J. PHARAOH DOSS

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.)

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