My father. Oh how I admire this man. As the first born in his family, he grew up as a village boy during the Apartheid regime aware of how hard he would have to work to establish his family’s home whilst simultaneously paving his own career so as to one day build his own. He barely passed matric, but thanks to his hard work, confidence and good grooming (which apparently earned him the name of “Parlour-boy” amongst his peers), was able to earn himself a stable job as a salesman at a national furniture store chain. Granted, his salary package was not the most lucrative.
Nevertheless, being the only member of his family for many years to establish themselves in the city of gold, Johannesburg, he took on the responsibility of housing, assisting, transporting, providing for and even burying many of our close relatives who later came to the city to begin building their own lives. He also took on the responsibility of looking after his father until the day of his death, and my grandmother, who at 96 is still primarily under his care. To say that his responsibilities in paying it backward, by responding to the numerous calls of his family – many of them requiring money- made him less of a provider for me, my sister and my mother would be a blatant lie.
Today, all that my father proudly did in establishing his family is labelled as Black Tax. I never saw all that my father did in a negative light until a read an article (and then many more) about young South Africans who, like my father, came from less privileged backgrounds. However, unlike my father’s narrative of triumph despite having to work hard to support his kin – being plagued by threats of arrest and the burning effects of tear gas when making his way home late from work – theirs was a narrative sprinkled with traces of pity. This contrast is my exact problem with the term Black Tax.
Whilst in New York several months ago, I was amazed that one of the most established societies in one of the most affluent parts of the Big Apple is the Jewish community. Now if there is any community in the world that has experienced suffering at the hands of others, it is the Jewish community. I dug a little deeper to understand how they continue to thrive, despite being beset by over 2000 years of persecution. According to an article by Rabbi Gabriel Horan, the Jewish approach to suffering is to take responsibility. They believe that they are never the victim of circumstance. The article further elaborates that “saying that the victim can take responsibility for overcoming…does not exonerate the perpetrator”. Rather, “taking responsibility for hardship leads to a life of growth. You don’t feel victimised by the past. Instead you are empowered to radically affect your future for the better by changing yourself”.
One of my favourite books is by Malcolm Gladwell, called David and Goliath. The book illustrates how – like in the story of a small boy named David conquering a Giant much bigger than him in size and more experienced in war, with just a stone and a leather sling – much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these lopsided conflicts. The act of facing overwhelming odds produces, amongst many other things, greatness.
The term “Black Tax” reduces the power of what can be achieved by ordinary people who, like my father and many other friends, relatives and heroes that I look up to, overcame the systematic struggle of seeking success when you’re from a disadvantaged background. It gives power to this Goliath, and renders young, talented individuals with numerous opportunities regardless of their backgrounds, powerless against him.
In my previous article I outlined how privileged we all are in terms of the options we have with our money. I see these privileges (such as government subsidies for first time home owners, and the ability to earn income from a mere Instagram account) as the smooth stones and slings that we actively have power to use in overcoming this Goliath that we are faced with (albeit unjustly, due to our past). This is not to say that we should cheerfully accept economic systems that perpetuate injustice and inequality towards a certain group of people. On the contrary, it is to say that that as we strive to iron out the injustices present in our system – which cause many in our nation to suffer – we should not count ourselves as victims in our mentality. This does nothing to improve our personal financial statuses and makes us blind to the fact that the areas we have the most power to change are those directly within our control – namely ourselves.
For example, one way for people to manage paying it backwards is to allocate a certain amount of money towards family expenses per month, early on, and within their budget. That way, that money is accounted for and enables one to better manage one’s finances going forward. This, however, requires one to be strict and to say ‘no’ to relatives who may require more than you are able to provide. It could also provide a good backbone for one, so as to not be emotionally blackmailed by relatives into making detrimental financial decisions towards auxiliary expenses (e.g. a relative upgrading their vehicle expecting you to foot the bill).
Ultimately, paying it backward may mean that it will take you an extra 10 years to reach certain financial goals. It is not a warrant written in stone that you will never achieve them.
Photo via pexels.com.