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America's first black billionaire calls for $14 trillion in reparations to 'atone' for racist past

BET founder Robert L. Johnson says that all black Americans, from the very wealthy like Oprah Winfrey and Lebron James, to the poor and everyone in between, should receive compensation.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

The founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and America’s first black billionaire Robert L. Johnson is pushing for reparations for black Americans. As he sees it, this would make up for hundreds of years of racism, slavery, and Jim Crow laws, and should cost about $14 trillion dollars.

Johnson told Vice News he's seeing a new form of reparations take place, appearing as critical race theory teachings, as well as billions in government and corporate pledges.

"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. (Even though just $250 million, or 0.5%, has actually materialized so far)," said Johnson.

Johnson goes on to state that many believe these programs are enough, that all these actions and more add up to reparations. It's not enough, according to Johnson.

"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 said.

"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."

Johnson stated that "reparations" must come in two components: atonement as well as a monetary component. "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."

According to the The Hill, the idea of issuing reparations is a particularly unfavorable one, with just 20 percent of Americans supporting the proposal. Even then-Senator Joe Biden, in 1975, blasted the idea of reparations.

"I don't feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I'll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago," said Biden at the time.

With this proposed reparations program, Johnson states that all black Americans, from the very wealthy like Oprah Winfrey and Lebron James, to the poor and everyone in between, should receive compensation.

He added that this proposal should come in the form of an investment program, rather than charity. "Charity is meant to pacify rather than incentivize," said Johnson.

"If you're a successful Black business, the idea is you've had enough," Johnson said. "No one ever asks if [a white-owned business] is too rich to benefit from investing in a football stadium" "or receiving other benefits like preferential tax treatment or liquidity injections from the Federal Reserve," Vice adds.

Johnson is pushing for the federal government to pass a $14 trillion reparations proposal, which he states would be enough to close the gap between white and black Americans. He isn't entirely optimistic that such a proposal would pass. In addition, Johnson is backing a $30 billion tax break incentive, called the Better Opportunity and Outcomes for Socially Disadvantaged Talent, which would create tax breaks for those who invest in black businesses.

"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.

A program targeting women and minority-owned restaurants to receive priority for federal pandemic relief recently came under the scrutiny of a Texas-based conservative legal group that stated the prioritization of applicants based on race or gender was unconstitutional.

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