The Black Tax

As I sat at the end of a long conference table in the Spring of 2016, I stared out the window taking in the Miami skyline. I had just wrapped up my pitch to a local fund hoping to secure $250,000 for my startup at the time and was now listening to them pass. As my attention waned, ready to move on to the next pitch of the day, one of the partners leaned in close to me. With his hand on my shoulder and a smile on his face: He said, “You should raise a friend and family round! Then you can come back in six months, and we’ll revisit this idea of yours.”

I was perplexed by the sincerity of the suggestion. I lived in North Miami, paying $900 a month for rent, and my friends and family live paycheck-to-paycheck. I would have been surprised if my immediate family’s total savings at the time surpassed $5,000, let alone anything close to what I was raising. Then I remembered, this person lives in a completely different world. For him, the idea that the person pitching him grew up in poverty is such a foreign concept that to fit me into his mental model, he assumes my family has wealth. After all, who is insane enough to do a startup with no safety net?

Over the past few weeks, as millionaires and billionaires alike have lambasted Senator Warren’s proposal of a “wealth tax,” I am reminded again of that separate world. For many Black people who have found success, the idea of “personal wealth” doesn’t exist because to have wealth is to share it. Their money isn’t just theirs; it’s their mom’s rent, their sisters used car, food on the table of a struggling family member, Christmas gifts under the tree. For every dollar earned, you don’t value it based on what it can get you, but how far it can go for others. That is why it should come as no surprise that so few Black people have successfully built generational wealth: we’re always actively trying to keep the current generation alive.

Even still, despite knowing the tax of finding success, of being one of the first people to “make it” in their family, each day, Black people across America put their hearts and souls into their work. They overcome socioeconomic inequality issues, racism, and sexism to move mountains to pursue their dreams because personal success isn’t solely measured by the size of dollars earned – which guarantees what they are working on will be that much more valuable.

If Paul Graham believes a wealth tax will cause people not to build startups, he should invest more in Black founders. A wealth tax isn’t going to stop us from building our visions. We already pay the Black tax to do it.