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Opinion America’s black billionaires have no place in a Bernie Sanders world

Oprah Winfrey is one of the five richest African Americans, according to the Forbes billionaires list.
Oprah Winfrey is one of the five richest African Americans, according to the Forbes billionaires list. (Richard Shotwell/Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
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Don’t quite know how to break the news to Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Robert F. Smith, David Steward and Shawn Carter, a.k.a. Jay-Z. But if Bernie Sanders makes it to the White House, they had better pack their bags and head for the hills.

That’s because Winfrey, Jordan, Smith, Steward and Jay-Z, the five richest black people in America, are among the 607 Americans who landed on Forbes’s annual billionaires list.

The very thought of that list seems to sicken Sanders. “There should be no billionaires,” he flatly declared in a tweet last fall.

Sanders said he wants to be rid of them because “we cannot afford a billionaire class whose greed and corruption has been at war with the working families of this country for 45 years.”

One in five children are struggling with hunger in S.C. Kia Jones, a North Charleston, S.C. bus driver, says she wants politicians to pay attention. (Video: The Washington Post)

I am not personally acquainted with Winfrey, Jordan, Smith, Steward or Jay-Z. I am aware of their prominence in the world of the wealthy. I’m sure they are just as flawed as the rest of humanity. It never occurred to me, however, to think of them as greedy, corrupt threats to America’s working families or the cause of economic disparities and human misery.

As best I can tell, America’s black billionaires didn’t reach Forbes’s list because of inherited money. They also didn’t amass their net worth through marriage. Winfrey, Jordan, Smith, Steward and Jay-Z built their fortunes. No matter. Sanders wants to tax it away.

But it’s not just the wealthiest of the wealthy who are the ruination of America. There’s that other class of corruption — corporate chief executives, viewed by Sanders as banes of the country’s existence. “Greedy corporate CEOs,” he calls them, who “have rigged the tax code, killed market competition, and crushed the lives and powers of workers and communities across America.”

I’m acquainted with Marillyn Hewson, the chairman, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin, and Rosalind Brewer, Starbucks’s chief operating officer. These female executives never struck me as tax-riggers or market-killers.

This is the first time I heard that Merck chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier, TIAA President and CEO Roger Ferguson, and Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison — three African American business leaders — might be crushing communities across the nation.

Rather, they all strike me as successes in the corporate world, as role models for women and folks of color who want entry to the executive suites of the Fortune 500. But then again, I have never thought of businesses that create jobs and pay wages as dens of inequity, although some are better than others. More glass ceilings need to be shattered. Corporate governance reforms are long overdue. Adjusting tax rates to ensure that corporations pay a fairer share of federal tax revenue and closing tax loopholes are absolutely essential.

And I wonder where an institution such as the Howard University School of Business, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary — and, for that matter, all business schools across the country — fit in a Bernie Sanders world. Business school programs are about preparing students for the world of commerce. Studying and finding solutions to business and management problems — global and locally — are what they do.

The existence of those schools is predicated upon the assumption that the private sector and markets are indispensable to the economy, that entrepreneurship is valued, that the profit motive is not sinful and that there is nothing immoral about wanting to exchange positions in the working class for success up the rungs of a corporate ladder.

I know there are those out there who buy the notion that America consists of a small class of privileged, rapacious super-rich lording over throngs of oppressed, capitalist-exploited workers. You can see it in poll numbers showing the share of Americans who prefer socialism to capitalism inching upward. Sanders would probably count that as success.

But most folks across the color, religious and social spectra who want to reduce deprivation and retain or improve their own economic status are not thirsting for a Sanders “revolution.”

Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and company have no place in Bernie’s world. But would others in America seeking or enjoying economic empowerment truly be better off? Who wants to risk finding out?

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.

Read more:

Read a letter in response to this piece: Bernie Sanders says he hates billionaires, but many of them do quite noble things

Greg Sargent: Bernie Sanders faces his biggest test yet

Jennifer Rubin: Both Sanders and Biden should commit to a female running mate

Jennifer Rubin: Bernie Sanders has a unique gift: Angering Democrats

Eugene Robinson: Sanders is leading something rare and unpredictable in U.S. politics

Michael Gerson: No, Bernie Sanders isn’t authentic. Just like Trump.

David Von Drehle: Bernie Sanders is a gestural candidate