Mantalk: How black tax defines the worth of many men today

How black tax defines the worth of many men today. Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

  • There is an unspoken rule in most Kenyan households that yells as the month comes to an end: you are indebted. “Remember where you are coming from,” it says.

Whisper it, but, I’ve made some mullah. Ladies, I know you are not materialistic, but, there is money in my account. Cheddar. Cheese. Chumz.

Men, it’s end month, so probably your pockets are deep too. That’s why there is a cheeky satisfied grin on your face right now. The grin of a man who can afford other forms of entertainment, but before you put this paper down—rich man—let’s spend some time together. Si time is money?

When you have money even your scent changes. Can you smell that? Smells like that time I almost bought someone’s daughter ngoma shoes for having the audacity to walk out on me during a tiff. I could slap them with a Sh1000 note just for breathing next to me. Don’t even remind me of that time I left Sh950 bob change in a matatu because the bald conductor said if he had hair, he’d want to have my hair. Blimey. What I would do to have that money back!

Thing is, I’ve been saving up for something, which I can’t say here. And just as I was about to buy it, I remembered I had promised a cousin that I’ll get them a laptop. Heck. My chickens have come home to roost. Black tax. You know what they say. It takes a village.

Of course, the village has eyes. Everywhere. There is an unspoken rule in most Kenyan households that yells as the month comes to an end: you are indebted. “Remember where you are coming from,” it says. Nobody cares where you are going; but by Jove, they don’t want you to forget where you are coming from.

That’s the yoke of being a man in an African home. The deck is often so stacked against you that the weight of it all can crush you. It’s the burden of responsibility. It’s your time kurudisha mkono. It is CSR, but for individuals.

“You are one of the lucky ones,” they say.

But luck has nothing to do with it. Being an African child is an investment, not a gift. It’s an albatross around the neck, a doomsday call. And you are not expected to complain, because, after all, you are one of the lucky ones. You made it and guess what—it took a village.

Here’s one more thing the village likes to say: that money is the root of all evil. They speak of it with a touching vulnerability and a gnawing dissatisfaction. Well, that may be true. But no matter how evil money is, being broke is not holy. A close friend of mine is ever venting in our WhatsApp group—yes, WhatsApp—over how much fees he is paying. Not for himself. Sijui for which nephew of his. Mara sijui who’s getting married and he is on the committee.

The money you make as a young man feels like a curse. If manhood is a furnace of responsibility, being the firstborn son is a crucible of entitlements. 

Black tax is the premium paid on your manhood. A poisoned chalice, the perfect tall poppy syndrome.

It is a fine for succeeding imposed by the government and your family. Do you know that call from that uncle that comes at that time of the month to remind you of that period when he wiped mucus off your big Ingo nose? And then he slips into a cough, cough, cough! and asks you to send something small for dawa?

You would not let your uncle die because of a cough, would you? So, you send something small for dawa. And then shemeji calls that her child passed the exams but needs something small to join high school. You wouldn’t let shemeji’s child miss school because of something small, would you? So, you send her something small. But the calls keep coming. Sijui the cow has broken its left hind leg and needs reconstructive surgery. In Israel. The dog has lost its voice and needs a larynx transplant to bark again. Then the goat started speaking at night and the family needs something small to cleanse the homestead.

For a black man, success is poisonous.

Don’t get me wrong. By all means, help when you can. But I have seen far too many stories of men who never lived for themselves, magnanimous men who gave up everything for the greater good, men who never rebelled. Instead, they became a symbol of the cost of obedience, of staying forever the good son: pouring themselves to fill others, not realising they too are covered in holes that they leak right out and, in the end, both end up empty.

The measure of a man, it is said, can be judged by his handling of adversity. I’d like to file a new entry: the ability to stand your ground. The first time I said no, the guilt ate me up. Because no is cold and heavy and weary. It shuts down. It drops the gauntlet. It says the speaker won’t acquiesce, won’t bend, won’t give in to what you want simply because you want it. No. 

I have talked to many a rich man in my life, and they have spoken of their wealth with some sort of distance, that by avoiding being defined by it, they ended up becoming what they avoided all along: being defined by it. But being rich must be pretty damned good or why else would humanity make it its enduring pursuit?

Of course, this is one of the reasons it’s so hard to talk honestly about money—comparison is the inevitable consequence. “You are the lucky one,” the village says. “Rudisha mkono.” Comparison has become the primary currency—it’s not just how much money you make, but also how much the money you make means to you.

You don’t need to have what some people call, “f*ck you money.” But you need to know when some people are f**king with your money.

That’s the time to be honest about money: to be able to judge if money has changed you. That’s when to withhold the hand. That’s the time to say no to the village. No. 

[email protected] @eddyashioya



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