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Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, July 19, 2010

Brown: Teaching Civil Rights through the Basic Tax Course

Dorothy A. Brown (Emory) has published Teaching Civil Rights through the Basic Tax Course, 54 St. Louis U. L.J. 809 (2010). Here is part of the Introduction:

Writing about race and tax has also been difficult for one additional reason: tax academics, inevitably white men (because so many tax academics are white men), have either ignored scholarship in the race and tax area or been downright hostile to the work. Someone concerned with not offending her tax peers would have quit long ago. But the difference between me now and the little girl standing on the street corner helplessly watching a handcuffed man getting beat by the cops is that, although I may be intimidated by police officers with guns, I am not intimidated by academics in khaki pants! Therefore, I encourage you to explore race (and class) in whatever subject matter you teach. After all, if I can do it in tax, you can do it anywhere. ... The balance of this Essay will discuss how to incorporate race and class into the basic tax course. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but a first step. The Essay will not debate the merits of one tax rule over another, but will merely describe the existing state of the world.

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I think Prof. Brown overstates her case. There is quite a bit of work on this subject going back to Whitford and Moran, Boris Bittker, and others. There is always more to say but it has not been and cannot be ignored.

Posted by: mike livingston | Jul 19, 2010 6:57:04 PM

The same type of simple analysis could be written w/re taxpayers who are handicapped, old/young, destitute, or immigrants, etc. Ms Brown seems to be viewing the world through very blurry glasses, that only reveal what she wants to see. I wonder whether those glasses filtered out the question re AMT falling far heavier on various strata of our population than on minorities? Or whether various minorities are greater beneficiaries w/re to various employment and/or child tax credits. Or whether there is more of an underground or cash based economy where no taxes are paid whatsoever within some minority groups. This paper harkens back to the 60's and offers nothing of value for a tax professor to transmit to his students.

Posted by: len | Jul 20, 2010 6:50:40 AM

We have enough demogogues and people stirring up racial divisiveness. Why add to it by having professors search for more unrest where none is recognized, unless simply to make names for themselves, which is obvious in this case.

Just teach taxes, for which the kids' parents are paying and expect and which the students need, and leave out your social causes, for which you really, really have to dig to find some "injustice." It's not going to do these future tax lawyers any good in audits to tell IRS Revenue Officers that their clients don't have to pay more taxes due to their race or that they didn't get their forty acres and a mule.

And, what is this nonsense about "academics in khaki pants!"? Professor Brown seems to have a chip on her shoulder and her own prejudices, just like someone else in the news. Will these people who have to see everything from a racial perspective ever go away?

Posted by: Woody | Jul 20, 2010 9:06:48 AM

This is interesting territory to delve into. As long as the American Way is a *tiltable* playing, someone must call attention to it. When a significant minority, whose ancestors were made a vital part of the economic fabric of nationhood, is slighted on a daily basis, then we will have those like Ms Brown to remind us.

Posted by: Zen Bonobo | Jul 20, 2010 10:06:27 AM

How about teaching the tax code in the basic tax course? I'm pretty sure the students are paying to actually learn about taxes, which truthfully cannot be adequately done even when full attention is given to the task.

Posted by: Matt | Jul 20, 2010 10:11:23 AM

Agree with several of the above...teach me tax in tax class please. If I want to learn about all the other stuff, I can take a class in that too.

Posted by: David Stokley | Jul 20, 2010 12:35:51 PM