Last week I asked what were the biggest problems of the 21st century. I mentioned extended adolescence (From the book The Vanishing American Adult) and dragging the problems of the 20th century into the 21st. Then I provided an example. The theme continues, but this time I’ll explore the strange case of Dr. Umar Johnson.
For years Dr. Johnson has proclaimed himself to be the most sought-after public speaker in Black America, a doctor of clinical psychology, a certified school psychologist, a political scientist, and an expert in mental health.
When he began his public speaking career, his presentations were within his field. He warned Black parents that Black children were being misdiagnosed with learning disabilities and “sentenced” to special education, a practice he declared as the resegregation of public schools. (This sounds like a noble attempt to be a leader in his field.)
Then Dr. Johnson appeared in an independent film about Black history and White supremacy which boosted his popularity and in some circles made him a celebrity. The film’s success led to more speaking engagements, a larger following, and eventually a fan base that bestowed on him the honorary title of “Black leader.”
Now, Dr. Johnson’s placement on this pedestal wasn’t his fault, but what he morphed into after he was crowned with this 20th century title has become problematic. (The 20th century was full of charismatic Black figures that confronted the White power structure on behalf of Black people, but it was Whites in power that generically referred to those figures as “Black leaders.” In reality these individuals led organizations and they advanced the collective by achieving the aims of their respective organizations, not by being a public persona/Black leader.)
In the past couple years, Dr. Johnson has developed into a full-blown public persona and controversial figure. (The controversial part is due to an incident with a stripper, bombastic rhetoric on subjects outside of his field, and a lack of transparency in fundraising.)
In the middle of 2017, Dr. Johnson was invited on Roland Martin’s news program to defend himself against a host of accusations made against him. Mainly, he was accused of never completing an advanced degree program and pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars that was donated to him to start a private school for Black boys. And just last month, Dr. Johnson posted on social media that in January he has a hearing before The Pennsylvania State Board of Psychology for presenting himself as a psychologist without a license.
Dr. Johnson stated his hearing is the result of “members of his own race complaining about him to the White authorities,” and he also said Black people are making him “render unto Caesar.”
Now, I don’t know if Dr. Johnson is a fraud or a thief, but the Messianic makeover he gave himself needs to be psychoanalyzed.
Messiah means “the anointed one,” the prophesied savior to come. In Christian theology, the Messiah is Jesus. Jesus has a special birth, descends from the line of David, is from the tribe of Judah, is known as the prince of peace, and he preached a doctrine of salvation.
Dr. Umar Johnson has his own parallel.
Dr. Johnson has stated it’s no coincidence that he was born on the same day Nat Turner started his war, he claims to be a descendant of Frederick Douglass, he claims to be a UNIA Garveyite (tribe of Marcus Garvey), he constantly refers to himself as the “prince of pan-Africanism,” but he doesn’t promote the aims of any organization to advance Black people, he preaches his own doctrine of salvation.
This is a messiah complex. Anyone that sees themselves as a savior views the people they’re attempting to save as helpless.
I don’t know if Dr. Johnson’s diehard followers believe in their own helplessness or ignore his Messianic makeover, but one thing is for sure, Dr. Johnson has turned his honorary—20th century—“Black leader” crown into a 21st century crown of thorns.
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier. He blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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