Could it be that it is our existence in a society where every moment can be recorded and distributed around the globe with the push of a button that explains the latest “Umar Johnson chronicle?” Consider for a moment that at the present moment, the fermentation process of a “beef” is a simple formula of harsh words + cell phone + internet access. Unfortunately for Black America, this recipe for voluminous discord among self-proclaimed “black leaders” requires minimal thinking and effort.
One needs to look no further than Umar Johnson to discover the process self-proclaimed leaders take to distract their followers from substantive issues in favor of reality television like silliness and banter.
Although it may shock many of our people, public feuds between “black leaders” neither began nor will it end with Umar Johnson. In fact, a cursory examination of the storied history of Black America reveals a series of conflicts extending well over a decade. Consider the following public feuds between notable black figures and organizations as evidence for the above assertion.
- Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. Du Bois
- Booker T. Washington vs. William Monroe Trotter
- E.B. Du Bois vs. Marcus Garvey
- Elijah Muhammad vs. Malcolm X
- Malcolm X vs. Martin Luther King Jr.
- Martin Luther King Jr. vs. Stokely Carmichael
- SCLC vs. SNCC
- Philip Randolph vs. John Lewis
- Huey P. Newton vs. Maulana Karenga
- BPP vs. US
- Fred Hampton vs. Jeff Fort
Unfortunately for Black America, the above list is far from exhaustive. However, I believe that my larger point that black leaders have always battled each other for the right to guide their people toward the ultimate goal of liberation via a host of programs and strategies has been proven.
Yesterday, Washington and Du Bois bickered over the path to black liberation, today we have what can only be termed the “Umar Johnson chronicles.” Put simply, the “Umar Johnson chronicles” are a sad saga with predictable twists-and-turns and a host of characters that Johnson calls on during moments when the glaring spotlight that has been focused on him appears to dim. In many ways, this series that follows a charismatic, yet woefully flawed anti-hero always ends with Umar surviving to cause discord another day like a modern-day Afrocentric Brer Rabbit.
As with most silly things of little worth, the “Umar Johnson chronicles” not only mesmerizes a largely uneducated segment of Black America as episodes of Love & Hip-Hop but also has led them to literally cheer and root for Umar Johnson as if he is a sports franchise. The alluded to figures mistakenly believe that every episode of the “Umar Johnson chronicles” holds the same significance as substantive disagreements between authentic black leaders such as Malcolm X and Dr. King or Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois. The “Umar Johnson chronicles” remind one of a poorly written one-man stage play that although entertaining to adoring audience members, fails to convey a single substantive message.
Despite what can only be termed a natural impulse of marginally educated portions of our community and vowed opponents to grasp the most salacious events that occur in Black America and use them as an accurate barometer of who we are as a people, the truth of the matter is that few of the figures involved in the “Umar Johnson chronicles” have a legitimate claim to black leadership. Generally speaking, I have found the list of characters to be charismatic, yet poorly read, devoid of an executable plan, reactionary, totally reliant on phrase-mongering, and what Huey P. Newton would term counter-revolutionary in their understanding of the multi-faceted issues and dilemmas facing our people.
If anything, Umar Johnson’s rise and longevity, as well as the other savvy social media stars masquerading as “black leaders” proves is that a significant segment of Black America is desperate in their desires and the means that they are willing to take to alter the plight of black folk. In many ways, “it is the best of times (meaning our people are fervently desiring an opportunity to uplift the masses of our people) and the worst of times (technology has made the path to prominence for charismatic leaders with no real plan or commitment to our people far too easy)” for the movement.
As previously mentioned, public disputes among black leaders is nothing new, in many ways debate is a necessary part of political maturity and the dawning of economic savvy for any population. However, that is not what is occurring in the “Umar Johnson chronicles.”
It is hard to argue against the assertion that the repeated pissing contests between a host of tragic characters are counter-revolutionary. When considering these moments, my mind reverted to a long-ago conflict that occurred among Civil Rights luminaries. The alluded to discord occurred between the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy (Dr. King’s right-hand man) and the legendary organizer Ella Baker. After watching King and Abernathy address an audience of Civil Rights workers in a manner that clearly displayed that they were seeking to see who could work those in attendance into a more frenzied state with their copious amounts of rhetorical wizardry, an angered Ella Baker hurled the following accusations at King and Abernathy. “What is this? A sophomoric oratorical contest? We have the lives of our people on the line at this very moment and you go before the people and do this!!!!” I fear that not even Ella Baker would be heard by either Umar Johnson or his shifting cast of characters, over the raucous laughter and adulation that their cult-like followers bestow on them at every opportunity.
Once again, this most recent battle between self-proclaimed leaders is nothing new, however, it is undoubtedly the most shameful moment in the history of black leadership.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017