Unethical Quote of the Week: Lauryn Hill

“I was put into a system I didn’t know the nature of…. I’m a child of former slaves. I got into an economic paradigm and had that imposed on me. I sold 50 million units…Someone did the math, and it came to around $600 million. And I sit here before you trying to figure out how to pay a tax debt? If that’s not like enough to slavery, I don’t know what is.”

Singer-songwriter, actress, rapper and hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill, complaining to the judge as she was sentenced to three months in prison and a $60,000 fine for failing to pay taxes on her earnings of approximately $1.8 million between 2005 and 2008.

slave couple

Lauryn Hill’s parents. OK, not really. Metaphorically, perhaps. You better ask Lauryn.

Now let’s see…Hill’s statement is…

  • An abdication of responsibility. Hill has been in the entertainment business, and wonderfully successful at it, since she was 18 and landed a continuing role on the soap opera, “As the World Turns.” Few “know the nature of” the strange world of stardom, agents, performing contracts and the rest that goes with the highest levels of American show business when they enter it, but most manage to learn the basics, and most also manage to pay their taxes. Hill has had plenty of time to learn “the system,” whichever one she was referring to. She is also a native-born natural citizen, and I’m sure the reality of income taxes didn’t escape her notice for all these years.
  • Cheating. Hill not only played the race card, but the slave card, and she doesn’t have a slave card. She’s not the child of former slaves, unless she’s around 150 years old. Her mother was a teacher, and her father was a computer programmer. This is a pathetic appeal for sympathy based on something that is simultaneously irrelevant and untrue.
  • Dishonest rationalizing. What was “imposed on her”? It doesn’t matter, really, whether she’s referring to the income tax system, which is imposed on all citizens as part of their civic responsibility, or the music industry’s economics, which are sleazy but have nothing to do with Hill’s tax evasion. She is suggesting that she had no choice and thus was not at fault, but of course she was completely at fault. The only one stopping her from paying her taxes on time was her.
  • Offensive, as well as stupid. Translation: “Lauryn Hill apparently doesn’t know what slavery is.”  Slaves don’t have to pay taxes, and they don’t have millions of dollars to pay taxes on. Hill chose to quit the music business in 2000: slaves can’t quit, either.

Some other celebrities, notably Willie Nelson, have managed to avoid prison time for similarly inexcusable tax failures; on the other side of the ledger, many Americans with Hill’s level and duration of tax avoidance have received harsher sentences too–she could have been sent up the river for a lot longer. If I had been judge, her ridiculous statement alone would have temped me to double her sentence.

Her unethical quote was not as idiotic as it was widely reported, however. Most media outlets, clearly lifting from the same source, quoted Hill as saying, “…I sold 50 million units… If that’s not like enough to slavery, I don’t know what is.”  This leaves out the reference to the gross revenues on her songs, making her intended meaning obscure. She was suggesting that her own proceeds from her songs were paltry in comparison to the money she earned for others. That’s no excuse for not paying taxes, and it’s not slavery, but at least it’s coherent, a little.


Sources: Wikipedia, CNN, LA Times

Graphic: New York Public Library

17 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week: Lauryn Hill

  1. I’ve heard that “slavery” allegation between co workers discussing their supervisor at a Sears store, so it may be a common victim statement to something unpleasant.

    Can’t believe L Hill actually threw the slavery card at a federal hearing, without any basis whatsoever.

  2. It is people like this that give the KKK and the white supremacists an audience. This type of grandstanding and ridiculous behavior is what gives justification to the arguments of these racist groups. Why doesn’t the NAACP condemn such behavior? Oh, that’s right, it stirs up the racial hatred they feed on. Hey, that makes me wonder…is there collusion between the NAACP and the KKK? In so many things, their interests align.

  3. “I was put into a system I didn’t know the nature of”

    Ok, fine. All of us *at* birth don’t know the nature of the system we were put into. But, by age 18, unless we’ve been locked in a basement or are colossally dumb, we do know the nature of the system we were put into.

