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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/2/09

The Black Tax: Still Well & Alive In '09

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Message Tolu Olorunda

"This little song that I'm singin' about/ People you know it's true/If you're black and gotta work for a living/This is what they will say to you/They says, "-if you was white, should be all right/If you was brown, stick around/But as you's black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back'/"-

- Legendary Blues/Country Singer Big Bill Broonzy; Black, Brown and White; His Story (1957)

"[For] God sake, what a ni**a got to do to make half a million/ Without the FBI catchin' feelings/"-

- Hip-Hop artist Nas, Street Dreams, It Was Written (1996)

"This is legit rap, I.R.S. can suck my books/"-

- Hip-Hop artist Ghostface Killah, Holla, The Pretty Toney Album (2003)

If all guilty go to jail, and the innocent were never wrongfully convicted, our globe might just look a little differently. Not to make any promises, but it seems as though the racist-tenets under which the law currently functions, has made planet earth an unpalatable place to live, for people of conscience and concern. When a rich White man and a rich Black man both commit the same crimes, and only the rich Black man is sentenced, it's safe to assume that race, as Michael Eric Dyson once said, "is"- the language that class speaks."-

The cases of Tim Geithner, Tom Daschle, and Bernie (and Ruth) Madoff all speak volumes to the explicit biases in the justice system. All three have, in recent times, had their fair share of public humiliation--some more severe than the others--over tax evasions or "-grandest larceny."

Tim Geithner, the new head of the IRS--how Ironic, or hypocritical (depending on how you look at it--is reported to have failed to pay thousands of dollars in payroll taxes from 2001 to 2004, while working for the International Monetary Fund. Geithner has contended that these errors were unintended, but one can't help but question the credibility of his claims, with additional reports documenting his unethical claims of unmerited dependent-care tax credits. Obama's choice for Secretary of the Treasury claimed these were honest "mistakes,"- with no devious intentions behind them. Call me cynical, but it's hard to believe the words of a man whose next job is to police others for committing crimes he committed and got away with. An "embarrassed"- Obama, who, earlier in the campaign season, "won't back up one bit"- from asking Black folks take more "personal responsibility"- for their actions, seems to have no problem in tempering that rhetoric, when it comes to the rich and famous.

Tom Daschle, Obama's pick for Secretary of Health, must have taken the same courses Geithner majored in--how to cheat on your taxes 101. Daschle's "problems"- seem to stem from the unreported use of a car and driver, provided to him by Leo Hindery Jr., founder of the private equity firm, InterMedia Advisors. In a financial disclosure statement filed this month, Daschle confessed that he had received big money from InterMedia, including more than $2 million for consulting and $182,520 of "company-provided transportation."- Daschle who recently filed amended tax returns--though is reported to have waited a month, after nomination, before revealing his tax errors--to report $128,203 in back taxes and $11,964 in interest, is, according to a White house official, fully backed by his boss, President Obama. Describing Daschle's criminally-liable acts as simply "bumps along the way,"- of his confirmation process, sources from the White House have reported that Obama is "not wavering"- in his support. It's a strange world when the same man who chided Black men for sitting "in the house and watch[ing] SportsCenter all weekend long,"- throws his unabated assurances behind someone who committed a criminal act.

The ponzi-scheme King and Queen, Bernard and Ruth Madoff, are perhaps the most explicit examples of the unparallel system of justice that uses men and women of color as fodder for the Prison Industrial Complex's insatiable appetite. Following news of Bernard Madoff's $50 billion scandal, Mr. Madoff was scurrilously reprimanded by the justice system, with an order imprisoning him to house arrest in his $7 million Manhattan apartment. The Madoff family, nuclear and extended, is now being implicated in the earth-shattering multi-billion dollar rip-off. Continually refusing requests by the prosecution team to jail Bernard Madoff and his accomplices (crime family), judges have never budged in imposing stricter sanctions, such as ankle bracelets, submitting to 24-hour private security guards, and posting his Manhattan, Long Island and Florida homes as part of the $10 million bail package. One can't help but notice how the Madoff crime family, their criminal antics notwithstanding, were simply smacked on the wrist for single-handedly wrecking non-profit organizations, personal life-savings, corporations, etc. More intriguing is the fact that, in 2007, a Black Reverend can be sentenced to 3-10 years for invoking biblical scripture--and upon release, is put on 24/7 curfew, banned from use of cell-phone, banned from speech-making of any kind, banned from campaigning of any sort, even disallowed from attending church without permission from the court, and tethered in own home. Clearly, the Madoffs got the better deal.

