The District’s tax and revenue system is a tool for racial justice. It allows us to raise the collective resources we need to meet growing needs, provide public services that enable all DC residents to thrive, and to make public investments that dismantle structural barriers to opportunity for Black and brown residents. And, changes to the design of our tax system, which both embodies and racial inequity, can dismantle the privileges unfairly afforded to DC’s wealthiest households.
In the District, Black codes, Jim Crow segregation, racial housing covenants, eminent domain over Black neighborhoods, redlining, neglect and disinvestment in majority Black schools and communities East of the River, ongoing, pervasive labor market discrimination, over-policing of Black and brown communities, and political exclusion, have all combined to concentrate poverty and disadvantage among Black and brown communities and to concentrate wealth and prosperity among white households. Moreover, people in power intentionally shaped the earliest state and local tax systems, as well as the federal tax code, to maintain the economic dominance of wealthy, white landowners.
While our tax system does not speak to race explicitly, it continues to reflect a history of racist policies and practices and privilege high-income and wealthy households. Advantageous treatment of inherited wealth, capital gains, dividends, corporate and non-corporate business income, and property ownership, among other things, allows higher-income residents—who are predominantly white—to build more wealth, increase the value of existing assets, and increase the wealth that they pass to future generations. It compounds DC’s existing and extreme racial inequity in wealth and income. Correcting the racist harm in the tax system would enhance racial equity, in and of itself, while also affording DC additional resources to pay for good schools in every community, stable housing, and affordable child care.
While the District has taken important steps to reduce the taxes paid by households with the lowest incomes, injustices in the tax code continue to exacerbate racial and economic inequity. By building a tax system that embodies racial justice in both its design and the public investments it provides, DC policymakers can ensure everyone can share in the DC economy’s prosperity.
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