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A groundbreaking expos� of racism in the American taxation system from a law professor and expert on tax policy "Important reading for those who want to understand how inequality is built into the bedrock of American society, and what a more equitable future might look like."--Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist Dorothy A. Brown be A groundbreaking expos� of racism in the American taxation system from a law professor and expert on tax policy "Important reading for those who want to understand how inequality is built into the bedrock of American society, and what a more equitable future might look like."--Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist Dorothy A. Brown became a tax lawyer to get away from race. As a young black girl growing up in the South Bronx, she'd seen how racism limited the lives of her family and neighbors. Her law school classes offered a refreshing contrast: Tax law was about numbers, and the only color that mattered was green. But when Brown sat down to prepare tax returns for her parents, she found something strange: James and Dottie Brown, a plumber and a nurse, seemed to be paying an unusually high percentage of their income in taxes. When Brown became a law professor, she set out to understand why. In The Whiteness of Wealth, Brown draws on decades of cross-disciplinary research to show that tax law isn't as color-blind as she'd once believed. She takes us into her adopted city of Atlanta, introducing us to families across the economic spectrum whose stories demonstrate how American tax law rewards the preferences and practices of white people while pushing black people further behind. From attending college to getting married to buying a home, black Americans find themselves at a financial disadvantage compared to their white peers. The results are an ever-increasing wealth gap and more black families shut out of the American dream. Solving the problem will require a wholesale rethinking of America's tax code. But it will also require both black and white Americans to make different choices. This urgent, actionable book points the way forward.


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A groundbreaking expos� of racism in the American taxation system from a law professor and expert on tax policy "Important reading for those who want to understand how inequality is built into the bedrock of American society, and what a more equitable future might look like."--Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist Dorothy A. Brown be A groundbreaking expos� of racism in the American taxation system from a law professor and expert on tax policy "Important reading for those who want to understand how inequality is built into the bedrock of American society, and what a more equitable future might look like."--Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist Dorothy A. Brown became a tax lawyer to get away from race. As a young black girl growing up in the South Bronx, she'd seen how racism limited the lives of her family and neighbors. Her law school classes offered a refreshing contrast: Tax law was about numbers, and the only color that mattered was green. But when Brown sat down to prepare tax returns for her parents, she found something strange: James and Dottie Brown, a plumber and a nurse, seemed to be paying an unusually high percentage of their income in taxes. When Brown became a law professor, she set out to understand why. In The Whiteness of Wealth, Brown draws on decades of cross-disciplinary research to show that tax law isn't as color-blind as she'd once believed. She takes us into her adopted city of Atlanta, introducing us to families across the economic spectrum whose stories demonstrate how American tax law rewards the preferences and practices of white people while pushing black people further behind. From attending college to getting married to buying a home, black Americans find themselves at a financial disadvantage compared to their white peers. The results are an ever-increasing wealth gap and more black families shut out of the American dream. Solving the problem will require a wholesale rethinking of America's tax code. But it will also require both black and white Americans to make different choices. This urgent, actionable book points the way forward.

30 review for The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans--And How We Can Fix It