When one compares the sentencing handed in similar tax-cases involving the legendary musician Mr. Biggs (Ronald Isley), and accomplished actor Wesley Snipes, the racial disparities in sentences is rendered naked. In 2006, Mr. Biggs was sentenced to 3 years for tax evasion, with an Appeals court upholding the ruling in Feb. 2008. Wesley Snipes, who failed to file tax returns, would also face three years in the slammer, for the same crime committed by Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle. Compared to the atrocities wreaked by the Madoff crime family, Isley and Snipes should have never been charged to begin with. Unfortunately, the criminal injustice system is less reliant on logic in holding black men to the altar of sacrifice, for the gods of law and order.

In Enough is Enough, a song recorded by Hip-Hop artist Jasiri X, following the verdict (last April) in the Sean Bell homicide case, Jasiri drew a parallel of injustice in the verdicts concerning Sean Bell's killers, and Wesley Snipes. In his song, Jasiri mentioned that the acquittal of the four cops was a spit in the face of justice, especially given the disproportionate sentencing Snipes was given, in relation to his alleged financial improprieties: "Not one day behind Bars [for the cops], this is madness/ But Wesley gets three years for not doing his taxes,"- he rapped. Jasiri's words would, soon after, prove to be an echo chamber of the sentiments express by numerous bloggers and journalists, who, at the time, also pointed out the transparent breach of justice in those cases.

The issue of race-based legal inconsistencies also took center-stage, last week, with the revelations of corporate criminals who, having taken tax-payer money, were generous enough to distribute $18.4 billion between their crime networks. The controversy following former Merill Lynch CEO, John Thain's frugal spending also intrigues the watchful eye. Thain whose budget included $87,000 for an area rug, four pairs of curtains for $28,000, a pair of guest chairs for $87,000 and fabric for a "Roman Shade"- for $11,000--amongst many other items--is said to have spent over $1.2 million to refurbish his office. Whilst it does appear to be yet another simple case of corporate greed, one can't help but wonder what the public reaction would have been, if Thain was a Black man or Black Woman. What kind of words might have been used to describe him/her--"welfare queen,"- "bum,"- "moron,"- "fool,"- "thief,"- "thug,"- "criminal?"- My bet is on "thug."- Mos Def said it best: "They think that illegal's a synonym for negro/... You can laugh and criticize Michael Jackson if you wanna/ Woody Allen molested and married his step-daughter/ Same press kickin' dirt on Michael's name/ Show Woody and Soon-Yi at the playoff game/ Holdin' hands/ Sit back and just bug, think about that/ Would he get that type of dap if his name was Woody Black?"-

Due to the election of Obama, many have hastily congratulated themselves for helping usher in an era of "post-racial"- politics--a time when skin color is of no significance in society. They have begun celebrating the manifestation of a "color-blind"- world. The fact that these countless incidents of blatant injustices occur on a daily basis has no effect on their phony excuses to deny the hazardous conditions people of color, and the financially-disempowered in general, are forced to exist in. They choose to argue that racism has lost its sting, and is, at this point, at the cusp of extinguishment from our reality, but for Blacks, the Black Tax would always be a sobering reminder of the not-so changed factors that constitute the Black-American experience.

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Tolu Olorunda is a Columnist for BlackCommentator.com
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