How Umar Johnson Cured Me of Being a Hidden Hotep - The Root



Photograph Illustration by Elena Scotti/The Root/GMG

I'm a recovering hidden Hotep. Thoughts you, not the ankh-wearing, incense-selling, lecture-women-about-their menstrual-cycles sort of Hotep.

I used to be extra Hotep-adjacent. Hidden beneath my public-Ivy schooling and practical relationship with my mother and father lurked a person who would disappear down YouTube click on holes of Tariq Nasheed, Professor Griff, ZaZa Ali and, in fact, Dr. Umar Johnson. I comfortably conflated the efficiency of Hotepness with the precise work of black nationalism.



Or, a minimum of, I did till I truly had an opportunity to see Johnson converse reside at a Black Historical past Month panel. That’s once I, like an alcoholic, drug addict or R. Kelly fan, had my second of readability and realized that my Hotepness needed to cease. There isn't a area for males like Johnson in any actual struggle for black liberation, and the earlier black people collectively kick them to the curb, the higher.

I grew up steeped in ’90s black conspiracy tradition, which made me extremely vulnerable to pseudo-nationalist Hotep considering by the mid-2000s. Crack cocaine pushed into black neighborhoods, President Invoice Clinton’s crime invoice and eugenics experiments in Baltimore public schools have been my actuality. Given what was truly occurring in America, it wasn’t an enormous leap to entertain extra excessive concepts like HIV/AIDS was a authorities conspiracy, gangsta rap was a psy-op to destroy the black household and orange soda actually did trigger sterility in black males.

In fact, as time, age and schooling set in, you begin distinguishing between precise white supremacy (the prison-industrial complicated) and unfounded conspiracy (the Invoice Cosby rape fees have been meant to maintain him from shopping for what, precisely?), however there was a small a part of me that also held on to the purveyors of extra sordid and unsourced types of information, like Umar Johnson.

After years of listening to him on-line on the health club or in my automotive, final month I drove to Morgan State College in Baltimore to listen to him converse in individual for the primary time. I dragged a great pal of mine (she’s a Ph.D. in political science) alongside to function a wholesome skeptic to my ridiculous enthusiasm.

Should you’ve by no means heard of him, Johnson, the Philadelphia-based “Prince of Pan-Africanism,” is a psychologist and lecturer who focuses on defending black boys (and women?) from the damaging results of white supremacy in public schooling. Most black people turned conscious of him round 2014 when he started elevating cash to purchase the defunct HBCU St. Paul’s School in Lawrenceville, Va., and switch it right into a boy’s academy. He’s throughout YouTube; is consistently talking on black relationships, politics and schooling; and appears genuinely within the well-being of black individuals. Sounds good, proper?

“Jason, you already know that man is a misogynist and lied about his relationship with a ‘conscious stripper,’ proper?” my pal stated.

Properly, yeah …


“You recognize that man is a fraud and has been elevating cash for St. Paul’s with out their permission for years and ain’t none of that cash gone anywhere but his pockets, proper?”

I do know, however …


But she continued, stating that the person we have been going to see known as “Dr.” even if nobody can discover his Ph.D. anyplace. Perhaps it’s hidden someplace subsequent to Donald Trump’s tax returns.

In fact, all of this raises the query: Why would an in any other case sensible individual like me (and lots of others) tolerate a person like Johnson who traffics in racial half-truths, lies and misogyny? As a result of, like a black deplorable, he spoke to some racial truths that I believed, even when the whole lot else he stated was a harmful lie.

Once we received to the Morgan State scholar union, the room was packed and Johnson was onstage for a Q&A flanked by two school members who have been there for stability. Nevertheless, “Dr. Johnson” was clearly the primary occasion, and he undoubtedly placed on a present, yelling on the crowd:


“Jesus Cracker comes from Europe! Jesus Cracker seems to be like Michael Bolton!”

“Till we crucify, condemn and castrate the white Jesus, our individuals shall be oppressed!”


All the things Johnson stated introduced screams and cheers from the gang, ladies calling for his room quantity and males chanting his identify, even when his one-liners have been reheated cipher rhetoric you possibly can have heard at a spoken-word live performance in 2002.

Johnson and the Hotep refrain he represents fill a necessity for a black group dwelling in a complicated, dehumanizing and violently oppressive world. There's a giant swath of black America that should hear, in no unsure phrases, that racism is an actual, tangible factor that hurts and chokes and stifles life. They don’t want to listen to it sandwiched between jokes on The Breakfast Membership, they usually don’t need nuanced sound chew explanations on CNN or MSNBC. They want a primal scream, racial catharsis, and if that comes with a aspect order of sexism, homophobia and crackpot theories, so be it; at the least any person is saying one thing. That's the reason Johnson can attraction to the younger and previous, the educated and the working class, and even the very individuals whom he condemns (gays and ladies) in most of his lectures.


The issue is, everybody within the room was shopping for every little thing Johnson was promoting with out checking for receipts. I used to be used to listening to him alone, and parsing out the issues I agreed with whereas downplaying or ignoring the remaining. To see him publicly slide from over-the-top racial politics to ridiculous conspiracy theories with out anybody blinking was disturbing.

Johnson blamed the unfold of AIDS on down-low black males (whereas making no point out of protected intercourse or condoms). He charged that homosexuality was a creation of the white man as a type of black-population management (ignoring the thousand-year historical past of multiple gender roles in Africa). He claimed that Barack Obama made black people complacent and unwilling to battle (I assume #BlackLivesMatter didn’t begin underneath Obama?). He topped it off by claiming that black ladies (whose wombs are magical) commit genocide once they have abortions. How might anybody fall for this nonsense?

A scholar who glided by the identify Chinedu informed me afterward: “I’m a homosexual black man. I don’t agree with all that he says, however we've got to satisfy on the desk.”


One other man I spoke to was standing within the aisles yelling on the moderator: “I want this! I want this!” He informed me that Johnson was the one man on the market who spoke to males like him, that he’d been by way of some thangs that solely Johnson might clarify.

It was painful to observe, however in that second it dawned on me why some a part of me had clung to males like Johnson regardless of my figuring out full properly that they trafficked in papier-mâché Pan-Africanism. Umar Johnson was a approach of clinging to my mental youth, when preventing white supremacy simply meant giving provocative speeches, elevating some cash and consuming alkaline water.


I do know actual black nationalists and Pan-Africanists, women and men who've fought, bled and been teargassed for the liberation of all black individuals—not simply those who match a sure ethical, sexual or political framework. There are lots of women and men on the market delivering the identical arduous truths as Johnson with out the sexism, misogyny, ignorance and false credentials. I’m a bit disturbed that it took me this lengthy to take away this fraud from my psychological playlist, however after 20 years, closet Hoteppin’ is a tough habit to break.