BET Founder Robert Johnson Urges Black Lives Matter to Form its Own Independent Political Party

Entrepreneur Bob Johnson

By Kevin Stankiewicz – Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, told CNBC on Tuesday that Black Americans should form their own political party to concentrate their electoral influence.

“I’ve been convinced for a long time that 40 millions African Americans who tend to vote as a bloc in one of the two parties limit their leverage in getting action form both parties,” the 74-year-old Johnson said on “Squawk on the Street.”

Johnson, who has previously called on the U.S. government to provide reparations for slavery, said the independent political party would stand for things “principally focused on the interests” of Black Americans.

Last week, Johnson sent a letter to “Black Lives Matter Leaders and Supporters,” suggesting that “Black Lives Matter (BLM) consider establishing a formal independent political party. The party could be founded on the principle articulated by the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971.” He described the Congressional Black Caucus’ founding principle as Blacks having “no permanent friends, no permanent enemies … just permanent interests.’”

Johnson’s idea comes as waves of protests against racism and police brutality continue in cities across the U.S. following the killing last month of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by a White Minneapolis police officer, who has since been fired.

“Had African American interests been embraced by one or two of the dominant parties, we wouldn’t have the tremendous social, economic, racial issues that we have now,” Johnson said.  He said forming a new party would send a message that Democrats should not take the African American vote for granted and that Republicans should not ignore issues important to Black people.

Johnson, founder and chairman of investment firm The RLJ Cos., said he does not believe the new party would be formed and field candidates in time for the November election, but he hopes conversations around its establishment would begin this year.

Black Americans already possess clear political influence, Johnson said, citing their lower turnout in the 2016 presidential election compared with elections in 2008 and 2012 as one reason why Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump. Still, Clinton received 89% of the Black vote while Trump received 8%, according to CNN exit polls.

Johnson also referred to the overwhelming support from Black voters for Joe Biden in his victory in the South Carolina’s Democratic primary, which reignited his stumbling campaign and help make him the presumptive nominee.

But Biden’s suggestion in May that “you ain’t Black” if you vote for Trump instead of him demonstrates that Black voters are too often taken for granted, Johnson said. Biden later apologized for the remark, saying  “I shouldn’t have been so cavalier.”

“That someone could be so presumptuousness, that you have to vote for a Democrat or otherwise you’re not identified as Black, that is the principal reason why we need a Black party, independent, to change that kind of behavior,” said Johnson, who became the first Black billionaire in the U.S. when he sold BET to Viacom in 2001. He’s no longer on the Forbes billionaires list.

Johnson has been a large Democratic donor over the years but also has spoken positively about Trump’s work on the U.S. economy. He said in 2016 that he turned down a position in Trump’s Cabinet, not over politics but because he said he could not deal with government red tape.

On Tuesday, Johnson also commented on his call earlier this month on CNBC for $14 trillion of reparations for slavery. He said on “Squawk on the Street” that the question Americans should be asking about reparations is: “Why shouldn’t we do this?”

“As a business person, I understand how wealth flows. The wealth from reparations is a payback from the wealth that came from slavery,” Johnson said, contending that the wealth created by slave labor has multiplied over generations without the people who generated it ever receiving compensation. “Reparations is simply a way of transferring back to African Americans what was stolen from them from slavery through Jim Crow, segregation and racism.”

Here’s a copy of the letter Johnson sent to Black Lives Matter on June 17:

TO: Black Lives Matter Leaders and Supporters
FROM: Bob Johnson, Founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and The RLJ Companies
DATE: June 17, 2020
RE: The Formation of An Independent Black Political Party

I am writing to you with a suggestion that Black Lives Matter (BLM) consider establishing a formal independent political party. The party could be founded on the principle articulated by the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971. That formative principle stated, “Black people have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies.…just permanent interests.” The effort to create an independent Black party, created specifically to address Black issues, is not a new idea among Black people. There are many people, both Black and white who believe that independent parties can make a significant contribution to the current political system as to how this nation of 300 million diverse citizens can be governed in the best interest of all Americans. Many pundits will try to convince you that it is impossible for independent parties to exist in this country. They will argue that the American people seem to be satisfied with just two choices. To the contrary, I believe a politically astute and structured Black independent party, committed and engaged in the electoral process, can prove them wrong.

I am confident in this assertion because BLM has, in a manner not seen since the civil rights movement, effectively mobilized and passionately motivated people, Black and white, to join in and support your righteous fight against racial and economic injustice, particularly on the matter of unjustified police killing of Black people. Your cause has triggered a determined reaction calling for change, heard not only in America, but around the world.

Black Lives Matter, by establishing an independent political party can become a force dedicated to advancing the permanent interests of 40 million Black Americans in this country. BLM is endowed with the hope and confidence of youth, fortified with the knowledge of what is wrong and what must be made right, and has the courage to challenge power, no matter what the risk. The purpose of this memo is to encourage you to harness these forces and think about what you have ignited and how it can and should, through the political process, cause America to truly live up to its belief in American exceptionalism and its promise of the American Dream for all.

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