Poverty Tax by Richard Robinson

Poverty Tax

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A journalistic investigation into suspected systematic racism in Michigan.

In 2016, debut author Robinson, an African-American, didn’t originally set out on a crusade against racial bigotry—he just wanted to get his 2004 Nissan Murano repaired at a Midas auto shop, and he did so in the largely white, middle-class neighborhood in Lansing, Michigan, where he lived. However, the estimate that he received was nearly $1,200, which seemed inordinately high. Out of frugality, rather than suspicion, he headed to the nearest auto parts store in search of a better deal, where he says a salesperson told him, “I’ve heard in dealing with that Midas, people with different shades of skin may be getting different prices.” This led the author on an investigative odyssey in which he drove more than 1,000 miles, received in-person estimates from 31 Midas shops, and got another 18 faxed to him. Robinson even recruited the help of a white friend to visit Midas shops and request estimates. The experience causes the author to name the “Flint Midas Poverty Tax”—an additional charge that he believes that some stores paradoxically impose on those least prepared to pay it: poor minorities. This practice, he asserts, serves as evidence of pervasive racism. The author’s investigative tenacity is only matched by his thoroughness, which is impressive, especially for a novice journalist. Also, he offers a thoughtful general discussion on the ways that racism can systematically pervade society while avoiding easy detection. However, he almost interchangeably discusses prejudice against African-American people and poor people, and it’s never entirely clear which one of them he sees as the primary culprit or how precisely the two might be related. Nevertheless, he convincingly establishes the fact of erratic pricing, and his prose has the kind of clear, unpretentious style that one wishes was more common in statistical studies.

A scrupulously documented study despite unclear conclusions.

Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:


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