Study. Graduate. Secure your dream job. Work. That is the reality of many people, but what they did not prepare you for was paying the ‘black tax’.
Black tax refers to the duty of an African child to support their extended family and elderly parents financially, educating their siblings, building family homes, funding their siblings’ businesses and others, says Money254, a platform that helps people make more out of the money they have.
Comedian Trevor Noah cited the black tax in an interview with Oprah Winfrey: “So many black families spend all of their time trying to fix the problems of the past. That is the curse of being black and poor, and it is a curse that follows you from generation to generation. My mother calls it ‘the black tax’.”
The black tax mainly affects middle- and lower-class families, as upper classes rarely expect support from their children. In one sense, black tax is a positive thing that could propel the whole family out of poverty.
In 2016, Mr Muhati received a phone call that he had been offered his dream job, an opportunity he had been waiting for at a local media outlet. The bachelor was excited, thinking it was what he wanted.
“Being the firstborn in my family means I have a responsibility to take care of my siblings and the entire family and coming from a family that is not well-off, it is a challenge,” said Mr Muhati, who is married and has a son.
“It is difficult because sometimes you divide and forget about yourself.”
Mr Muhati, a bit hesitant to discuss his salary, says saving is a foreign term to him.
“I earn Sh25,000 a month. Because I live in town the first thing I do is pay my rent, which is Sh9,000, and I remain with Sh16,000, which all goes to sort out my family,” he says.
“Thank God my brother has just graduated from university and now we have another one joining the university in her first year.”
He says he needs to broaden his thinking and creativity and that is why “I do so many things like being an emcee, doing translations, writing to increase my income and expand my base”.
He adds that he pays for food and other basic items from his side hustles because his salary only pays the rent and supports his siblings and parents.
Before the festive season began, Bramwel (not his real name), who works overseas, asked for leave to visit his family in Kenya. He was excited about seeing his family face to face after five years.
The bachelor landed in Kenya with limited knowledge of black tax and drew a budget for his stay.
Although he had planned to spend Sh20,000 a week, his weekly expenses topped Sh45,000.
He spoke about his extended family “asking for their bills to be paid, money to buy food, hospital bills, so many things that you will feel bad about not helping them” as he shared screenshots of his M-Pesa statement.
Being his first time back in Kenya after he got the job abroad, he says it was an expensive trip.
“For me, forking over an extra Sh1,000 to someone for the electricity bill is no big deal,” he says.
“But Sh20,000 is a lot of money for someone living mainly on a modest social security cheque. Such events serve as a reminder of what my mother used to go through. That’s why I choose to help.”
Patrick Wameyo, a financial literacy coach, says individuals should choose when to and when not to support.
“Black tax is not imposed by a gun; it is imposed through your value system,” he says.
“Whether they are taking advantage of you or unable to become logical, you are making choices based on how you would like people to feel.”
On saving, he says there is no secret other than the “desire” to do so.
“The only secret to saving is you having the desire to save. It’s not about how much you earn as an individual.”