James Baldwin On The Price Of Poverty #BlackHistoryMonth

sofreshandsogreen james baldwin poor poverty expensive black history month quote

This is one of the more famous quotes from the insightful author. This quote is lifted from his essay ‘Fifth Avenue, Uptown: a Letter from Harlem’ which was published in the July 1960 issue of Esquire, among other places. As a quote Baldwin is addressing a class issue, but as with probably all class issues it is inextricably linked to race. In context with the rest of his essay it’s more clear the author is referring to something more specific to black people, The Black Tax.

Urban dictionary, the most accurate of all dictionaries, defines The Black Tax as


“The higher prices that black people have to pay for:

1) goods – often due to a lack of large grocery stores, mass market discounters
2) insurance, mortgages, loans
due to their ethnicity”

By ethnicity they mean race- a common mistake. Let’s allow the elegant wordsmith, James Baldwin, to give some context here for us, while also making an interesting point about planned obsolescence.


All other slum dwellers, when the bank account permits it, can move out of the slum and vanish altogether from the eye of persecution. No Negro in this country has ever made that much money and it will be a long time before any Negro does. The Negroes in Harlem, who have no money, spend what they have on such gimcracks as they are sold. These include ‘wider’ TV screens, more ‘faithful’ hi-fi sets more ‘powerful’ cars, all of which, of course, are obsolete long before they are paid for. Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor; and if one is a member of a captive population, economically speaking, one’s feet have simply been placed on the treadmill forever. One is victimized, economically, in a thousand ways — rent, for example, or car insurance. Go shopping one day in Harlem — for anything — and compare Harlem prices and quality with those downtown.

Read the rest of this essay at esquire.com

We all know #TheStruggleIsReal so do you identify with this quote? Have you ever heard of The Black Tax? Do you have other favorite quotes from James Baldwin?

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