Skip to content

A Tax Code Optimized for White Wealth Leaves Black Americans Behind

Dorothy Brown has spent her career as a law professor documenting racism in a tax system that’s supposedly colorblind.

Brown

Brown

Photographer: Braylen Dion for Bloomberg Businessweek

Growing up in the Bronx during the 1960s and ’70s, Dorothy Brown couldn’t escape racism. It was all around. Her father, James, a plumber, being barred from joining the local union. Her mother, Dottie, having to battle prejudiced teachers, including one who marked down Dorothy’s sister’s grades so the precocious child wouldn’t upstage her White classmates. Or the White cop beating a handcuffed Black man in the backseat of a cruiser, something she once observed while waiting to cross a street.

As a teenager, Brown thought she’d found a way out—a loophole in American racism. Taking an accounting class, the self-described math geek discovered the U.S. tax code, a universe governed by intricate rules where race wouldn’t matter. In tax law, she thought, “the only color that mattered was green.” The assumption carried her through an early career as a tax attorney, an investment banker, and then a political appointee in President George H.W. Bush’s administration.