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Black Tax: Brotherhood Or Burden?

By Njideka Agbo
20 June 2021   |   6:00 am
Life has not been the same for Tunji since his parents called him to fund his aunt’s burial in Nigeria a few weeks ago. Tunji, a resident of the UK, had in the past five years succeeded in bringing one of his two brothers to the UK and had been saving to bring the other…

Life has not been the same for Tunji since his parents called him to fund his aunt’s burial in Nigeria a few weeks ago.

Tunji, a resident of the UK, had in the past five years succeeded in bringing one of his two brothers to the UK and had been saving to bring the other immediately that one was done with secondary school.

Although his parents are alive, Tunji automatically transitioned to becoming the breadwinner after his parents sold pieces of their land in Mowe Ibafo to send him abroad; his brothers were taken out of their middle-class school and transferred to a public school to cut costs in his home.

His aunt had provided pivotal support and convinced the parents to ensure he travels out, and since then, he has supported his family as a form of gratitude. He must now provide for the rest of his aunt’s family, who look up to him.

Unlike Tunji, 16-year-old Emeka has got a scholarship to study in one of the choice universities in Germany. He is due to travel in September to start school in the fall. The son of a bricklayer, Emeka who “has been visiting religious houses to pray for success abroad,” knows that he has a limited time to settle in and take up a job to send money to aid his sick mother and frail father.

In Black communities, a child is taught from tender years that a part of the success of his family rests in his hands. It is why certain characters are instilled and words such as “remember where you are coming from and the child of who you are” are repeated to the child.

“Sometimes, it is the expectation, other times, you do not have a choice. The aim is for this person to become the umbrella in the family,” Olisa, a German citizen of Nigerian descent, tells The Guardian Life.

Black tax is a South African term that is now widely used around the world. A term acted out in Black communities, it refers to the financial support which is expected of a black working-class individual by their families. Often, these are individuals with higher education or a good-paying job than the rest of the family.

Award-winning novelist Sifiso Mzobe describes Black Tax as ‘perfectus trajectoriam’, and writes that this aspiring individual “…[will be] brilliant at school… attend church religiously…[not] smoke or drink alcohol… get a bursary to study at a prestigious university… aces the degree in record time and becomes a doctor, engineer or accountant… sends home a constant stream of black tax every month… and everyone lives happily ever after.”

With little or no explanation, the burden of catering to the family’s needs rests on the individual, which he takes on subconsciously because it is payback time.

Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood does a good job of capturing this. In its film productions showing the life of an aspiring city boy in a village, we often see the man reminded that his responsibility is to send money back home to “lift the family out of poverty” like other families in the village have done, and thus build generational wealth.

“Even in Lagos, when people in the other parts [of the metropolis] hear that you live in Lekki, they begin to tax you because they assume you are now comfortable,” Felicia, a banker in Lagos, said.

Out of Poverty?
With many more adults leaving Nigeria, they have to grapple with the reality of their skin tone, their educational background, the image of their home country, and the impression of its citizens.

Yet, they must, like Emeka, start sending money within a given time frame because the system, since ancient times, has encouraged the universal law of sacrifice, sometimes in a way that is detrimental to the giver.

Compared to Western societies where the larger or higher power-wielding population is of a different skin tone, the social system takes off the burden from the citizens, while the culture of taking care of the people in black communities is second nature. Yet, Olisa, who is lucky to not pay Black Tax, said that it might not be all cheerful giving.

Sometimes, according to Olisa, it is a case of power shift and superiority, adding that he has learned to see things from a different perspective because of the social system in Germany.

He said: “If you are rich and your brother is poor, he doesn’t have to come to you because of the social system. The country will give him money to make sure he meets his necessities. Our system encourages Black Tax. In our system, the rich want or are obligated to take care of the poorer ones.”

On this ground, some argue that helping the poor is a form of investment and a way of building generational wealth. And this means of investing has proven to have some popularity among the poor.

Uju (not her real name), a woman who has been carried by her siblings for over 28 years, told The Guardian Life that it is important to pay it backwards.

“Our people (the Igbos of southeast Nigeria) say, ‘onye a lana nwanne ya’ (do not neglect your brothers). Charity begins at home. As one who is travelling out, there would be a lot of expectations. In a situation where they don’t meet up to expectations, it erodes trust and shows a lack of concern.”

Meanwhile, a Nigerian-born resident of the United States, who pleaded anonymity, explained that while the aforementioned Igbo saying is true, as a car dealer, he has cultivated the habit of sending only his gains so that “when you genuinely say you don’t have money, you don’t have to stress, because you don’t have it, and won’t feel any guilt.”

This decision was only after the Atlanta, Georgia-based car dealer realised that he sends money “more than even the millionaires” and it diminished the chances of him saving towards retirement.

Yet, a report by the Institute of Policy Studies reveals that 37 per cent of Black families in the US (where Black Tax is common) have debts that are equal to or greater than their assets.

In 2021, a report by the World Bank Migration and Development on Diaspora remittances to Nigeria showed that remittances dropped by $4.65 billion in one year, that is 27.7 per cent from $21.45 billion in 2019 to $16.8 billion in 2020 despite the outflux of Nigerians leaving the country.

In other to encourage an increase in the inflow of foreign currencies, the Central Bank of Nigeria, in March 2021, introduced a “Naira 4 Dollar Scheme” which allows the sender and recipient to earn ₦5 on every $1.

Nonetheless, Onyedika, another Nigerian residing in Atlanta, believes that paying it forward within the framework of Black Tax is always subject to exploitation.

According to Onyedika, “the thing is, I try to strike a good balance between expectations and what you can do. So when they come up with their demands, first, I watch the tone that they used to place their demands. So if their tone sounds like ‘you have the money,’ I don’t do it. Some call and say, ‘have mercy’ and that is not right.

Because these people say it in such a way that they assume that you have the money but don’t want to release it.
“When it comes from parents, parents try to be a little manipulative and adopt the gaslighting technique. And it makes you create a shell where you aren’t supposed to be in the first instance. People that are supposed to be happy with you now turn around so your good news doesn’t necessarily become good news anymore just like the way the Nigerian government tries to tax its citizens.”

If it is not all roses, is there a solution?
Belonging to a community encourages oneness. As such, Onyedika opined, “Just know your limit. When you make your budget, know how much you can give out of that budget so that whenever you reach your max, so long as no one is dying, that thing will sort itself out. If anyone figures you are a push and run, they will keep pushing you around.

“Don’t give to be perceived as a good person, do it when it is worth it,” he concluded.