Maverick Life


Black tax is not so much about money as it is about boundaries

Black tax is not so much about money as it is about boundaries
'Handle Black Tax Like a Pro' by Ndumi Hadebe book cover. Image: Penguin Random House South Africa / Supplied

Helping others is commendable, but where does one draw the line between healthy helping and standing in the way of financial independence?

In her new book Handle Black Tax Like a Pro, Ndumi Hadebe explores the thorny issue of black tax.

We pay a mental and emotional price, she says, when dealing with the complex issues relating to black tax and its effect on our relationships with our families and with money itself. 

In 10 relatable stories that range from absent fathers to siblings’ expectations, Hadebe explores the boundary issues that lead to financial and emotional burdens for those struggling with black tax, as well as the normalised behaviours, notions and societal constructs that surround it.

Drawing on particular themes in each story, Handle Black Tax Like a Pro shows you how to tackle your black tax in a way that is peaceful and non-threatening to your relationships with loved ones. Read the excerpt. 


Black tax and boundaries

Before we can get into the relationship between black tax and boundaries, let’s explore what boundaries are and why they matter.

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are a set of guidelines that openly communicate and assert one’s values and beliefs about how one chooses to relate to and with the world and the people in it. Boundaries are defined by your personal happiness, needs, wants and feelings, and are influenced by several factors, such as core beliefs, opinions and societal teachings. These guidelines inform what you will allow or not allow — your negotiating spectrum in various areas of your life.

“Your boundary need not be an angry electric fence that shocks those who touch it. It can be a consistency of light around you that announces, ‘I will be treated sacredly’”. – Dr Jaiya John

Your truth is your boundary

Boundaries are about your personal truth. This truth is the sum of what you consider to be your needs and wants, and can be discovered by listening to how you feel about something, someone or a situation. Boundaries are unique to each individual and cannot be informed by what others think or feel. Your body, heart and soul know what your personal truth is, and they send you signals at any given moment through your feelings and/or sensations. The signal could come in the form of an intuition, a sudden pang in the pit of your stomach, a twinge, spasm, sharp headache, or a lump in your throat. For some people it feels like a discomfort that seems random. Our bodies are wired to communicate with us if we are out of alignment with our truth. We are not hearing the signals because we’ve not been taught to listen out for them.

Not ‘hearing’ our emotions is dangerous, because it means we are disconnected and divorced from our personal truth. Being disconnected from your personal truth means a natural struggle with your boundaries. Here are some signs that you may be struggling with setting and upholding healthy boundaries:

  • You say the opposite of what you know to be your truth — for example, you say ‘yes’ when your truth would be to say ‘no’.
  • You experience feelings of guilt after you’ve expressed your truth.
  • You act against your integrity or values to please others — for example, you laugh at a joke you consider inappropriate because it’s racist or homophobic and you don’t call out the person telling the joke.
  • You struggle to speak up when you want to or need to.
  • You accept unwanted physical touch or sex.
  • You choke up when trying to communicate needs or how you want to be treated in a relationship.

In short, if you hold back on expressing your wants, needs, feelings, thoughts, questions and ideas because you are concerned that people will think negatively about you, you naturally find it difficult to set and uphold boundaries with yourself and others.

Why we struggle with boundaries

Lack of boundaries (not speaking your truth) is a survival tactic — one that we master over time to gain love and acceptance in our families and in society. Unfortunately, it is not a sustainable strategy because not speaking your truth means lying to yourself — in other words, betraying yourself. As human beings, we are wired not to trust, and to distance ourselves from people and organisations that lie to or betray us. It is therefore safe to conclude that continuous self-betrayal leads to a lack of self-trust and, ultimately, a lack of self-love, albeit happening subconsciously.

Boundary-setting is difficult because speaking our personal truth is difficult. The primary reason human beings struggle with setting and upholding boundaries is fear – fear of exclusion or abandonment.

