America’s first black billionaire calls for US to pay reparations: ‘Now is the time to go big’

“We must bring the descendants of slaves into equality with this nation,” Robert Johnson says

Chantal Da Silva
Wednesday 30 June 2021 16:15
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America's first black billionaire calls for reparations

Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and America’s first Black billionaire, has called on the US to pay $14 trillion in reparations to address the long-lasting impacts of slavery.

Speaking on CNBC on Monday, Mr Johnson said “now is the time to go big” on efforts to “bring the descendants of slaves into equality with this nation”.

“Short answers to long horrific questions about the stain of slavery are not going to solve the inequality problem,” the BET founder said. “We need to focus on wealth, creation and wealth generation and to do that we must bring the descendants of slaves into equality with this nation.”

Mr Johnson said he felt $14 trillion was an “appropriate” amount for the US government to pay to address the present-day inequalities bound to America’s legacy of slavery.

“That's what I propose in this 14 trillion dollar proposal: to provide reparations not only for the sin, or the atonement of the sin, of slavery ... but to cause America to live up to the concept and the notion that this nation was born on the idea of American exceptionalism,” he said.

“If we take that big leap, I am convinced that the problems that we confront today can be solved, but it takes a big bold action,” the BET founder continued.

“And $14 trillion in reparations for damages visited upon the heirs of slaves is an appropriate statement,” he said.

Now 74, Mr Johnson made history by becoming America’s first Black billionaire when he sold BET to Viacom back in 2001.

The BET founder is not the first high-profile individual to call for reparations, with American writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor Danny Glover joining with Democratic Sen Cory Booker, then a presidential candidate, in calling for reparations before the House Judiciary Subcommittee back in June 2019.

Meanwhile, more recently, other influential voices, including Rep Jamaal Bowman, actor and activist Alyssa Milano, comedian Chelsea Handler and others joined in a video campaign organised in April by Human Rights Watch to call on President Joe Biden to make reparations a reality.

Those in support of reparations have long argued that it is critical to help address the long-lasting impacts of slavery, including the wealth divide in the US.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the Black man who died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest over the alleged use of a $20 counterfeit note, there has been a growing focus on the realities of police brutality and the disparities Black communities face in the US.

Mr Johnson said reparations would be the “affirmative action programme of all time”.

A “wealth transfer,” he said is needed to address the “lack of access to education, lack of access to home ownership – the primary source of wealth for most middle-income Americans and discrimination”.

“When you put all these factors together,” he said, “you have had, for the past 200 years, in effect, a wealth transfer for white Americans away from African Americans.”

Moving forward with reparations, he said, would show that white Americans understand that “damages are owed” for the inequalities stemming from slavery that continue to persist in the US.

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