BILLIONAIRE Robert Johnson is calling for the government to pay $14 trillion in reparations to black Americans as an apology for slavery, Jim Crow and racism.
The 75-year-old, the nation's first black billionaire, told Vice News that he believes the vast sum would help right the wrongs of the nation's past while helping to reduce racial inequality.
"Reparations would require the entire country to … admit that the result of slavery has been 200 years of systemic racism," Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), said.
"And for that reason, black folks have been denied $13-15 trillion of wealth and therefore we as a country now must atone by paying black people of all stripes – the rich ones, the poor ones, and the middle – out of our pocket."
Johnson argues that no black American should be exempt from the payments, meaning even the rich such as himself and the likes of "Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James" should also receive checks.
In fact, the media magnate suggests famous black Americans may even be more deserving, for they have a proven track record of putting their money to work.
Johnson said any such payments should be seen as an investment into black communities, not charity, and should incentivize rather than pacify.
“If you’re a successful black business, the idea is you’ve had enough,” Johnson said.
"[But] no one ever asks if [a white-owned business] is too rich to benefit from investing in a football stadium," or receiving other benefits, he added, such as preferential tax treatment.
Johnson, who first called for the $14 trillion sum in June last year amid nationwide racial injustice protests, is pushing to get in proposal in front of legislators.
He believes the amount would be enough to close disparities in wealth between black and white Americans that exist through homeownership, wages, and occupational attainment.
Johnson also wants the funds to come with an outright apology from the government for slavery, Jim Crow laws, and for hundreds of years of racism.
The billionaire told Vice he isn't overly optimistic the proposal will be brought to fruition, however, he said he sees a new kind of reparations happing already.
Citing critical race theory in schools, debt relief for black farmers, and various housing grant programs, Johnson said these types of "reparations" are being called by different names so as not to be "divisive" or "controversial."
However, those measures are being used to deflect from the "wealth transfer" he's pushing for, he said.
"That’s what’s happening to the reparations — it’s been cut up into small pieces of things that look and feel like, ‘We want to end systemic racism, we want to end police brutality and shootings and to provide financing to black small business owners," he told Vice.
"And then people can say, ‘Well, we really don’t need reparations because when you put all of these things together, it’s reparations."
Johnson added that it's not "one big bill or asking this country to stand up apologize."
"Reparations had two components: The first was atonement, and the other was monetary,” he continued.
“With no doubt whatsoever, it was supposed to come from the government representing the people of the country. It was reimbursement, or recompense if you will, for the harm.”
The subject of reparations has been debated in America for more than a century.
In 1865, William Sherman, a Union Army general during the Civil War, ordered that land confiscated from Confederate landowners be divided up into portions and handed out to newly emancipated African-Americans.
However, after President Abraham Lincoln's assassination, the order was rescinded by his successor President Andrew Johnson.
Ever since discussions as to whether and how the government should issue reparations to the descendants of slaves have persisted but to little avail.
In April, the US House Judiciary Committee (HJC) did approve a bill that would set up a program to study how, and whether, reparations to Black citizens could be made to atone for the nation's slave trade.
In February, the White House indicated that President Joe Biden would support studying reparations for slavery – but later stopped short of confirming whether he would sign the HJC's bill.
Earlier this month, a Massachusetts hamlet voted overwhelmingly in favor of establishing a $210,000 fund to pay reparations to its black resident to atone for slavery.
Other cities and communities across the US have been weighing similar measures over the last year.
In March, Evanston, Illinois, became the first city in the US to begin distributing reparation payments for slavery, promising $10 million in funds.
Then earlier this month, officials in Asheville, North Carolina, approved a budget agreement that sets aside $2.1 million to fund reparations.
The money for reparations will come from city land first purchased for $3.7million in the 1970s as part of a series of urban renewal programs that tore apart black communities, the Asheville Citizen-Times reports.
Former President Barack Obama resoundingly endorsed reparations during his podcast series with rockstar Bruce Springsteen earlier this year.
"If you ask me theoretically 'Are reparations justified?' the answer is yes,” he said.
"There’s not much question that the wealth of this country, the power of this country was built in significant part, not exclusively, maybe not even the majority of it, but a large portion of it was built on the backs of slaves."
And while slavery formally was abolished, Obama noted: "the systematic oppression and discrimination of black Americans" maintained under Jim Crow segregation laws.
"[It] resulted in families not able to build up wealth, not being able to compete, and that has generational effects,” he said.
"So if you’re thinking of what’s just, you would look back and you would say the descendants of those who suffered those kinds of terrible cruel often arbitrary injustices deserve some sort of regress, some sort of compensation. A recognition."
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