  1. 5 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    Americans of all colors are waking up to the incredible amount of discrimination built right into its system. Blacks in the USA still must fight to even remain in the middle class because the taxation system is structured to boot them out. That is the premise of The Whiteness of Wealth, a clear, cogent, thorough and revealing work by a black tax lawyer, Dorothy Brown. Americans generally know that black households have a fraction of the accumulated wealth of whites. But Brown goes behind the hea Americans of all colors are waking up to the incredible amount of discrimination built right into its system. Blacks in the USA still must fight to even remain in the middle class because the taxation system is structured to boot them out. That is the premise of The Whiteness of Wealth, a clear, cogent, thorough and revealing work by a black tax lawyer, Dorothy Brown. Americans generally know that black households have a fraction of the accumulated wealth of whites. But Brown goes behind the headline numbers to show not only how this came to be, but why it continues, why it must continue, and how much of a threat it remains to every new generation of blacks in America. The book opens with a great line: ”I became a tax lawyer to get away from race.” Because you’d think taxes would be a safe haven where everyone gets the same treatment. But race issues are everywhere in taxation, and eventually, Brown took it upon herself to prove it by the numbers. It was a daunting task. For one thing, the Internal Revenue Service does not collect data by race. Every other conceivable datapoint – but not race. This has the salutary effect of preventing claims the system is unfair. Brown had to research a widely dispersed dataset, sometimes inferring race by zip code, and employing studies from which a single stat might help prove her generalized case. It is a very detailed, impressive piece of detective work and scholarship. In case after case, she proves that the system is set up to benefit whites, at the expense of blacks. Blacks pay the same taxes, but don’t get the same benefits, for example. Famous cases are the GI Bill and land grants, both routinely denied awards to blacks. They are also routinely refused loans, grants, subsidies and lower interest rate mortgages, among others. Taxes paid by blacks go to subsidize whites in programs blacks cannot access. Brown says black families making over $300,000 a year are more likely to get a subprime mortgage than a white family making $30,000. White households headed by a high school dropout will show wealth of $34,700, while black households headed by a college graduate only show wealth of $23,400. Among the many reasons Brown found for this was that black families must operate differently, and the tax laws do not take this into account, because they were written for whites. One big example is dependency. In white families, parents and grandparents aid children with tuition, house downpayments and gifts. In black families, the children support the parents and grandparents (and others). Support goes upwards through the generations, not downward towards the children. The result is little or no wealth accumulation. And that means no wealth-boosting transfers to the next generations. In the chapter on housing, there is the usual litany of prejudice from redlining and subprime mortgages. But there is also the business of sales. Homes in predominantly black neighborhoods do not soar in value as they do in white areas. Worse, they are likely to lose value instead. But while profits from home sales are generally safe from taxation, losses are not even deductible against capital gains. So the net worth of black families can shrink every time they move. Brown has studied it up and down, and has come to this point: “I propose to revise all homeownership subsidies to target them directly to those living in neighborhoods that are undervalued because of the race of their occupants. Those neighborhoods deserve government tax subsidies, because the government’s original discrimination against black Americans gave rise to the current discrimination perpetuated by private white homebuyers. Since 10 percent seems to be the magic number of black homeowners that makes a neighborhood lose value, homeowners living in neighborhoods with more than 10 percent black homeowners would be eligible for all current tax subsidies. Won’t that lead to gentrification? Well, a tax break could help offset rising property taxes, and keep black homeowners in place; and as we’ve seen, when black homeowners remain, neighborhoods are much less attractive to many white homeowners.” A similar situation plays out in income taxes. Married couples have various marriage penalties to contend with in the antiquated US tax regime, but the one that hurts blacks most is the differential. For a couple where one works and the other doesn’t, taxes are reduced substantially. When both work and make about the same money, the tax bill is maximized. This is the trap blacks find themselves in, as a higher proportion of them must have both spouses working to make ends meet. For whites, it means one spouse provides free labor in childcare, upkeep, cooking and so on, completely untaxed. That’s the white way and it enriches them further, while blacks pay out more of their income. Brown provides a remarkable chart showing the number of black families who benefit from marriage bonuses (MB), compared to those who suffer from marriage penalties (MP). It is not particularly pretty, but most readers will be seeing such a thing for the first time. Blacks pay first class taxes for second class citizenship, she says. And it is so obvious and so serious, it is preventing essentially all progress for blacks to build wealth to pass on, such as a valuable home, investments, retirement plans and so on. Brown says “A 2015 Brookings Institution report titled ’Five Bleak Facts on Black Opportunity’ found that not only did most black American families fail to rise out of the middle class, their children were actually more likely to fall out of the middle class than they were to remain there. “ So this is known, but lawmakers are clearly not even attempting to deal with it. Where then does all this come from? At bottom, it is selfish negligence. Lawmakers write statutes for whites and their situations and lifestyles, because that’s who they tend to be, and who (they think) they represent. Courts rule for whites who take issue with tax laws. But the results apply to all, whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians, whether their situations are appropriate for those tax laws or not. Then, over the years, various lawmakers force changes (but not overhauls). They are influenced by lobbyists and high-powered supporters to change just one thing in a tax law – for their own benefit. These (white) influencers have no concern about unintended consequences. It has made the tax code so complex, convoluted and dense, there is no one in the world who can understand it all. But the ones who get the least benefit are blacks. As Brown summarizes it: “The American dream was never designed with us in mind.” Brown is forceful, eloquent and quotable. She proves not only her tax chops, but her legal chops as well. She cites all manner of court decisions in showing how these tax laws came to be, and why it is nearly impossible to overturn them. The deck is stacked against blacks, so despite all the progress in breaking down racism and discrimination through, say, the Civil Rights Act, the very structure of the tax system fairly mandates their continued oppression. The book is not all just complaining. Brown has thought through just how the statutes are prejudiced, and makes several recommendations for making them fairer. Her biggest effort though, is a recommendation for reparations. She details how it should work, how much it would cost, and the expected effects on society as a whole. Readers don’t have to agree, but this book is a comprehensive treatise, from problem to solution. My only complaint is the repetition. Brown has strong points, but she keeps repeating them when they’ve already been thoroughly made. She also likes to repeat the same stories, mostly regarding her parents, who are poster children for the unfairness of the tax system (as well as racism in society). But her constant retelling of their stories is unnecessary. So the book suffers from the lack of a hardheaded editor’s pencil. This must not deter anyone from reading The Whiteness of Wealth. It is a powerfully written insight into a structural defect that keeps the country unequal. David Wineberg

