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When White Guys Do Taxes

It was rough being a Tax Bwana today!


My first client was an elderly lady who works as a nursing orderly in an assisted living home run by the State of New York. She makes a comfortable salary, and she owns her own home, so I itemized her deductions. She doesn’t give to charities; she’s long since paid off her mortgage; she had no medical expenses; so her itemized deductions were all property taxes.

It tells you something about New York State that these property taxes amounted to a sum sufficient to qualify her to itemize.

I always offer to do tax planning with my clients. I’d say maybe one-third are interested, and two-thirds are not.

This lady fell into the not-interested category.

“Do you want look at your 2016 tax return and see how it compares with your 2017 return?” I asked.

No, no, no. She was happy with whatever I could do for her; she was most happy about the fact that I was doing it and that she didn’t have to! She just wanted to confirm the size of this year’s refund and go home. Roll down her stockings. Put up her feet.

The way it works in Tax Bwana-land is that one tax preparer does the return and then another tax preparer QAs it by doing it again.

And the guy who QA’d this return is a Perfectly Nice Guy.

Twenty-five minutes after he started, I noticed he was still sitting in front of this lady with her property tax statement in one hand and a copy of her 2016 tax return in the other, droning on and on and on.

I peeked at her face. She had that terrified look of someone being assaulted by information she was downright intimidated by.

When I went back to the table, her eyes lit up.

“You gonna be workin’ here next year? ‘Cause I want you to do all my tax returns from now on!”

Hear, hear.

After she left, I went up to the Perfectly Nice Guy. This is his first year as a Tax Bwana. “Can I talk to you alone for a minute? You know, you can assume that the first preparer has already walked them through this year’s and last year’s forms if they’re interested.”

“But you didn’t.”

“Right. Because I asked her if she was interested, and she said, ‘Not really.’”

“Well, I asked her, and she said, ‘Yes!’” The Perfectly Nice Guy was smug about this. In a Perfectly Nice Way.

“Right,” I said. “Well, that’s because you’re a white professional male, and she’s an elderly black female in a low-status job who’s been saying, ‘Yes,’ to white people all her life.”

He looked at me astonished.

“I don’t say this to offend you,” I continued. “But you hafta be sensitive to the subtext.”

“What are you telling me. That I intimidated her?”

“You hafta be sensitive to the subtext,” I repeated.

And we went back and forth repeating the same sentences for 90 seconds or so.

I could see that I had offended him. After all, he’d voted for Hillary Clinton in the last Presidential, plus he plays rock ‘n’ roll at a local bar one night a week even though he’s been working for IBM for the last 30 years. The whole notion that an elderly black female might not be able to see the distinctions that mark him as a progressive and a pal to minorities – that all she might see when she looked at him was, He’s a white man. Better spare myself the aggravation and do what he says – was completely alien to him.

Should I just have shut up about it myself?



Then I had a client who had moderate cerebral palsy.

She wasn’t on disability. She worked. She was a lunch lady at the local high school cafeteria.

At the end of the tax preparation session, we ask a bunch of questions that yield information that goes toward getting the Tax Bwana federal grants renewed. It’s the usual presumptuous information-gathering: How would you characterize your race? Do you or does anyone in your household have a disability?

“No,” she said calmly when I asked her that second question.

The State of New York wants us to report driver’s license or ID card info when we file state returns. But at least at this point, the report is not compulsory.

“Would you like to give New York State information about your state ID?” I asked.

“No,” she said.


“But she was clearly disabled,” my site coordinator said. He was threatening not to e-file her return. It contained “inaccurate” information.

“The question is phrased as a self report,” I said. “It doesn’t ask for my opinion or your opinion as to whether she’s disabled. It asks for her opinion. And she said, No.”

“And she didn’t give her state ID number!”

“They make that optional,” I said. “Look at the way the question is phrased.”

I was right, of course.

But he wasn’t happy. Although he did e-file her return.

Of course, I know the reason why the State of New York wants this information is so that they can go after taxpayers with outstanding traffic tickets and withhold that amount from any refund they might have due. It has nothing to do with 9/11 or catching terrorists or deterring identity theft although the State of New York likes to imply it does.


I came home, and I wanted to cry.

Crying for me is often a stress release. A loosening of the internal pressure valve.

I frequently cry when I’m angry.

This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org/696953.html. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.



( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 10th, 2018 10:56 pm (UTC)
Sometimes us "white guys" don't get it that we represent a certain objectionable something, no matter how much "cred" we may have in our histories, or in our minds.

I know I sometimes feel like saying "why are you treating me that way? I'm one of the good guys".

Sometimes us white guys just don't get it.
Mar. 10th, 2018 11:15 pm (UTC)
I think the fact that it has gotten better is part of the reason why it's difficult to remember how bad it was for older people. How ingrained their gut responses may be.
Mar. 11th, 2018 12:05 am (UTC)
Hahaha! I first read that as "Tax Banana"! Need More Coffee :)
Mar. 11th, 2018 12:33 am (UTC)
Tax Banana works too. :-)
Mar. 11th, 2018 04:32 am (UTC)
Go you, Woman! Speak truth and shame the devil!

I'm a chickenshit myself, about anything SJ, despite being, in my sentiments, a proud SJW. The height of my calling people out is the Black Lives Matter button on my coat. Recently the checker at Trader Joe's looked at it and said, "Don't all lives matter?" which interested me because I'm pretty sure that when they tell them to be friendly, they don't mean this.

"Yes, but they're not all treated the same," I said, which made me pretty damn proud, since I'm usually all flustered to be questioned at all.
Mar. 11th, 2018 03:02 pm (UTC)

I always decompensate massively after confrontations like this. It's kinda like, Is something wrong with me? It's so obvious to me, and they're so oblivious. And smug! Surely, they must be right!
Mar. 11th, 2018 06:19 pm (UTC)
That's what They want us to think, and they don't even know that.
Mar. 11th, 2018 01:01 pm (UTC)

I totally enjoy reading about your Tax Bwana experiences.

Mar. 11th, 2018 02:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :-)
Mar. 15th, 2018 03:51 pm (UTC)
Jesus. All of this makes me sick to my stomach and all nervous-feeling. These are some of the reasons I'm fairly off-the-grid and living outside the US. When everyone has a "Smart Phone" with GPS and every single bit of one's personal information, there will be no need for those questions you have to ask the clients. THEY will already know it all. And we will be the one's who gave THEM the reins.
Mar. 15th, 2018 04:12 pm (UTC)

Well, there are two ways of dealing with that.

You can stay off the grid.

Or you can just surrender, which is what I've done. Of course, I'm old now and relatively irrelevant so far as life on this planet goes.


I think the best present any parent can give his/her child is to name that child "John Smith." Regardless of gender. :-)
Mar. 16th, 2018 03:40 am (UTC)
Again, you're right.

This made me think of the Johnny Cash song A Boy Named Sue. :)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )