Racial Taxation: Schools, Segregation, and Taxpayer Citizenship, 1869-1973

Racial Taxation: Schools, Segregation, and Taxpayer Citizenship, 1869-1973

Racial Taxation: Schools, Segregation, and Taxpayer Citizenship, 1869-1973

Racial Taxation: Schools, Segregation, and Taxpayer Citizenship, 1869-1973


In the United States, it is quite common to lay claim to the benefits of society by appealing to "taxpayer citizenship--the idea that, as taxpayers, we deserve access to certain social services like a public education. Tracing the genealogy of this concept, Camille Walsh shows how tax policy and taxpayer identity were built on the foundations of white supremacy and intertwined with ideas of whiteness. From the origins of unequal public school funding after the Civil War through school desegregation cases from Brown v. Board of Education to San Antonio v. Rodriguez in the 1970s, this study spans over a century of racial injustice, dramatic courtroom clashes, and white supremacist backlash to collective justice claims.

Incorporating letters from everyday individuals as well as the private notes of Supreme Court justices as they deliberated, Walsh reveals how the idea of a "taxpayer" identity contributed to the contemporary crises of public education, racial disparity, and income inequality.


“But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?”
Then always, somehow, some way, silently but clearly, I am given
to understand that whiteness is the owner ship of the earth forever
and ever, Amen!

— W. E. B. DuBOIS, “The Souls of White Folk,” in Darkwater

Legal interpretation takes place in a field of pain and death.

— ROBERT COVER, “Vio lence and the Word”

In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the question of whether the Republican candidate, Donald J. Trump, had paid U.S. income tax became regular fodder for the news media. Based on pages from his tax records in 1995 that were leaked to the New York Times, there was speculation late in the campaign that Trump had very likely not paid federal taxes for many years. Yet the unapologetic, winking response from the candidate was, as he said to reporters before and after the election, that “people don’t care” about his tax returns, and, therefore, about his “taxpayer” status. Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway announced immediately after his inauguration that he would not release his tax returns, despite a petition that had gathered several hundred thousand signatures calling on him to do so.

New York Times op-ed author David Brooks took on the question of Trump’s taxes a few days after the 1995 tax records were released, arguing that “you can be a taxpayer or you can be a citizen.” In Brooks’s view, the two mentalities are mutually exclusive, the first defined by its individual self- interest and economic position, the second by a “larger desire to be part of a lovely world” in which “we all pull our fair share.” While Brooks’s description of citizenship is compelling as an idealized notion, this book will illustrate that the historical reality has been very different. Indeed, far from being mutually exclusive, the categories of “taxpayer” and “citizen” have been mutually constitutive, and together they have reinforced in equality through the hidden currency of whiteness that undergirds each term.

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