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    I am somewhat cautious in giving this a rating, because of my difficulty in bringing together my disparate feelings about the content of this book and its overall presentation. As a piece of purely academic writing, I found the book to be extremely educational about the structure - and thereby structural problems - of the American taxation system. The book is extremely well-researched, and Dorothy Brown provides well-supported examples of the ways in which those with traditional sources of power I am somewhat cautious in giving this a rating, because of my difficulty in bringing together my disparate feelings about the content of this book and its overall presentation. As a piece of purely academic writing, I found the book to be extremely educational about the structure - and thereby structural problems - of the American taxation system. The book is extremely well-researched, and Dorothy Brown provides well-supported examples of the ways in which those with traditional sources of power in politics (i.e. whites) have used that power to shape the economic and taxation system to favour people who live 'their way'. To some degree, this could be attributed to a kind of benign administration - favouring one without intentionally disfavouring the other - however a lack of black voices and representation clearly has resulted in an unbalanced system. I must admit that as a politically conservative - although socially liberal - person, I was surprised at my own reaction to the book. I was initially skeptical about what the book would entail when I received a copy. But having read it, I feel as though I gained a better understanding of the kind of ways that inequity can be writ by a system, even through pure indifference rather than actual malice. With that being said, this work is not without problems. I was initially put off by the extensive introduction, which disposed me unfavourably towards the book. It seemed to me that as a university lecturer who had previously made a living as an investment banker and lawyer, Brown was uniquely qualified and unqualified to lecture the world on how the economic system disfavours African-Americans. Some of the personal examples used by the author felt as though there was a giant chip riding on her shoulder that influences all of her perspective throughout the book. I found the chapter on the myth of education as a means of escape to be particularly troubling. Yes, there is an inherent problem with saddling young people with enormous debt as a result of their attempts to escape economic hardship. But there has to be an element of personal choice and responsibility which plays a role in life, and Brown doesn't appear to account for that. I do not normally read/review academic writing, and therefore this review is somewhat bipolar in functioning as a review and a critique of the work. I found it educational, but also exhausting. I suspect that its intended audience - those in the corridors of power with the ability if not the political will to overhaul the system - will either find it empowering or extremely offensive depending on their side of politics. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joann Im

