Dorothy Brown, a renowned scholar and law professor at Emory University, explains why U.S. tax policy in anti-Black in her new book, “The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans – and How We Can Fix It.”
Specializing her research in the area of race, class and tax policy, Brown got candid in a recent interview with McKinsey on why her book was necessary and what she hopes for it to accomplish.
“My research shows that whenever Black Americans engage in the same activity as white Americans, tax policy will advantage how white Americans engage in the activity and disadvantage how Black Americans engage in the activity,” Brown told McKinsey.
For example, Brown showed how the tax code gives a tax cut to married couples in which there is a single wage earner or one spouse earns significantly more than the other. This is more likely in white households, as Black married couples are more likely to have two full-time workers with equal wages.
Brown said she uncovered some devastating revelations while doing her research when she saw how significantly the tax code was advantageous to white Americans while disadvantageous to Black Americans. Brown even recalled her mother saying the government owed her and her father “reparations” when she saw how inequitable the tax code is.
“When I think about the deductions, loopholes, and exemptions, they were all made with white Americans in mind,” Dorothy Brown said. “They were all made to advantage white taxpayers, which left Black taxpayers behind because Black Americans experience these things differently. Whether it’s marriage or homeownership or college or jobs, we live in a society where race, unfortunately, still matters.”
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Brown suggested several ways the tax code could be improved to make it more equitable including married couples filing taxes individually and taxing all income at the same rate.
“My solution is getting rid of the loopholes, exemptions, and deductions, taxing all income at the same rate—no more preferential treatment for capital gains—and allowing everyone a living allowance deduction,” Brown said. “What does it take to thrive in your geographical area? That amount of money you don’t pay tax on—only the amount you earn in excess. What if you earn less than that amount? In that case, you get money from the government. It’s like a very expanded earned income tax credit.”
When asked why she thought her book was resonating so much with readers, Brown said the culmination of the covid-19 pandemic, murder of George Floyd and other factors made it impossible to ignore systemic racism. For that, she said she is grateful.
“I’m heartened that the book is out now, that people are willing to have a conversation about systemic racism in tax, and that covid-19 has made people aware of systemic racism in health. Even if you want to, you can’t look away; wherever you look, there are disparities,” Brown said. “Whether they’re disparities in access to the vaccine, in who has to take public transportation, or who can stay home, systemic racism is everywhere, and people are seeing it.”
Twitter users appreciated Brown’s book. “Dorothy Brown is dropping serious knowledge. Our tax system is so complicated that most people (including myself) don’t understand all of its nuances and implications,” tweeted user @adrian_mims.
“Listening to @DorothyABrown’s book The Whiteness of Wealth for 2 minutes at a time because I’m scribbling notes for further research, ponder and TALKING POINTS. Thank you for this incredible work,” @ReginaDM tweeted.
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