Race & Taxes: My Closing Argument

My Uncle Billy is racist. That statement might cause him to disown me, or perhaps solicit several angry emails from my immediate family, but I wouldn’t be stating any more than he already demonstrates to be true – sometimes blatantly so. Uncle Billy lives in a small town of 2600 people in Mississippi, a town where the population has declined 10% since 2000. I often admire many aspects about my uncle – he dotes after my aunt, caring for her in a way that I could only hope someone would care for me through multiple surgeries and illness; has a patient, kind demeanor; is smart and humorous with a Southern twang.

But Uncle Billy grew up in Mississippi, and there he has stayed – in a place and a mindset where it’s acceptable to use the ‘N’ word among your friends. My aunt, a decorator and collector, makes frequent trips to a community they refer to as Black Town to purchase vivid pottery pieces hand-crafted by African Americans. A few years ago I was coming back from a pottery pilgrimage to Black Town when we passed a sign saying, “You are now leaving Merigold.” I felt shamefully ignorant for never questioning the town’s derogatory name. I had been handed that ignorance and accepted it. I had never paid close enough attention to the signs passing me by.

Racial ignorance, or racism itself, is something that I have come to understand a bit more. You inherit it, you acclimate yourself to it and you let it mold you to not affect your relationships with the people around you; the people like you. There are thousands of people in this country like my uncle, and they will go to the polls on November 4th with this ignorance settled deep in their souls. They’ve never been to Merigold, only Black Town. This is not an excuse for racism by any means, but a reason for their ignorance.

But there is another type of societal ignorance that is more insipid and below the surface. Because it carries none of the stigma of race and color, it is more acceptable – sometimes laughable – with the right crowd. The epitome of this ignorance came to me during the summer of 2004 when I was at a horse show. I found myself arguing with one of our wealthiest clients about politics. I used to incite conversations with her on all sorts of voodoo topics: religion, homosexuality and, being an election year, politics. An evangelical Christian, my client had invested a nearly equivalent amount of money in her three childrens’ private school education as she had in her one daughter’s equine pursuits. I remember the conversation dwindling down to her final statement: “Rachel, at the end of the day, I’m just going to vote based on my taxes.”

As a 20 year old getting by on about $30,000 a year at the time, I remember being horrified. It was my first confrontation with someone concerned about taxes. With all that was going on – the war, the recently reported Abu Grhaib abuse, George Tenet’s resignation – she was concerned about taxes?

By the end of November 4th, that is what this election will be all about. Will there be those same people like my former client going out to vote based on their taxes, reelecting a regime that will dangle an IRS carrot in their left hand while orchestrating a false war with their other? Or will there be enough people stirred up by volunteers and Obama’s inspiring rhetoric to drag themselves out of their nearly destitute daily lives to vote for a candidate who promises to act in the middle class’s best interest? I'd like to have faith in the latter, but I'm more acutely aware of the first.

And so my closing argument, to those Republicans who tell me they won’t end up voting for someone, “just voting against someone else,” is this: You may not be racist, but should you choose to cast your vote based on something as ultimately unimportant as your personal finances, then you ought to do a little soul-searching. Because voting based on your bottom line, and whether you can buy a new plasma screen with that extra $600 you’ll get back from the government, is just as despicable as voting against someone because of the color of their skin. You'll never know you are in Merigold if you only carry the spoils of Black Town.

And, yeah, I’m talking to you.

9 Response to "Race & Taxes: My Closing Argument"

  • Logan Says:

    A. People ALWAYS vote their PocketBook
    B. get off this fake war rant, enough already. it is what it is
    C. McCain is not Bush
    D. People ALWAYS vote their PocketBook!

  • Mean Rachel Says:

    A&D: Is that supposed to make it okay?

  • MRhé Says:

    I think there are going to be quite a few people (racists even(!), according to a couple anecdotes) voting for Obama mainly because of personal finances, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Economic issues are what affect most people most directly. How can you fault people for using that as their most important criterion?

    Personal finances are hardly "unimportant." And they are a world of difference away from voting based on racial considerations.

  • Mean Rachel Says:

    voting for someone based only on personal finances is a selfish reason to vote for someone (or against someone). I do find something inherently wrong with that. and in the case of those who vote for or against someone because they make $250K a year and don't want to pay more in taxes is a socially ignorant way to vote.
    it's more acceptable though - which makes it more dangerous. one should vote with the greater good in mind. I'm certainly not voting for Obama because I'll get a $500 tax break. I could care less what sort of tax break I get.

  • MRhé Says:

    I agree that it's selfish and socially ignorant if it's the sole determining factor in one's voting. I agree that one should vote with the greater good in mind, but I think that is difficult for many people to do.

    But, despite its being perhaps morally suspect and ill-advised given the big picture, it's still rational. Voting based on race isn't. I don't think the comparison is fair.

  • mark Says:

    When you do get that $500 tax break, why not send it back to the government? Does the government spend money more wisely than you do? Does the government spend your client's money more wisely than your client does?

    Your client seems to spend her money wisely; she helps pay for teachers at her kid's private school and she helped you stay employed.

    It's unfortunate that only the wealthy can afford 'equine pursuits' but as more money is spent on these things, more people can be employed and more people can enjoy the benefits.

    By the way, not voting for someone just because of the color of their skin is FAR worse than voting for someone because they'll give tax breaks.

  • Lee Says:

    Logan: "fake war rant"? What does that mean? And what kind of political argument is "it is what it is"? Are you saying we should just accept that we're pouring billions of our tax dollars into this rathole, and in the process wrecking the lives of millions of people, both there and here?

    Rachel: I disagree with you. I think it's a shame that more people don't vote based on their personal finances. If the poor and lower middle classes voted in their economic interest -- instead of getting distracted by bullshit like gay marriage and sex scandals and flag pins -- the Republicans would hold only a tiny minority of House districts in the very wealthiest of areas and we'd already have universal health care.

  • Lee Says:

    Mark: It's not about whether the government spends the money "more wisely" than the individual. It's about whether the government spends the money where it's needed. The government can harness a large volume of dollars and spend them in ways that individuals cannot — hopefully for the common good.

    And yes, to anticipate the inevitable reply: I fully realize sometimes the government will use that ability to spend the money unwisely. Believe me, the Iraq War has made me all too aware of that. But that's why we're having an election — to change the way that money is being spent.

  • Anonymous Says:

    Come on now.

    First off, this comes off pretty self-rightous to think that only white people are racist.

    Second, it's clear that both parties get votes through the pocket book. Obama wants to give small businesses tax breaks for hiring employees. That's not going to sway things?

    Third (or thirdly?): Eh, I got sidetracked. 2 out of 3 isn't bad.