    A powerful insight of racism in American taxation system that is not colorblind as perceived. The book opens with Dorothy Brown, a professor focused on tax law and how she pursued tax law to escape from racism. As the author studied and taught students about this subject matter, questions began to circulate on why her dad, a plumber and her mother, a nurse paid an unusually high percentage of their income in taxes. Through well-extensive research, Dorothy Brown exposes how U.S. tax policies fuel A powerful insight of racism in American taxation system that is not colorblind as perceived. The book opens with Dorothy Brown, a professor focused on tax law and how she pursued tax law to escape from racism. As the author studied and taught students about this subject matter, questions began to circulate on why her dad, a plumber and her mother, a nurse paid an unusually high percentage of their income in taxes. Through well-extensive research, Dorothy Brown exposes how U.S. tax policies fuels the Black-white wealth gap. The author delivers illuminating factual information on the nature of U.S. economic oppression through detailed data analysis, brief history on tax policy and personal anecdotes. Tax system fairly is like a foreign language to me where I only hold a bare minimum basic knowledge. Therefore, I praise Dorothy Brown for her knowledge and impeccable writing in conveying and breaking down U.S. economic policies and data in a simpler and easier to understand format, pointing out the root of the issue and leading up to possible solutions in reforms to tackle racial inequality. The only comment about this book is that some of the points she made were repetitive. For the majority of readers it could be considered in a negative light, however for readers like myself I didn't mind at all because the repeated information helped me to digest and understand the important points Dorothy was sharing. The author extensively digs deep into tax policies that relate to most American life such as housing, marriage, education, work and more that was both eye-opening and enlightening. A captivating outlook on the power in politics and the lack of representation that creates the ever-increasing wealth gap and unequal opportunity in our so-called American dream. An educational and awe-inspiring reading experience that is an essential read for all.  Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.   

