Republican Mark Robinson says Black people owe reparations

OPINION: He could become North Carolina's next governor.

Mark Robinson, lieutenant governor of North Carolina, is seen during a Save America rally for former President Donald Trump at the Aero Center Wilmington on September 23, 2022 in Wilmington, North Carolina. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Meet Mark Robinson a Republican running for governor in North Carolina who thinks Black people should be paying reparations. It’s bizarre even for the bizarre modern GOP, but here we are. Robinson, 54, is North Carolina’s lieutenant governor, and he seems like a lefty’s caricature of a modern right wing politician. He’s what we would dream up to make fun of the right.

He thinks Covid wasn’t a real threat, systemic racism doesn’t exist and the movie, “Black Panther,” was, buckle up, “created by an agnostic Jew and put to film by satanic Marxists.” The right loves to say the left is filled with Marxists. It’s a weird obsession. Robinson also said President Obama was “a worthless, anti-American atheist who wanted to bring America to its knees and then raise it back to its feet as a European style socialist hell hole.” He also called Michelle Obama “a man.” So, yeah, he’s another Black Republican who’s willing to say racist things. He’s like a grimier version of Candace Owens. And he could be North Carolina’s next governor.

Robinson captured my attention when a speech he gave in 2021 began bubbling up on Black social media. In the speech he said he opposed reparations because no one owes Black people anything. Typical right wing stuff until … he took a turn.

“Nobody owes you anything for slavery. If you want to tell the truth about it, it is you who owes,” he said as if he was speaking to Black people en masse. “Why do you owe? Because somebody in those fields took strikes for you. After those fields were ended and slavery was ended, somebody had to walk through Jim Crow for you. Somebody fought wars and died for you. Somebody lived less than because they didn’t have what you have, and they did it for you. There are people in their graves right now, and they are there because they were willing to stand up and fight for you.” He concluded, “Nobody owes you anything. If anybody owes, it’s you. Because you’ve been the benefactor of freedom, you are the one that owes.” If you want to hear him say this himself you can go here but, you know, it could be triggering to deal with so much internalized racism and tap dancing for white folks all at once.

That said, I don’t totally disagree with Robinson in this speech. He’s actually touching on a feeling I have long had about our ancestors. From those who were enslaved in the early years of this country to those who marched more recently, they have paved the way for us to have the opportunities we have. Our freedoms were bought through battles in the streets and the legislatures. I definitely feel like we owe a debt to the ancestors, and that’s a big part of what he’s saying.

But, I have always believed that my debt to the ancestors meant I had to do something with my life that honored their work, courage and sacrifice. I know many of you feel the same. There are Black revolutionaries who preceded me, and I know my life is better because of their work. I feel like I owe them something. On that, I agree with Robinson. But, typical of right wingers, he’s taken a good idea and leapt to a strange conclusion. 

Where Robinson and I part ways is that I understand that debt is spiritual. It’s something I need to pay forward in my community and my family rather than an actual bill that I should pay. When Robinson combines this very real and beautiful notion of what we owe the ancestors with the idea of reparations, it becomes strange and even gross. And the idea we owe the ancestors something does not eliminate the moral right to reparations.

Just the mere mention of reparations turns Republican brains to mush. They’re supposed to be the party of business. They present themselves as the party that understands economic reality. If you deal in the realm of economic reality, the case for reparations isn’t that hard. Millions of Black people were trapped on slave labor camps for entire lifetimes, and those enslaved people created extraordinary wealth for the people who enslaved them.

Slavery was a major economic driver for the South, the History Channel says. “Slavery was so profitable, it sprouted more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi River valley than anywhere in the nation.” They say if the confederacy had been its own nation, at the start of the Civil War it would have have been the fourth richest nation in the world.  

The wealth derived from slavery was a major driver of the US economy for many Americans.

“By 1840, the South grew 60% of the world’s cotton and provided some 70% of the cotton consumed by the British textile industry. Thus slavery paid for a substantial share of the capital, iron, and manufactured goods that laid the basis for American economic growth. In addition, precisely because the South specialized in cotton production, the North developed a variety of businesses that provided services for the slave South, including textile factories, a meat processing industry, insurance companies, shippers, and cotton brokers.”

The entire U.S. economy grew because of slavery. A lot of people profited from the enslavement of Black Americans. Slave-built infrastructure creates wealth to this day. 

So, let’s put it together slowly. During the period of enslavement, millions of Americans worked without receiving payment. Millions of other Americans benefitted from that unpaid labor and from selling enslaved people. Does anyone see a debt there? This country and its government owe the families of enslaved people. This isn’t a far-fetched idea. This country paid slaveowners reparations for having lost people they enslaved. If we owed slaveowners reparations, then how can anyone argue that we don’t owe reparations to the enslaved people and their families? 

Robinson is as crazy as they come on the right. But unlike right wing loons like Candace Owens and Jason Whitlock, this one has a chance at amassing real power. Stay tuned. 


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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