We struggle with expressing our truth because we are human — belonging and inclusion are basic needs for our survival. It’s that simple. Yet, the simplicity of it is precisely what complicates things. As human beings, we intuitively recognise belonging as a primary need, and, as such, we learn and master the art of gaining acceptance. One of the ways we learn to do this is by withholding our truths and diluting our needs, wants, feelings and thoughts. Eventually, we do not hear our truths, and when we do, we find it easy to simply disregard or deny them.

It’s easy to underestimate the difficulty people face when it comes to expressing their personal truth; more difficult is coming to terms with why. As mentioned, the primary reason human beings struggle with setting and upholding boundaries is fear. And it starts during childhood.

We are raised in a society where parents, caregivers and teachers reward children for doing or saying what they want them to do or say. Society’s dominant parenting style is such that children are rewarded for being ‘good’ with love, attention and inclusion. The opposite is true where a child does ‘wrong’ — they are punished with the withdrawal of love and attention in the form of scolding, exclusion (the ‘naughty corner’), and sometimes even beatings. The hurt experienced during exclusion leads the subconscious mind to devise ways and means to avoid it or reduce the amount of time it is experienced. We learn to lie about our needs, wants, feelings and thoughts to ourselves and to those around us. We get so good at it that we don’t even know we are doing it. In the event that we are cornered enough to have to face our truths, we face a bigger struggle in communicating those truths. It’s a struggle because we have minimal practice or experience at it.

There’s a general perception that all boundary violations result from the actions of others, meaning that they’re external. In most cases, this is true. It is other people who violate our boundaries. For example, if someone steals your money, it is a violation by someone else. But if you give someone your money or your time when it is not in your best interest to do so, you are violating your own boundary. In other words, by not upholding the boundary with the person asking for money, you are violating your own financial boundary.

In a case of black tax, you may be doing it grudgingly. Paying this black tax allows you to avoid acknowledging or communicating your boundary. In this case, your black tax activity is a form of self-betrayal.

It’s important to note that not listening to or denying your personal truth is a violation of your boundaries. Not listening to and accepting other people’s truths is a violation of their boundaries.

Why black tax is about boundaries

Black tax is about boundaries because your needs, wants and feelings – in other words, your happiness and your truth — are unique to you. It is, therefore, a big oversight to assume that you can commit to black tax based solely on the precept that ‘It’s what black people do or have always done’ or ‘If I don’t do it, who will?’ It is abusive to the self to commit to a situation or to someone without considering your personal situation first.

Black tax may appear to be about money and affordability, but it’s actually all about boundaries. It’s about having a full awareness of your personal truth and being able to communicate it efficiently to those around you. It’s about families being willing to express and hear the truth about the situation.

Something as omnipresent as black tax shouldn’t be the elephant in the room and shouldn’t be considered random. To say that it is, is to lie to ourselves for the benefit of no one — not those who come before us, not ourselves and definitely not future generations.

Myths about boundaries

Setting boundaries is not an act of resistance or rebellion against anyone or anything. Contrary to popular belief, boundaries are not meant to be a wall to make you inaccessible, emotionally or otherwise. Creating boundaries is a simple act of self-love, which we demonstrate to ourselves by understanding who we are and how we’ve decided to relate to ourselves, those around us and the world. In short, boundaries are the foundation for us being aligned with our innermost selves.

Communicating boundaries is not synonymous with anger, aggression and conflict. It is possible to communicate boundaries in a manner that is peaceful and loving. Boundaries do not necessarily mean abandoning black tax altogether. Boundaries will help you manage your black tax in a manner that feels right and truthful to you. Doing it from a truthful place means from a place that takes your needs into consideration — having a specific amount allocated to black tax and being disciplined to lovingly say ‘no’ when you’ve reached your limit, for example. This clarity is the biggest and most precious gift you can give yourself and the recipients of your black tax. DM/ ML 

Handle Black Tax Like a Pro by Ndumi Hadebe is published by Penguin Random House (R260). Visit The Reading List for South African book news, daily – including excerpts! 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Taegan Devar says:

    Brilliant read, well researched, practical and relatable stories that make this important topic accessible to all. Thank you Ndumi for writing this!

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