Once again, proof that racism in this country has crossed socioeconomic barriers to affect the rich, as well as the poor, is on full display. Bob Johnson, the founder of BET and America’s first Black billionaire, learned this the hard way when he tried to check into a luxury hotel.
Johnson was attempting to check into his room at the Eau Palm Beach hotel in West Palm Beach, Florida. A stay at this hotel’s luxury suites can start at $1,300/night, so Johnson was going to spend some serious money. However, according to WPBF-News, the desk clerk had an issue with the Black billionaire, he was wearing sunglasses and she wanted them off. Johnson is quoted as stating that at first, he thought she was joking. But then, according to Johnson, “She said well, I can’t check you in if you don’t take off your glasses.”
The Black billionaire then tried to have a reasonable discussion with a person who was incognizant of Johnson’s wealth and influence. He informed the clerk that he was wearing prescription sunglasses, but she still would not budge on her stance. So Johnson asked that the police be called to the scene. Eventually, Johnson left the hotel after being denied service. A spokesperson for Eau Palm Beach hotel stated, “standard operating procedure” in the hotel industry is to have guests remove their sunglasses for their own safety. But Johnson, who owns 165 hotels, stated that’s not true. He went on to say, “I think it’s a silly rule … and I think it has overtones of racial profiling.”
Johnson was able to turn Black Entertainment Television (BET) into a powerhouse media outlet. In 2001, Viacom acquired BET in a $2.3B deal that made Johnson the first Black billionaire in American history.