot of money, but it was certainly more than I'd had in years.

I'd had two pairs of shoes over the past few years and the prospect of not struggling so much anymore was both relieving and exciting. That was until my grandmother called me to the kitchen, and explained just how I would spend that money. "You will send half of it to your mother." She added that, "There is electricity to be paid and food to be bought here." It was not a request but rather an instruction. She went on to remind me of her words every day until I felt so burdened by them that I wished I had never received the scholarship in the first place. And that right there, is what we mean when we speak of "black tax".

Black Tax is a collection of contributions by various South African writers including Mohale Mahigo, Fred Khumalo and Angela Makholwa, among several others, and is edited by award-winning author, Niq Mhlongo. The anthology addresses what black tax is, its historical roots and acknowledges the two primary dichotomies that exist within what is still a considerably complex—ubuntu as well as burden. Ubuntu is an African ethos and way of living that says that umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu—a person is who they are because of others. As Black people and as Africans, we are defined by this ethos. It is the rock upon which we have built our families and communities and the reason behind the "warmth" tourists often describe when they visit African countries. However, as great as this ethos is, it does lend itself to abuse and that's where the burden comes in.

In Sibongile Fisher's contribution As We Tithe, she describes black tax as both a virtue and a vice and probes the dichotomy even further by asking these pertinent questions: "Providing for your loved ones is innate but when is it enough? How much is enough? And where does being a provider end and being an enabler begin?" Fisher adds poignantly that, "We break the bank. We break our bodies. We break bread." This is a reality to which many Black Africans can relate.

There's a reason why Black families fuss over first-generation university graduates. Not only does obtaining a degree signify having triumphed in institutions that have historically excluded Black people, but it also represents the hope that Black families often have that their collective lives will now change. A degree means a job which means money and ultimately the opportunity to escape poverty and lack. That first salary and the ones that follow, become a lifeline for the rest of the family "back home".

"So who is supposed to look after your family then?" you're probably asking. "Should we let them starve?" Of course not. I've yet to meet a Black person who doesn't lose sleep thinking about how they can better the lives of those back home or how they can do with less if it means their families can have just enough. I'm not bashing our ability as Black people to take care of our families and the generations of our people who've been trapped in the endless cycle of unemployment and poverty and continue to struggle in a system set up against them.

"Too often we speak of the privilege it is to be in a position to change the circumstances of our families and not enough about the burden that is placed on a single individual."

In Nokubonga Mkhize's contribution The Power of Black Tax, she proposes that the way to overcome the burden of black tax is to practice good financial discipline and wealth goals—something she admits upfront will not happen overnight. While Monde Nkasawe acknowledges the challenges that black tax brings in his contribution A Moment to the Survival of the African Family, he says that it has kept "black familial connections from wholesale colonial destruction" and provided a form of social security. The pervasive sentiment throughout the book is, however, that we should pay our black tax because if not us, then who?

I like how Nelisa Ngqulana once put it. She said that Black parents often see their children as investments that will eventually yield them returns. That needs to change. Children are not investments, they're children. And thinking otherwise is partly what leads to the gross manipulation that then happens when we're adults who are told that we "owe" our parents.

Black tax has become such a norm in Black culture. We're afraid of being accused of casting our beliefs aside as a people and "abandoning" our loved ones. That shouldn't be the case. We're all trying to survive in a system that has robbed the majority and advantaged a select few. The only way we can genuinely get around easing the burden that rests on the shoulders of the (somewhat) privileged, is by constantly talking about the uncomfortable parts too. I think that is true ubuntu.


Watch the First Episode of Flame’s Documentary Series ‘Welcome To My Life’

Flame takes fans behind the scenes in his new documentary series.

From interviews to smoking sessions, performances, studio sessions and a visit to the hair salon, Flame gives fans a glimpse into his life and adventures.

The South African hip-hop artist and producer shared the first episode of an ongoing documentary series titled Welcome To My Life. The first episode, which he shared today, shows Flame and his affiliates—the likes of Ecco, Mellow and others—going about their business.

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uSanele Releases a New Project ‘uMvelase’ Featuring ASAP Shembe, Windows 2000, Manelisi and Others

Listen to uSanele's new project 'uMvelase.'

South African hip-hop artist uSanele's recently released project is titled uMvelase. "This project," says the artist, "is in honor of my father and family, abakwa Mthembu; all my siblings, extended family and my roots in the heart of KZN, kwaNongoma. It is a calling—if you will—a completion of my journey and all things coming full circle."

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Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

In Conversation with Congolese NBA Player Emmanuel Mudiay: 'I want more African players in the NBA.'

The Utah Jazz player talks about being African in the NBA, supporting basketball in the DRC and how 'everybody knows about Burna Boy'.

Inspired by his basketball-playing older brothers, by second grade, Emmanuel Mudiay already knew that he wanted to play in the American National Basketball Association. Then in 2001 his family, fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the United States.

In America, Mudiay saw basketball as a way for him to improve his situation. After impressive high school and college careers, he moved to China to play pro ball. Picked 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, the now 23-year-old guard has made a name for himself this season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz.

Mudiay attests to the sport having changed not only his life but that of his siblings. Basketball gave them all a chance at a good education and the opportunity to dream without conditions. Now he wants to see other talented African players make it too.

We caught up with him to talk about his experience as an African player in the NBA, his hopes for basketball on the African continent and who he and his teammates jam out to in their locker rooms.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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University lecturer and activist Doctor Stella Nyanzi (L) reacts in court as she attends a trial to face charges for cyber-harassment and offensives communication, in Kampala, on April 10, 2017. (Photo by GAEL GRILHOT/AFP via Getty Images)

Jailed Ugandan Activist, Stella Nyanzi, Wins PEN Prize for Freedom of Expression

The outspoken activist, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a poem she wrote about the president's mother's vagina, won for her resistance "in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her."

Stella Nyanzi, the Ugandan academic, activist, and vocal critic of President Yoweri Museveni has been awarded the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International award for freedom of expression, given to writers who "continue to work for freedom of expression in the face of persecution."

Nyanzi is currently serving a 15 month sentence for "cyber harassment" after she published a poem in which she wrote that she wished "the acidic pus flooding Esiteri's (the president's mother) vaginal canal had burn up your unborn fetus. Burn you up as badly as you have corroded all morality and professionalism out of our public institutions in Uganda."

According to the director of PEN International, Carles Torner, her unfiltered outspokenness around the issues facing her country is what earned her the award. "For her, writing is a permanent form of resistance in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her," said Torner at the award ceremony.

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