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Bloomberg says his life would be different "if I had been black"

Timothy Perry

Former New York City Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg on Sunday acknowledged that his race has played a role in his success as a businessman. Speaking at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the billionaire told a crowd that his life would have "turned out very differently" if he were black.

"As someone who has been very lucky in life, I often say my story would only have been possible in America — and I think that's true." Bloomberg said, "But I also know that my story would have turned out very differently if I had been black, and that more black Americans of my generation would have ended up with far more wealth had they been white."

The former mayor was in town to unveil an ambitious policy proposal aimed at delivering economic justice for black Americans. Using the backdrop of the historic Greenwood neighborhood, which was once home to what historians refer to as Black Wall Street, Bloomberg spoke about the 1921 massacre, which occurred during a time when many of the community's black residents were experiencing great economic prosperity.

"The white mob that attacked Greenwood burned 1,200 homes, looted dozens of shops, left nothing but ruins and rubble across 35 blocks, and massacred more than 200 black residents." Bloomberg said during his prepared remarks. "During and after the massacre, there were more than 6,000 arrests — of black residents. Not one white person ever went to jail."

Bloomberg called it one of the "deadliest and ugliest" attacks in American history, and expressed shock that he had not heard about the massacre until he came to Tulsa in 2019. A sentiment that echoed a brief speech he made at Vernon Chapel AME Church earlier in the day.

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Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, right, speaks during a service at the Vernon Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Tulsa, Okla., Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, as the Rev. Robert Turner looks on at left. Sue Ogrocki / AP

"We have to start addressing the whole legacy of racism and of discrimination, including the economic legacy, in much more direct ways," Bloomberg said during Sunday morning services. "I read a lot of history and I took a lot of history courses but I had never heard about this until I got here last year." 

During that speech, Bloomberg also stated that he wants "to make sure all Americans have the opportunity to do what I did, and to end the connection between financial success and race that has lasted for hundreds of years. And I don't think there's any question that fulfilling Dr. King's vision of economic equality is a major challenge."

Bloomberg's plan, which he's calling the Greenwood Initiative, aims to increase black homeownership in America by providing help with down payments, assistance with navigating the banking and financial systems, creating more affordable housing and enforcing fair lending laws. He has set a goal of one million new black homeowners and 100,000 new black-owned businesses over the next decade. He also proposed $70 billion in investments in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the country.  

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Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg speaks at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, Okla., Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. Sue Ogrocki / AP

Bloomberg also joined many of his fellow Democratic candidates in supporting Representative Sheila Jackson Lee's bill to create a commission to examine the issue of reparations.  

When Bloomberg announced his presidential bid in November 2019, tensions surrounding his mayoral administration's stop-and-frisk policy were reignited. Though Bloomberg apologized for the practice a week before entering the race, many have questioned the timing of his apology. On the campaign trail, Bloomberg does not bring up stop-and-frisk unless prompted by someone else, but Sunday, he spoke bluntly about it.

"As I have said, I was wrong not to act faster and sooner to cut the stops, and I've apologized to New Yorkers for that, and for not better understanding the impact it was having on black and Latino communities," he said. "I've always believed, though, that leadership involves listening to diverse opinions, and acknowledging when you didn't get them right, and learning from it. That's what I've always tried to do."

Bloomberg has said that as president he would make criminal justice reform a top priority. However, in December, his campaign came under fire when it was revealed they were working with a vendor that used labor from inmates at an Oklahoma prison to make phone calls on the campaign's behalf. The campaign claimed they were unaware prison labor was being used, and subsequently dropped the vendor.

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