By Myles E. Johnson
One of the working definitions of a witch doctor is “a person in some societies who attempts to cure sickness and to exorcise evil spirits by the use of magic.” In the cultures where this term was originated a slew of things attributed to someone being labeled this: ancestral history, God(s), and maybe even a miracle or two that can’t be explained away. Today, in the black community, the most curious type of magic and manipulation I witness is produced by the patriarchy. The most interesting of these magicians is Dr. Umar Johnson.
Dr. Umar posted a notification on his Instagram page where he attempted to explain away the news around his professional and educational credentials being under siege. He framed everything as a racist attack on him because he was a black man, and most magically, he was a savior of black folks. He turned this scandal into a type of racialized Jesus narrative. Dr. Umar ended his comment by saying, “This is the thanks I get for helping to save a generation of Black boys.”
I have always been impressed by Dr. Umar Johnson in a similar way I am impressed by Houdini or David Blaine. I know the magic is a scam, but I am still left impressed by the illusionists that make it look real. I am a lover of history, art, black, feminist, and queer theory, so I understand what Johnson is saying as a lie when he rants about his version of black freedom. However, I would still be in awe of how Dr. Johnson perfected the rhythm of truth and wisdom; how he got to that sociopathic sweet spot of sounding so believable that in order to arrive at that rhythm, he would have to believe it himself as science or scripture. Magic, used for good or evil, can still be fascinating. But like any ambitious mind watching a good illusion or magic trick, your curiosity and better judgement overwhelm you and you decide you must know how he split that woman in half and put her back together again. Or how he made that plane disappear. Or how a black man used pro-black radical pseudo-science and drag to make a generation of black boys further invest in white supremacist patriarchy.
There is nothing new about Dr. Umar Johnson, but there is something terrifying. He has been the new face of making white supremacist patriarchy appealing to a whole new group of men. He has galvanized a populist movement of people who feel disenfranchised and forgotten to find home in abandoning critical thought and adopting the ideas that domination that has consistently sold as the social law. It is easy to draw parallels to Dr. Umar Johnson and President Donald Trump: they are two patriarchal men who lie perpetually that utilized the politics of populism (“the everyday citizen”) in order to gain power while reinforcing the same interlocking systems of domination that oppress this “everyday citizen”.
Through appropriation of vague and trite African, namely Egyptian, aesthetics and stereotypes; Dr. Umar has been able to sell a large demographic of black people what has enslaved us since we arrived in this country as freedom. Slavery re-branded as type of freedom is some illusion.
Without the smoke and mirrors, we know that he is a sexist. Dr. Johnson reinforces ideas that the ability to lead, to be in power, and influence is somehow gendered. That the rightful place for people who known themselves as black women is being subservient to people that know themselves as black men. This reinforces ideas that have only helped us be further colonized into the expectations of patriarchy. With only a mild amount of studying, you will find that many societies in Africa were closer to a feminist awakening than the investment in patriarchy that we are constantly sold by pseudo-intellectuals like Dr. Umar Johnson. Plenty of African societies were in fact matrilineal; transgressing The Patriarchal King and Subservient Queen narrative that Dr. Umar employs that often is used to captivate men and women alike who are interested in investing in patriarchal dynamics. If you know Harriet Tubman, Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, Assata Shakur, you know this.
Without the razzle dazzle, it is obvious to see that he is homophobic. Dr. Johnson reiterates dangerous, homophobic ideas that black queerness is an invention of white supremacy and is un-African. This is a lie. Queerness is African. There is much evidence in many African spiritualities and societies that there was acceptance (and even celebration and worship) for queerness in both sexuality and gender in Africa. The homophobia and transphobia as commonplace is the actual invention of white supremacy; an invention that Dr. Umar Johnson employs consistently to remove us from a more African truth and brings us closer to the domination culture that helped our latest President be elected. On the contrary, queerness is a part of the black radical tradition of fighting for freedom. If you know James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Pat Parker, Essex Hemphill, you know this.
Take away the fast talk and swift moving hands, and we can see Dr. Umar Johnson’s work is truly in sustaining the powers of white supremacy. All of these aforementioned systems are symptoms of the societal structure that we call white supremacy. And this is where the magic lives. It is the idea that someone who has portrayed themselves as not just pro-black, but a black radical savior of a generation, is actually being used to keep a generation lost in the waters that sink them.
Dr. Umar Johnson may not be a real doctor as defined in white supremacy or the more benevolent witch doctor as defined by ancient tradition, but he is a type of witch doctor, or illusionist, to serve white domination. He make the old tools of master’s house look new (and radical and black) again in order to create a new generation of toxic Patriarchs obsessed with reinformancing white domination. When Dr. Umar Johnson reacts to his credentials being challenged, it’s not because he thinks his pro-black agenda is being attacked by white supremacy. It is because he is afraid his illusions are no longer fooling or captivating the public.
Myles E. Johnson is an black, queer writer and editor existing at the nexus of race, sexual identity, gender, feminism, and justice through content creation and cultural critique.