    “…. I’m a child of former slaves.”

    No, she’s not, and even if she was, she isn’t nor ever has been a slave. It’s thoroughly irrelevant emotional appeal.

    “I got into an economic paradigm and had that imposed on me.”

    Yes, just like all of us “get into an economic paradigm” when we choose to work for a living. It’s a funky ‘economic paradigm’ that has been around since hunter-gatherers, called “If you want to eat, you work”.

    “I sold 50 million units…Someone did the math, and it came to around $600 million.”

    Yeah, that ‘someone’ who did the math was whoever decided to price her product at the rate she sold it. The ‘600 million’ was a result of that math. Welcome to basic market principles.

    “And I sit here before you trying to figure out how to pay a tax debt?”

    Not that hard for someone of her income to hire a professional to figure it out for her. She’s gonna boo-hoo that it requires a little time sitting at a desk to crunch through her documents, when it wouldn’t even be her doing it??

    “If that’s not like enough to slavery, I don’t know what is”

    If she’s going to make an analogy like that to equate punishment for tax evasion to slavery, then by those loose standards, slavery is like going to jail for drinking and driving, or going to jail for vandalism, or going to jail for stealing from a department store.

  4. So tax is slavery, but trying to lower taxes is racism? the race card confuses me when I try to take it seriously.

  5. People like her who grow up in upper middle class communities such as South Orange and then go on to make MILLIONS should be the LAST people to play the cards about the system, slavery, etc. Anyone else would be grateful (and law abiding) to have it HALF as good as she does. Based on the audacity of her slavery / system comments, she should have gotten more jail time.

  6. If you want more comments you are going to have to stop posting stories that render me speechless.

  7. So the Beatles aren’t the only pro-socialist millionaires who cry foul when expected to pay a lot of taxes I guess…

  8. You have been effectively brained washed if you believe income taxes are a civic duty. Income taxes didn’t exist until 100 years ago (and even then it was capped at 7%!). Before the Constitution was bastardized, a tax on labor was illegal. The evolution of money backed by tangible assets (gold/silver) to our current system of money created out of thin air backed by tax payers is the true reason we have income taxes. Civic duty has nothing to do with it otherwise there would have federal income taxes from the first day this country was created. The people who founded this country and wrote the Constitution were against bank controlled money and giving the govt the power to collect taxes on labor. Know your history. Income taxes are just a different version of slavery. Call it debt slavery.

    • “Civic duty has nothing to do with it otherwise there would have federal income taxes from the first day this country was created.”

      Pop Quiz: What’s wrong with this statement?

      • So we should still be going by the Articles of Confederation?

        I sympathize with John’s general complaint about the idea of taxing labor, though. Doesn’t mean you don’t have a civic duty to pay the taxes that you disagree with.

  9. There is not a single black person in America today who was ever a slave. You can’t say “We’re still suffering from the effects of slavery” unless your back is stinging from several whip marks left by an overseer. This dependency on the blessed and sacred Victim Identity just made me lose a whole lot more respect for Hill, which had been diminished since she complained about white people buying her records and putting money in her wallet.

    This girl didn’t really grow up in a “ghetto”. I know her neighborhood, it’s largely upper middle class. And as the article states, her parents were the furthest things from “slaves”.

  10. I’m not big on the income tax either, Jack. In fact, I’ve been long in favor of repealing the 16th Amendment. If the current IRS election scandal doesn’t proclaim the reason, what could? This, however, is beside the point where Lauryn Hill is concerned. It is still the law and she’s required to pay up with the rest of us, even though it’s a penalty on success.

    What irks me is her John Conyers style courtroom blather. The “daughter of slaves”? Gimme a break! There is no one alive today who was a slave in America or had parents who where. How long are people going to tolerate others who attempt to misconstrue their ancestry as an excuse for lawlessness? Miss Hill knows that he line of garbage is just that. She utilizes it on the basis that it still carries weight in some powerful circles.

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