Nation’s Wealthiest Black Man Robert Smith Says Corporate America Should Consider Reparations

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Written by Ann Brown
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The nation’s wealthiest Black man, Robert Smith, says that corporate America should consider reparations. He proposes a 2 percent “reparative” plan. Photo: Billionaire Robert F. Smith at Summit LA19 in Los Angeles, Nov. 11, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

The reparations argument has gained a valued voice. The country’s wealthiest Black businessman, Robert Smith, wants corporate America to be accountable for the profit made from the slave trade. Reparations would be one way for corporate America to address current inequities in the U.S., Smith said recently in an interview.

“I think that’s going to be a political decision that’s going to have to be made and decided upon,” said Smith, who is the CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, in a Reuters interview. “But I think corporations have to also think about, well, what is the right thing to do?” 

How can corporations do the right thing? By using their “capital to repair the communities that they are directly associated with in the industries in which they cover,” he said. “I think that has to be a very, a very thoughtful approach, but I think action needs to be taken.”

George Floyd’s murder and the disproportionate impact of covid-19 on Black communities have shone a spotlight on longstanding racial inequities in the U.S., according to Smith.

“It was the silence of the pandemic, sheltering at home, that gave us all a chance to witness certain acts against the African American community,” Smith told Reuters. “The killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in particular, those three in that period of time, that raised the consciousness and the humanity of Americans and people throughout the world are saying this is just wrong, this is unjust, and enough is enough.”

There is also the growing wealth inequality. 

In 2016, the typical white family had a net worth nearly 10 times that of a Black family ($171,000 compared to $17,150), a Brookings Institute analysis found. In 2019, the average wage gap between a Black and white worker in the U.S. was 26.5 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute, ABC News reported.

This isn’t the first time Smith has called for reparations. In July, he proposed a “2% Solution” in which he calls for large corporations to use 2 percent of their annual net income to empower minority communities over the next 10 years, Revolt reported.

In a recent tweet, Smith explained the 2% Solution. “The issue of reparations will be a political decision. As I say here, corporations shouldn’t wait to do what’s right to repair Black communities in the industries in which they cover. Investments are desperately needed. I call it the 2% solution,” he tweeted.

Some social media users agreed with Smith. “They found trillions out of nowhere for the pandemic so it’s doable”, Ceaser Loco // Long Live Tiny Janc @HailCaesar replied in a tweet,

Others were skeptical. “Robert. You know the profit motive is paramount. ‘Corporations’ are not going to invest in Black people, or anyone else, until the ability to make money off the deal becomes apparent”, @onlinesavant tweeted.

There was even a call for Smith to run for political office. “Kamala HarrisRobert Smith2024” @NO_REAL_ID tweeted.

Smith spoke of reparations during a recent keynote address at the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy. Black and minority communities have been forgotten by large banks and need of the capital necessary to build businesses and local institutions, he said. Injecting “reparative” capital and investing directly in financial structure would be an efficient method to advance economic justice for Black Americans.

Smith has an estimated net worth of $5.2 billion according to Forbes.

He has signed Warren Buffett’s and Bill and Melinda Gates’ “Giving Pledge,” agreeing to support Black people extensively in his philanthropic efforts. In 2019, he pledged to pay off the student loan debt of the class of 2019 at the historically Black Morehouse College. He kept his promise.

Smith isn’t the only Black businessman to promote reparations. Earlier this year, BET Founder Robert L. Johnson challenged business and government leaders to consider $14 trillion in reparations and wealth transfer to the descendants of African slaves to close the wealth gap, CNBC reported.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 73: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin makes the case for why this is a multi-factor rebellion vs. just protests about George Floyd. He discusses the Democratic Party’s sneaky relationship with the police in cities and states under Dem control, and why Joe Biden is a cop and the Steve Jobs of mass incarceration.

“I’m calling for reparations and asking for two things. First, that white Americans recognize that reparations is a payment to atone for the largest illegal wealth transfer in this nation’s history; and second, to understand that the phrases equal justice and economic equality will ring hollow to Black Americans until they are made whole,” he wrote in an open letter.

Businessman Michael Gee wrote about the urgency for reparations in the Harvard Business Review.