I Had Questions

So I shared this photo on Facebook the other day, because I have consistently had legitimate questions about Umar Johnson’s credentials.

A colleague of mine, a fellow man of color rightfully questioned my motivations for seeking out this information, warning that too much focus on credentials can play into respectability politics, particularly as predominantly white institutions of higher education are not immune from their past histories and contemporary manifestations of perpetuating and maintaining white supremacy, with the use of credentials as a barrier.

He went on to share with me, at least some evidence of the man’s credentials. This was interesting, because most of the things I’ve found on Johnson while looking for that information have asserted that there were no records of him completing his education at those respective institutions.

I definitely get the credentials piece, and how playing it up could play into respectability politics. However, my motivations in sharing this photo were rooted in similar, but different reasons.

In addition to coming off to me as a hotep (in this context used to describe Black men in particular who claim to have some deep sense of African understanding but are in other ways homophobic or mysogynistic) I find some of Umar Johnson’s rhetoric to be extremely problematic in that he often lacks an intersectional analysis in ways that pit marginalized groups against each other like folks in the LGBTQIA+ community against black folks as if those identities are always mutually exclusive.

I won’t share his works here but feel free to look them up on your own if you feel the need.

I think some folks eat up that ideology and caution against Ph.Ds or other credentials being used to give license, credibility, or legitimacy to oppressive narratives.

The conversation seemed to take a turn to talk about how all credentialed, cisgender, heterosexual men are problematic, and how we should be doing the work of addressing those problems among all men, and not just men of color, or a man of color in this context.

We Need to Talk

We can hold multiple realities simultaneously. We can acknowledge the problematic behaviors of all cisgender, heterosexual men, without avoiding having necessary in-group conversations with each other as men of color, which my colleague’s sharing helped to create space for.

I see Umar’s proliferation (if you could call it that) as an opportunity to call in our friends and brothers, fathers, uncles, etc.

For me, specifically, I see some of his rhetoric as a call in, and call to action to the Black cisgender heterosexual men in my life to ask: “Just what do you mean when you say the phrase Black Lives Matter?” Does that mean every Black life, or only Black lives that are Male, Cis, Christian, Heterosexual, etc.?

Because there is no caveat or asterisk to the phrase Black Lives Matter. Furthermore, y’all know queer Black women put this thing on the map right?


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW

Relando Thompkins-Jones

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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