Posted on July 2, 2021

America’s First Black Billionaire Wants His Reparations Check, Now

Dion Rabouin, Vice, June 29, 2021

Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and America’s first Black billionaire, wants a check. He wants it from the government. And he wants it to come with an apology for slavery, Jim Crow, and hundreds of years of racism.

The 75-year-old media magnate owns several homes, heads an asset management firm, and was the first Black person to own a majority stake in an NBA team. He doubts that check will ever come, but he sees a new kind of reparations—being called by a different name so as not be “divisive” or “controversial”—happening already.

The new “reparations” is critical race theory education, it’s the housing grant program in Evanston, Illinois, it’s the $5 billion of targeted support and debt relief for Black farmers, and it’s the $50 billion in corporate pledges in the wake of George Floyd’s murder dedicated to combating systemic racism and inequality. {snip}

“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,’” Johnson tells VICE News.

“And then people can say, ‘Well, we really don’t need reparations because when you put all of these things together, it’s reparations. It’s just not one big bill or asking this country to stand up and apologize, and you’re not asking people to pay out of their paychecks.”

But that’s the problem, Johnson says. He calls the current approach “placebo paternalism.”


Support for reparations most recently has been bolstered by commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and Black congressional leaders now are pushing for a vote on HR 40, or the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.


Much of that education needs to be dedicated to ensuring that reparations is an investment program rather than a charity program, Johnson argues, and that means wealthy and famous Black Americans like himself—he also names Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James — also should be paid.

It just makes good business sense to put capital in the hands of those who have shown they know how to put it to work, he says, if a government program is to be a successful economic stimulus that repairs Black communities.


He is continuing to push for a $14 trillion reparations proposal he says would provide enough to close the yawning Black/white wealth gap that exists through home ownership, wages, and occupational attainment, among other imbalances.{snip}

“Reparations would require the entire country to … admit that the result of slavery has been 200 years of systemic racism 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 says.