Story at a glance

  • BET founder Robert Johnson says racial inequality can be solved with wealth transfers as damages for slavery in the U.S.
  • Socioeconomic disparities among black Americans have been reignited with the death of George Floyd while in police custody.

Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), is calling for federal reparations for slavery amid national protests and outcries following the death of George Floyd.

Speaking to CNBC Monday, Johnson said that in order to reduce the systemic racial inequality stemming from the nation’s history of slavery, the U.S. government should make $14 trillion available for reparations for the black community. 

George Floyd died on May 25 after a police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes while arresting him. His death, as well as the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, has sparked national protests decrying racial inequalities and police brutality against black Americans. The demonstrations are underscored by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which disproportionately affects black Americans, highlighting the racial and socioeconomic gaps that exist throughout institutions in this country. 

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“Now is the time to go big, short answers to long horrific questions about the stain of slavery are not going to solve the inequality problem,” Johnson told reporters on CNBC. The best way to combat lingering inequalities is through “wealth transfer,” he says. 

“Wealth transfer is exactly what’s needed,” Johnson explains. “Think about this. Since 200-plus-years or so of slavery, labor taken with no compensation, is a wealth transfer. Denial of access to education, which is a primary driver of accumulation of income and wealth, is a wealth transfer.”

Johnson also discusses similar disparities in home ownership that further redline black Americans from building wealth comparable to their white counterparts. Solving these racial disadvantages within the U.S. starts with paying reparations, or damages, owned to generations of black Americans, Johnson says. 

“Damages is a normal factor in a capitalist society for when you have been deprived for certain rights,” Johnson said. “If this money goes into pockets like the [coronavirus] stimulus checks ... that money is going to return back to the economy.”

There will also be more black-owned businesses, Johnson says. 


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Reparations came up in the 2020 Democratic presidential debates, with former candidates Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro expressing a level of support for the initiative. 

Other black business leaders, namely biopharmaceutical research company Merck CEO and Chairman Ken Frazier, expressed doubt that reparations are a realistic option to address systemic racism. 

“I don’t believe we’ll be able to get anything like that through our political system,” Frazier told CNBC. He did offer that “leaders in the business community have to be a unifying force. They can be a source of opportunity. They can be a source of understanding.”

Johnson recently made headlines in late May, calling out presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden for his controversial comments while speaking to radio host Charlamagne tha God, saying “you ain’t black” if you vote for President Trump.

The media mogul said that Biden’s comments “represents the arrogant and out-of-touch attitude of a paternalistic white candidate who has the audacity to tell black people, the descendants of slaves, that they are not black unless they vote for him," Johnson told Fox News. "This proves unequivocally that the Democratic nominee believes that black people owe him their vote without question, even though we as black people know it is exactly the opposite.”

Biden later apologized for his comments. 

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Published on Jun 01, 2020