J. Cole’s new album, KOD, is another classic that will be on repeat throughout 2018. While the primary focus of the album was on various forms of addictions, his song, “Brackets,” questions the amount of taxes he pays and where his money is actually going.
I guess they say my dollars supposed to build roads and schools
But my n***** barely graduate, they ain't got the tools
Maybe 'cause the tax dollars that I make sure I send
Get spent hirin' some teachers that don't look like them
And the curriculum be tricking them, them dollars I spend
Got us learning about the heroes with the whitest of skin
He critiques the resegregation of American schools since Brown v. Board of Education, the disparity in taxes that have historically gone to whiter schools and have undermined K-12 education in communities of color, and the lack of diversity among teachers in the classroom. In the following lines, he critiques the pace of democracy in changing black realities.
I'll write a check to the IRS, my pockets get slim
Damn, do I even have a say 'bout where it's goin'?
Some older n**** told me to start votin'
I said "Democracy is too f*****' slow"
If I'm givin' y'all this hard-earned bread, I wanna know
Federal tax policy, as J. Cole referenced in his allusion to Uncle Sam, is much harder to change than state and local tax policy. While J. Cole’s critique of the tax system is warranted, we have to look at why it doesn’t work for us as well. Since the conservative tax revolt of the late 1970s and early 1980s, property taxes in most states were significantly reduced and have forced states to consider different revenue streams like sales and income tax. Taxes vary from state to state, but in some shape or form all states and local governments still have to collect their money.
As of 2016, J. Cole’s home state of North Carolina has a flat income tax rate of 5.75 percent, sales tax of 4.75 percent, and property taxes are only collected by the counties. If he still lived in North Carolina, his income tax would not be affected by his tax bracket. In J. Cole’s home county of Cumberland, the property tax rate is 0.74 percent. J. Cole criticizes addiction to money, among many others, and proclaims democracy to be too slow, but I argue buying property and paying low property taxes as opposed to making high incomes that are taxed heavily is a faster route to getting the services we need in the communities we live in. For local municipalities like Cumberland County, property taxes are their financial base, and increasing the amount of property owners will keep county property taxes low and provide money for well-needed services like education. Once the black homeowner population gets stronger, then democracy will move faster because the conversation isn’t where do we get the money from, but how we should distribute it.
J. Cole’s hometown city of Fayetteville has one of the smallest gaps between the percentage of white and black homeowners in the country. According to Urban Wire, the percentage of white homeowners is 62.8 percent while the percentage of black homeowners is 45.4 percent and the Cumberland County rate is almost identical. While the cities with the widest racial gaps in homeownership are in the Northeast, take notice that even in a city like Fayetteville, the gap is still wide.
We often ask affluent and influential people to give money back into their communities and into the school system, but we rarely ask what that really looks like. While black economic liberation can be very complex and there are more reasons than lack of homeownership that contribute to asset deprivation and poverty, one consensus among scholars is that homeownership can significantly change black people’s economic standing over generations. While the black community still needs access to liquid assets, banking institutions that don’t discriminate against them, and health insurance that protects them from deep financial trouble when family members get sick, to name a few, a solid plan for long-term asset development is increasing homeownership. It is what separates many liquid-poor blacks from liquid-poor whites. Many white people can sell or live in their illiquid asset, or a home that’s been passed down over generations, in times of need. In the Economic Policy Institute’s analysis on the racial wealth divide, it’s evident that black people, especially black women, make less at every educational level and in every occupation, so while scholars propose many other alternatives, I see homeownership as the only proven method for building wealth over generations. And the homeownership model must specifically target black women and those formerly incarcerated.
According to Zillow, the median home value in Fayetteville is $103,713. Home values have gone up 4.7 percent in the past year and are predicted to rise 4.3 percent in the next year. Putting a 20 percent down payment on a home valued at the median price would cost $20,742, a 10 percent down payment would cost $10,371, and a 5 percent down payment would cost $5,185. Paying the down payment costs, or the primary obstacle to homeownership, for 1000 families would cost $20,742,000, $10,371,000, and $5,185,000 respectively. And while this may seem like a lot of money, I would encourage matching family savings so donors aren’t footing the entire bill, partnering with other philanthropists, and working with non-profit organizations already doing this work. The goal is to create as many black homeowners as possible without going through predatory sub-prime lenders. And you’ll probably get a tax cut too because, in capitalism, there are loopholes to liberation.
From one St. John’s University alum to another, J. Cole, I know you’re passionate about giving back and helping your community, but I want black dollars to last longer. We have to work the tax system, incentivize homeownership, and funnel dollars into teachers’ salaries and curriculum outside of only music programs. Providing a free home for single mothers going through hardships is phenomenal, but imagine if they all owned a home after they left. Let’s speed up democracy.