Guest Lecturer—Andrew Kahrl: “The Price We Pay: The Overtaxation of Black America”
Andrew Kahrl, Professor of History at the University of Virginia and author of The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South, presented a talk on March 6th, 2015. The topic of his lecture was the overtaxation of African Americans throughout history and modern day, and his primary argument/main contention was that African Americans pay disproportionate property taxes and additionally have not been able to receive the services that are supposed to be supplied by said taxes, resulting in one form of systematic, institutionalized discrimination. Kahrl supplemented his analysis of overtaxation with other examples of exploitation or inequality, including white flight to the suburbs, the inability of African Americans to win elections for tax assessors, predatory tax buying, and perhaps most shocking, exploitation that has resulted in African Americans actually paying for the unjust system within which they have been trapped. Ultimately, Kahrl provided an excellent argument and evidence as to why the claim, “Blacks pay no taxes” holds absolutely no weight.
Kahrl’s research is actually part of a large-and-growing Digital Humanities project that boasts an interactive website that reveals discriminatory property dealings such as overtaxation, redlining, etc.
The lecture encouraged me to consider critically the ways in which a historian’s research and findings not only can be conveyed to a public audience, but also can be used to effect change. As a presenter, Dr. Kahrl was very passionate and presented a compelling, relevant case. Because of the pervasiveness of these systematic forms of discrimination, research that highlights the inequalities has the power to actually incite change on a political level. A Youtube video, “The Big Business Wall Street Won’t Discuss” is already in circulation, focusing on the very institutions that Kahrl’s research focuses on. As a historian, obviously it is my hope to convey my research to the public in a thought-provoking and engaging way, and I believe the interactive website effectively does that. However, I am sad to say that in comparing what I perceived as my research’s realm of influence with the work of Dr. Kahrl, I have become quite shortsighted. This is not to say that each and every project I—or any of us—undertake will become an exposé that reveals and works to alleviate the ills of modern society. However, Kahrl’s project demonstrates that such a goal isn’t outside of the realm of possibility. As a historian and person, I should certainly mimic Dr. Kahrl and attempt to see the big picture and the potential reach and value of my work.