After successfully finding a job and working there for two years, Tom has no savings to his name. Being the eldest at home, his meagre monthly salary is split between himself and his extended family — his younger brothers and sister, whom he has to support through school. If there is an emergency, he would have to borrow to sort it out, plunging himself further into the abyss of poverty. If there is an investment opportunity, he will have to watch as it disappears like mist right before his very eyes since he has no money on him. Tom’s case is not unique. He shares the predicament with Grace, a young business woman in waiting. In waiting because she had to lend her relatives money she had set aside to buy a sewing machine, so that they can be able to meet their needs, with the promise of refunding it soon.
Black tax. A term used to describe the phenomenon where young, black people use their salaries to support their families. Inasmuch as this phenomenon is experienced across all cultures worldwide, the word “black tax” is used because it originated from rural, black families. While the black tax is the legacy of the apartheid system in South Africa, the common setting for it occurring is when young people move from rural to urban areas in search of jobs. As soon as they get one, they are expected to send money home for upkeep and other necessities.
While the underlying basis of the black tax is a noble one, it sets up many youths to fall into an endless cycle of poverty. The poverty trap. Young Kenyans, like Tom and Grace, earn money but they are barely eating the fruits of their labour, and have no cushion for the future. This is heart-wrenching because they are not living the life they are toiling tooth and nail for, nor the one promised by acquiring skills and an education. This lures them to quick money schemes and it is only a matter of when, not if, before they themselves, have to depend on their own children for survival, and the vicious cycle continues.
One of the most beautiful attributes of the African culture is our social ties. We support one another. Nonetheless, a time comes when our loyalty to these ties has to be rethought especially when they are endangering our futures. Yes, our parents have sacrificed a lot to educate and provide for us, but this shouldn’t be used as a tool for manipulation. Furthermore, these persistent cycles of poverty can only be broken by the government correcting historical injustices, planning worthwhile investments in the economy, and providing employment opportunities for people to earn. But as we call on the government to (hopefully) act, we can secure our present and future by setting and maintaining proper financial boundaries. In doing so, we become smarter and avoid passing on this poor situation to future generations.
Setting financial boundaries begins by assessing our finances objectively to acknowledge what we can practically do with it. Ultimately, it is about how much you spend, not how much you earn. Thus, it is important to prioritise saving, no matter how little you earn. Second, it’s important to have a sincere and open discussion with your family about those finances, and on how much you can spend on black tax. With such an understanding, they will begin to see where you’re coming from and where you’re going. This will help manage their expectations and eliminate unnecessary pressure. Ensure your black tax is spent on teaching the family how to fish.
This way, you can expand the proverbial circle of income earners, increasing revenues in the long run. Finally, purpose to maintain these boundaries, no matter how painful. This will enable them to take you seriously, pushing them to be innovative on how they can supplement what you cannot provide.
Families can’t expect to build material wealth in an instant and off the back of a single individual. Young professionals can’t spend their lives trying to fix the evils of the past. Let them use their skills and education to advance forward. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t support their families. It simply means we shouldn’t shift this responsibility into a burden. When we do this, it is no longer moral.