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sara Broad

    "The Whiteness of Wealth" by Dorothy Brown centers around the way that tax law and the overall nature of the US economy oppress some and elevate others financially. This book is very eye-opening about the history of tax law, who has shaped it, and how it has affected both intergenerational wealth and the financial stability of those who are alive today. As the title makes clear, straight, white, married couples have been the historic winners in the tax game, and those who have been marginalized "The Whiteness of Wealth" by Dorothy Brown centers around the way that tax law and the overall nature of the US economy oppress some and elevate others financially. This book is very eye-opening about the history of tax law, who has shaped it, and how it has affected both intergenerational wealth and the financial stability of those who are alive today. As the title makes clear, straight, white, married couples have been the historic winners in the tax game, and those who have been marginalized continue to fall behind. This book is similar to Richard Rothstein's "The Color of Law" and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's "Race for Profit." If these books interest you, then "The Whiteness of Wealth" is not one to be missed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    I read to halfway and then finally gave up. I had been contacted by an editor through NetGalley suggesting that since I had thoroughly enjoyed Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste, I might enjoy this one, but I didn’t. It read like a textbook and so much of it went right over my head. It was long and repetitive and I got lost between the chapters which all seemed to say the same thing - there is disparity between the races and it favors Whites. But I already knew that. My one take-away will be the quan I read to halfway and then finally gave up. I had been contacted by an editor through NetGalley suggesting that since I had thoroughly enjoyed Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste, I might enjoy this one, but I didn’t. It read like a textbook and so much of it went right over my head. It was long and repetitive and I got lost between the chapters which all seemed to say the same thing - there is disparity between the races and it favors Whites. But I already knew that. My one take-away will be the quandary of housing. Do you live in a predominantly Black neighborhood and enjoy the culture that goes with it and accept the poor quality of education in the schools, or do you move into a nice neighborhood where no one looks like you but your kids go to good schools? I wish she had written more vignettes like that and cut back on the numbers.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I was skeptical about a book subtitled How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans, when the tax system doesn’t even know a taxpayer’s race. The subtitle was probably meant to be provocative, though I have no doubt author Dorothy Brown would defend its accuracy, even in the absence of data in direct support (because tax data by race is simply not collected). Dorothy Brown is a law professor at Emory who went into tax law thinking that race wasn’t part of it. Over time, she concluded that “the I was skeptical about a book subtitled How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans, when the tax system doesn’t even know a taxpayer’s race. The subtitle was probably meant to be provocative, though I have no doubt author Dorothy Brown would defend its accuracy, even in the absence of data in direct support (because tax data by race is simply not collected). Dorothy Brown is a law professor at Emory who went into tax law thinking that race wasn’t part of it. Over time, she concluded that “there’s nothing in this country that race and racism aren’t a part of.” So how does racism pervade a race-blind tax system? By rewarding acquired wealth in a way that super-disproportionately benefits whites (deduction for mortgage interest but not for rent, income exclusion for gain on house sale but no deduction for losses, lower rate on non-wage income (dividends, capital gain), joint filing rules that benefit the one-earner/one stay-at-home pattern (associated far more often with wealthy white households) over the two equal earners pattern (more often found in lower-wealth Black households) and that further benefits whites by allowing accumulated wealth to be passed on to future generations while Blacks not only don’t receive inherited wealth but damage their own wealth accumulation by supporting parents and grandparents—reverse “wealth” distribution. This, in turn, leaves Blacks burdened with higher debt, less access to education, and add-on impacts on jobs, health care, retirement savings, home ownership. Recognizing that tax laws cannot outright prefer Blacks over whites, Brown makes several recommendations from the relatively basic (no joint returns—every person reports their own income) to the provocative (all income is taxed, and taxed the same—e.g., inheritance, gifts, gain on house sale, capital gains and dividends), to the radical (a sort of reparations deduction for low-wealth (not low-income, because low-income whites still have out-sized access to wealth). She further proposes race-based tax data collection, best achieved by Big Data deep dives by zip code, surname and other reasonable predictions of Black versus non-Black. Lots to ponder. My skepticism largely faded when I understood the point Brown was trying to make. While the research seemed solid, I was surprised by a few editorial glitches such as reference to the Homestead Act of 1872 (it was 1862), and graphs with no labels on X- and Y- axis. I guess we were to assume similar to prior graphs.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    At its basis, this is a great thought provoking book about the unintended consequences of our tax law. A lot of the book was redundant and circular, but I think that only underlines how all the pieces work together. I did feel some of the examples presented were a bit suspect. For example: white homeownership increased from 45.7% to 64% between 1940 and 1960. That is an increase of 1.4times. During the same time Black homeownership increased from 22.8% to 38.4%. That is an increase of 1.68times. At its basis, this is a great thought provoking book about the unintended consequences of our tax law. A lot of the book was redundant and circular, but I think that only underlines how all the pieces work together. I did feel some of the examples presented were a bit suspect. For example: white homeownership increased from 45.7% to 64% between 1940 and 1960. That is an increase of 1.4times. During the same time Black homeownership increased from 22.8% to 38.4%. That is an increase of 1.68times. (And, the difference between Black and White ownership decreased from 50% to 40%.) But, instead of commenting that the ratio for Blacks was increasing at a faster rate (and might potentially catch up for White ownership), Ms. Brown focuses on comparing the absolute percentages. I am not saying that there isn't an issue here, but I felt the emphasis was a bit misleading. Likewise, in a few instances, a plan for change is proposed but then discarded because it would also benefit White families. I felt this was a bit too similar to the how many White conservatives were willing to go without health insurance out of fear that a minority or immigrant might also get healthcare through the same opportunity as discussed in (Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland. But none of this should detract from the basic point of the book: tax law as it stands today is discriminatory. It needs to be changed to be equitable to all Americans, not just Black American as Ms. Brown suggests. Thanks to Crown Publishing for a copy of the book. This review is my own opinion.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Aste

