Category Archives: Black Men

The Umar Johnson Chronicles: Why The Most Recent Battle among Black Leaders is a New Low for the Conscious Community

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

What The Sentencing Project Data Regarding Black Male Incarceration Really Means to Black America

I guess that the history of humanity definitively proves that it is possible to get used to anything. I am quite confident that I am not alone in being able to state that if you are not careful about what and who you allow into your life, you will find yourself rationalizing your adoption of their value system and often doing things that you could have never imagined. Put simply, if we do not carefully monitor outside influences, we will invariably find ourselves becoming the monsters that we should be working against. I am confident that you understand that in this nation, the number one priority of these “monster men” is the destruction of Black America.

At the beginning of each semester, I introduce myself to a new class of students by informing them that I am from Mansfield, Ohio, a quaint little town whose income relied on a General Motors factory, Detroit-Empire Steel, and the Mansfield Reformatory.

Of course, my relatively simple description fails to tell my young charges anything about my origins. Hence, I always follow this basic information with the following question, “Have ever seen The Shawshank Redemption?” Most share that they have indeed seen the Hollywood classic, I then inform them that the prison used in that film is the Mansfield Reformatory. “I am from a prison community.” Most are shocked to learn that I have been inside that facility hundreds of times. It was a family tradition that we would go and visit uncles who have for one reason or another found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Although many of you will find this strange, however, these Saturday visits were a routine aspect of what we did as a family every weekend.

One of the more interesting aspects of being African-American and working-class in America is the realization that whatever negativity or misfortune that may befall you and/or your family, you are not alone as others around you are most certainly going through something similar. This early childhood lesson removed all of the shame of going to visit incarcerated loved ones. We were not alone in this Saturday ritual that allowed my grandmother to have contact, although limited and fleeting, with her sons, my beloved uncles who I still admired and aspired to be like despite their present status.

A recently released report by The Sentencing Project verifies what my family always knew; we were far from being alone in having beloved family members locked away in some penitentiary. In fact, things have grown much worse since I first began visiting my uncles at the Mansfield Reformatory. Although I am neither shocked nor surprised by recent figures shared by The Sentencing Project, it is still a bit sobering to learn that there are 2,200,000 (2.2 million) people locked away in American prisons as of 2015. This shocking number translates into an incredible 500% increase in Americans incarcerated today versus forty-years ago.

As with most things in America, when it comes to negativity, African-American men invariably receive more than their fair share of misery and discord. The Sentencing Project indicates that African-American men are six times as likely as their white counterparts to be incarcerated. In fact, for African-American males in their 30s, 10% of them are incarcerated at some level every single day.

One does not need to look far into the data provided by The Sentencing Project to understand that the mass incarceration of black men flows from what could be appropriately termed “the perfect storm.” Consider for a moment that far too many African-American males are entrapped in impoverished community whose hallmark are inferior schools, unfortunately an increase in education is the only path to not only economic stability/success, but also the access to money via means that society has deemed legitimate and therefore do not open one up to incarceration are one of the crucial elements to black males being able to provide for those that Black America consider their responsibility (wife, children, extended family). Make no mistake about it, the vast majority of black men who are incarcerated are not doing sentences derived from a violent crime, we are disproportionately incarcerated due to a property crime. In other words, our marginalized economic posture has forced many of our kind to resort to pursuing financial resources “by any means necessary.”

There is little room to argue against the harsh reality that the negative viewpoint that society holds for black men greatly affects how they are treated in the criminal justice system. One needs to look no further than the recent outcry of significant segments of the nation regarding the Opioid crisis and how it has been generally agreed that treatment, not mandatory incarceration, is the far better way for us to deal with this proliferation of white and non-poor drug users. When compared to this societal decision to handle Opioid abusers with ‘kid gloves’ and send them to treatment instead of a jail cell, the mass incarceration of African-American men is even more revealing regarding the disregard that this nation holds for black males. It is obvious that the powerbrokers and decision-makers who have decided how this nation will deal with crime have a stern unchanging message for black males, if you are caught committing any crime, you are going to jail for a very long time. Although this message is daunting, disappointing, and destructive to black families, it nevertheless is true and stands as one of America’s most telling positions regarding black men in “the land of the thief and home of the slave.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

IF ONLY BLACK MEN COULD BECOME WHITE WOMEN, THEIR ALLEGATIONS REGARDING POLICE MISCONDUCT WOULD SURELY BE BELIEVED

One of the more amazing issues revolving around the numerous women who have publicly charged a series of powerful men with diabolical acts of sexual violence is the willingness of a sympathetic public to lean toward believing the shocking, almost incredulous allegations. Although you can most certainly count me in that number that believes the alluded to allegations that reveal the horrors these women have experienced at the hand of powerful men, it is somewhat frightening that such allegations are akin to unflappable evidence that is not to be questioned.

