Why are so many prominent brothers not paying taxes? I think it has to do with the innate desire to resist oppression.
Our history shows a variety of protests. Withholding money from businesses that don’t hire your people. Witholding your vote—or voting for Lenora Fulani then or Cynthia McKinney now.
And then there’s not paying taxes.
Now, with the money our brothers Wesley Snipes, Wyclef Jean, Kevin Powell and Charlie Rangel make, it would be hard, at first glance, to call them oppressed.
Let’s look at the numbers:
• Rangel: $1.7 million in personal assets, according to various sources
• Powell: $200,000 a year, according to The New York Daily News
• Jean: up to $18 million, according to The Washington Times
• Snipes: at least $38 million (just between 1999 and 2004!), according to various sources
But what about the psychic tax of being Black and male in America?
What if you make a gazillion dollars but you still can’t get a cab in mid-town Manhattan or on Capitol Hill. And at any time, you and your kin can still be manhandled or shot dead by a cop who doesn’t recognize you. You are still mad at the federal government for destroying the Black Panther Party and harassing, if not killing, Reverend King and Minister Malcolm. You don’t get the respect the white boy does. And you live through the eras of Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George Bush. And at least one of your boys either dies on the street for some streetcorner bull or he dies in Iraq or Afghanistan for some international bull.
Now, would you really care about paying taxes if you had to deal with allathat? Uh-huh.
But here’s the problem:
If you decide one day to leave the land of the Red, Black and Green because you want to represent a whole nation, you might have to play by that nation’s rules. And being Black, you automatically know the rules will apply to you double.
So it’s sad when personal Black hubris or sloppiness or a combo, buttressed by white racism, opens up Pandora’s Box around a Google search of your name. It may not be paranoia if they really are out to get you, but it’s also not a conspiracy if you fall into holes that you dig or don’t cover up.
Now, this still might work in favor of the politicos. I endorse our trio, and want them to win. Out of the three, Wyclef might be exempt from any real harm, because he wants to lead Haiti. (Haitians will probably see his IRS problems as a reparations protest, and cheer him on.) Rangel and Powell can rally Black folks who’ve ever been harassed by bill collectors.
Wesley will be another story. As of this writing, his new wardrobe has been picked out for him, and it ain’t in black. But he’s not a politician; he just leads folks to the box office.
All of this is unfair, but it’s the price we pay, even when we choose not to.
Todd Steven Burroughs is co-author with Herb Boyd of the forthcoming book “Civil Rights, Yesterday and Today.”
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