    Eye opening how the federal tax code has systemically prohibited black families from getting ahead, while individual wealthy white people have been able to make the IRS bend to their will all throughout the history of this country’s taxation. If you are black, chances are you are paying for more than your fair share of taxes. The author outlines great policy recommendations: support a return to individual tax filing, get the IRS to start publishing numbers by race, give reparations based on the Eye opening how the federal tax code has systemically prohibited black families from getting ahead, while individual wealthy white people have been able to make the IRS bend to their will all throughout the history of this country’s taxation. If you are black, chances are you are paying for more than your fair share of taxes. The author outlines great policy recommendations: support a return to individual tax filing, get the IRS to start publishing numbers by race, give reparations based on the tax code. She also has to unfortunately offer black families tools to make the most of our current tax system: get married at the beginning of the calendar year, don’t use your full housing budget to purchase a home in a predominately non-white neighborhood, and pay attention to what candidates support which tax reforms.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Casey Willits

    This was packed full of good research references yet still tight, compact, and quick read. Policy makers should read this, sure, it more importantly people who vote with only their own tax advantages in mind should read this. The self-serving bias of thinking you untaxed inheritance from your parents didn’t actually help you drives bad decisions. The favorite solution from those who have already benefited from the tax system and inherited opportunities: financial literacy. Well guess what? It do This was packed full of good research references yet still tight, compact, and quick read. Policy makers should read this, sure, it more importantly people who vote with only their own tax advantages in mind should read this. The self-serving bias of thinking you untaxed inheritance from your parents didn’t actually help you drives bad decisions. The favorite solution from those who have already benefited from the tax system and inherited opportunities: financial literacy. Well guess what? It doesn’t make a difference: Pg 179: “Financial literacy training has been proven to be ineffective: A study found that financial literacy accounts for only one-tenth of 1 percent of differences in behavior when it comes financial decision-making.”

  10. 5 out of 5

    Vidalia

    This book is the first one I've pre-ordered, and it was worth it! It really opened my eyes to how provisions of our tax code that I've always taken for granted (married filing jointly, tax free employee benefits, capital gains rates) help white families build wealth while hurting black families. The author's suggestions in each chapter and at the end, like ending all preferential rates, going back to single filing and a wealth based tax credit, are ambitious but practical as well, if there were This book is the first one I've pre-ordered, and it was worth it! It really opened my eyes to how provisions of our tax code that I've always taken for granted (married filing jointly, tax free employee benefits, capital gains rates) help white families build wealth while hurting black families. The author's suggestions in each chapter and at the end, like ending all preferential rates, going back to single filing and a wealth based tax credit, are ambitious but practical as well, if there were enough people (white and black) to push for change.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sara Shocks

    Outstanding and incisive analysis of all the ways in which the current tax system benefits white Americans at the expense of Black Americans, with well-considered solutions and mitigants. I would like to live in Dorothy Brown's America. Outstanding and incisive analysis of all the ways in which the current tax system benefits white Americans at the expense of Black Americans, with well-considered solutions and mitigants. I would like to live in Dorothy Brown's America.

  12. 5 out of 5

    James Gross

    Stop crying the blues... get a job , keep it and pay your bills. this book is terrible. maybe should explain how to write a resume instead.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Heard the author on this episode of The New Yorker Radio Hour: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/... Heard the author on this episode of The New Yorker Radio Hour: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Taryss

    Excellent read, dense with information and full of wisdom. One of the rare books I felt a need to keep notes while reading. Can't recommend enough. Excellent read, dense with information and full of wisdom. One of the rare books I felt a need to keep notes while reading. Can't recommend enough.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Liza Thompson

  16. 5 out of 5

    Carla Fair-wright

  17. 5 out of 5

    Douglas R Ford

  18. 4 out of 5

    Max Comolli

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shayla

  20. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sean Walcott

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rachel L

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dan James

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bethany Green

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Nelson

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia Stacks

  28. 4 out of 5

    Peter A. Raskin

  29. 4 out of 5

    Beth

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dean

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