Oh, how I wish that African-American men had it so easy.

Although the above assertion flows from a host of events, at this present moment the recent conviction and sentencing of Michael Slager, a disgraced North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer who a federal judge sentenced to 20 years in prison for a crime committed on April 4, 2015 is most prominently on my mind.

In the alluded to case, Judge David Norton ultimately considered Slager’s shooting of an unarmed fleeing Walter Scott a case of second-degree murder, not a lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter. Evidence presented at the trial proved that Slager fired his weapon 8 times at the fleeing and defenseless Scott, 5 of those salvos entered the victim’s body. During the sentencing, Judge Norton related that his sentencing was partially driven by the fact that Slager obstructed justice by issuing inaccurate statements to fellow law enforcement officers regarding the murder.

One is hard-pressed to find any reasonable defense for Slager whose interactions with the now deceased Scott began with him pulling the victim’s vehicle over for a broken rear brake light. If the threshold for proving one’s case were the same for African-American men as it is for the series of women who have come forth and issued shocking sexual allegations, the killing of Walter Scott would have been an open and shut case. However, as any member of Black America will tell you, things are never that easy when it comes to America and black men. Hence, I was not surprised when those who prosecuted the case related that if there had been no video evidence of the murder, charges would have never been filed against the now disgraced officer.

Unlike the series of women who have emerged and had their allegations of sexual impropriety against powerful men believed prior to verification, the threshold African-Americans in general, black males in particular, must meet when issuing any charges against “law enforcement officers” is unconscionably high. In fact, there have been many occasions where the presence of video footage of officers shooting down an unarmed and defenseless black man failed to meet that threshold.

Although it could be argued that the conviction of Michael Slager for 2nd Degree Murder is a step in the right direction, in actuality this conviction brings neither justice nor solace for Walter Scott’s loved ones. Justice would only begin at the moment that Walter Scott emerges from the grave and Slager takes his place, anything short of that is a far-cry from justice.

Unfortunately for black men, they remain the prey of rogue law enforcement officers and undervalued by an American populace who discount even video evidence regarding the misconduct of law enforcement officers. One would be hard-pressed to find a single African-American man who believes that such maligning and mistrust of the American public regarding black men is a fixture of this nation that has no expiration date. That’s just the way that it is in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

Is Nursing a Suitable Profession for a Black Man?

The answer that one of my male students provided to a standard ice-breaker question that I pose to my freshmen students on the initial day of class caused laughter, chuckles, and strange looks that conveyed questions regarding his sexuality from his peers. This young man confidently responded to the query of “Where will you be in 10 years?” by asserting that “In ten years, I will be a Nurse Practitioner.”

I must tell you that I found his ability to not be disturbed by the series of giggles and looks of wonderment that were hurled in his direction by his “brothers” rather interesting. In time, Over the course of the semester, I would learn that this brilliant young man was the son of two parents who were both Nurse Practitioners and had made a conscious decision to follow in their rather voluminous footsteps.

This information made his occupational absolutely reasonable, however, it failed to settle that gnawing feeling that I possessed regarding a black man being a nurse; I, like most, felt that such a position should be reserved for women. With the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious that somewhere along life’s path, I had been socialized to believe that nursing was “women’s work.”

It was not until a lengthy hospital stay where I was bed-ridden for 3 consecutive months that I understood the indispensability of male nurses whose brute strength was often required to move me for a host of reasons. Although I would have never thought it possible, however, my male nurses were more attentive and kind than my female nurses. I am embarrassed to say that it was my hospitalization that drastically altered my view of black men pursuing nursing as a profession and not years of study labor issues facing black men in a rapidly transitioning new millennium economy.

While in graduate school at The Ohio State University, Labor History was a field of specialization. I wholly attribute my gravitation to this field of study to the examples set by my father and uncles who toiled as unionized steelworkers for Detroit-Empire Steel. It is this population of American workers who are the actual cornerstone of American industrial might in the post-World War I period.

There is no room to debate that this era of American industrialization provided ample opportunities for men, many who possessed no formal education beyond a high school diploma, to provide for their family in a phenomenal way. My how things have changed in this nation.

Unfortunately for the vast majority of black men devoid of advanced levels of education or training, those days are long gone and will never return. Not only have the majority of black men seen their employment opportunities curtailed by an American economy that shifted from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, but also increasing competition from immigrant groups in the areas of manufacturing and construction has further exacerbated the dire prospects of many African-American males securing gainful employment.

The above harsh economic realities mandate that African-American males abandon personal hang-ups and expand their horizons in regards to finding employment; there is quite possibly no greener pastures to be found than the Nursing profession as it not only pays well but also places them in an employment sector where qualified people are desperately needed.

Anyone who has seriously studied American Labor will tell you that there is a definite inverse relationship between an economic downturn and a rise in racial discrimination in the workplace and unions. Although it often means that they are “cutting off their nose to spite their face,” white workers have repeatedly proven that they are more than ready to abandon calls for worker solidarity and accentuate racial matters during an economic downturn. The historical record highlights that at tenuous moments, white workers will circle the wagons and shun non-whites from employment and crucial training opportunities.

When one considers previously discussed alterations to a shrinking and increasingly competitive American economy and the me-first policies that have always served as the North Star for white workers, it is imperative that black men seek out educational and occupational opportunities that encroach on areas that they have traditionally avoided. From where I sit at this present moment, there may not be a better option for black men who seek to provide for a family than Nursing.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

Books published by Dr. James Thomas Jones III

Please support Independent Black Scholarship; it’s the only way that we are going to free our minds.

Creating Revolution as They Advance: A Historical Narrative of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

‘Foolish’ Floyd: The Life & Times of an African-American Contrarian

The U.S. vs. Booker: The Reason Black Men Are Being Sentenced to Longer Prison Sentences than White Men

You better duck because the book is comin’.

So just pass the car keys to your woman.

(Ice Cube)

I remember the names and faces well. How could I not? They are my relatives, friends, classmates, and many were mere acquaintances whose lives were relatively inconsequential to the path that I was traveling. However, it was an unwritten rule that when we were together that it was mandatory that we greeted each other in a heartfelt and soulful manner. I soon learned that this greeting was tantamount to a cultural adaptation that conveyed an understanding that this could possibly be our final time together. I guess that such logic is only understandable to those of us who hail from poor and working-class communities. No one knew better than us that black men routinely disappeared from our midst without a moment’s notice.

And for the unknowing, when I say disappear, I am not talking about being absent for a day or two; I am talking about their smiles, laughs, and ingenuity being inaccessible to their community for a decade or more. Were they killed, kidnapped, or stolen? No, not exactly. The alluded to individuals had somehow found themselves in the clutches of an unforgiving criminal justice system that has always punished black men, women, and children in an unduly harsh manner.

For those of us reared in predominantly African-American communities, the disappearance of black men was a fact that we needed no academic study to verify; we had repeatedly seen it take place. There is not a single person in Black America who if forced, to tell the truth, would not tell you that African-American men receive harsher penalties than their white counterparts for the exact same criminal offense.

Hopefully, the protestations of white opponents who dismissed our personal stories regarding this matter as anecdotal evidence will finally be silenced by the release of a U.S. Sentencing Commission Report that provides definitive data-driven proof that there is most definitely disparate sentencing occurring between black and white males being sentenced for the same crime.

According to the alluded to report that covers a period between 2012 to 2016, African-American men serve 19 percent longer sentences for the same offense as their white counterparts. Researchers found that the cause of the lengthier sentences handed down to black men is solely attributable to the decision-making of judges.

The source of the judicial discretion mentioned above is the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States vs. Booker. It was this decision that provided judges unconscionable power to extend sentences if they deemed it appropriate; prior to this decision, judges were forced to work within guidelines provided by the sentencing commission.

As a black man in America who has lived enough to realize that life has many unanticipated twists and turns, it is frightening to consider that judges are no longer handcuffed by sentencing guidelines and therefore able to behave as an omnipotent being capable of altering life in an unforeseen manner. Although it is unfashionable to make statements such as the following, however, one must remember that Judges are people like anyone else in this nation who carry past observations and life lessons with them onto the bench that they mete out justice. I repeatedly tell others that it is impossible to be raised in America and not develop stereotypes that feed the manifestations of discriminatory behavior for individuals who have some access to power. When considered in this light, it should frighten Americans that sentences for crimes are being decided in such an arbitrary manner. Unfortunately, we as a national populace rarely consider such matters until it is our turn to deal with the issue.

And far too often when African-American males are standing before a judge awaiting his/her decision on you and your family’s future the best advice that they can receive comes from famed rapper Ice Cube who once advised those in this situation in the following manner.

“You better duck, because the book is comin’. So just pass your car keys to your woman.”

I am confident that you agree that we need a concerted and organized effort to address this issue, otherwise we will continue to see black men, women, and children disappear for no apparent reason.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017.

Please support Independent Black Scholarship by purchasing a book. I am confident that you agree that such support is the only way that we are going to free our minds. Books published by Dr. James Thomas Jones are as follows:

Creating Revolution as They Advance: A Historical Narrative of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

‘Foolish’ Floyd: The Life & Times of an African-American Contrarian

O’Bruni: An African-American Odyssey Home?