Billed as the "Prince of Pan-Afrikanism" Dr. Umar Johnson is a child psychologist specializing in issues affecting Black youth. An outspoken orator on a variety of subjects, Johnson is a firm adherent of the great Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey drawing significant inspiration from Garvey's ambitious agenda to arouse the consciousness of Blacks across the globe and unite them in a movement of positive action.
In Johnson's case, that positive action includes the goal of founding a school for Black males the Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey Academy. Johnson will speak on that topic and many others this Sunday, February 1 at the Jewel Event Center in Indianapolis.
NUVO: You're very passionate about the education of Black youth. I primarily write about music so I wanted to ask about your views on the influence of rap music on Black youth.
Dr. Umar Johnson: I think that the artistic elements of any culture can be very productive towards that group's political, economic and social agenda. When you look at any people regardless of race, time period, culture or location you'll find that whatever their focus was in that point in their history the arts really supported where they were heading as a people. While art can be productive, it can also be counterproductive as well. When you look at where African-Americans are right now we're at a very critical point in our journey in this country.
2015 is pivotal because it represents our 150th year since the close of slavery. At this point we have to look critically at hip-hop. While there is a positive rap movement, if we want to be honest we have to say that the most popular elements of hip-hop have been hijacked by White corporate-backed, phony gangster rappers.
The reason I say phony is because most of them that put out this message of violence, crime, incarceration and drug felonies didn't live that lifestyle. They may have been around that lifestyle but they didn't represent the characters they paint themselves to be in the music. which I think is very disheartening because our children, vulnerable young Black males in particular are soaking up this gangster rap and believing in the fairy tales the artists are painting in their music.
As a result gangster rap music has been very profitable for White racism. It's raking in billions of dollars internationally speaking, because music is America's second leading export industry. To look at the power Black music has in the American economic order and to see that these negative images gangster rappers are painting are going to people all across the world it's not difficult for us to understand why the image of the Black male has been as destroyed as it has been. I would argue that rap music is benefiting the White power structure more than it is benefiting Black people.
NUVO: I know you're a proponent of the philosophy of Marcus Garvey particularly in regard to his concepts of Black pride, self pride and self love. Kendrick Lamar has a popular single out now called "I" that speaks to those same ideas. Do you think the message of popular artists like Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole can counteract the predominant negativity of mainstream hip-hop in a meaningful way?
Dr. Umar: I appreciate those messages. We have a lot of artists outside the mainstream like Immortal Technique, Talib Kweli and others that also represent the positive aspects of hip-hop and I would say the original aspects of hip-hop culture and music. But I believe the artists have to do more than to promote positive images. Our rap artists especially those on the level of Kendrick Lamar have to do more institutionally and economically for Black people. It's not enough to make a positive song. You have to take your money and influence to build the institutions our children need. To build the after school programs, build the college programs, to even build new colleges. We keep talking about historically Black colleges, but when are we going to build a contemporary Black college? We need modern day Black colleges to deal with the modern day issues Black people are dealing with. Artists have to do more than talk. A positive song does not create a positive movement until they put their influence and money behind it.
When you talk about influencing people and sending messages you're talking about the suggestibility of the human brain. You are talking about subliminal conditioning. That is to say the message our children hear most often will be the message that programs their subconscious. So if we're getting an occasional positive record from Kendrick Lamar at the end of the day we're going to lose because our children are being bombarded constantly by the negative images of hip-hop. Until we have a movement that is as consistent at delivering positive messages as the hip-hop industry is with delivering negative messages we won't win.
NUVO: Looking back over the last year or so and considering the cases of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and so many others, it feels like we've reached a real low point in terms of the treatment of Black people in the United States. As someone who has devoted a great deal of their life to studying Black culture, do you think this is a low point or is this just business as usual in America?
Dr. Umar: It's definitely business as usual but that business is getting done more efficiently. The war against Black people and Black men in general is basically going back to its overt aggressive racist roots. We had a period of time for about 40 years where racism went underground. Racism still remained during this time, but the overt forms of White supremacy were basically marginalized.
Today we see the more overt and blatant forms of racism coming back which is something I would expect. I knew when President Obama was elected - knowing his reluctance to speak out on any issue that affected Black people I knew racism would come back stronger.
One of the great ironies of the Black political economy is that most of our elected officials are put in office by white money and organized white power. Obama was put in office by white money and organized white power. The hand that pays is the hand that rules. White folks learned a long time ago that if they want to dominate Black people it's easier to do it behind a Black face than a White face.
NUVO: What issues can people expect to hear you address during your talk here in Indianapolis?
Dr. Umar: 2011 was my last visit to Indianapolis and because its been so long I'm going to have to deal with a lot of different items during the three hour presentation.
Obviously I'll be speaking on my areas of expertise mental health and the miseducation machine. I want to teach the African American community in all of Indiana about special education and how it operates, about ADHD and how it operates and what they can do to keep their child out of special education and off medication. How they can get a diagnosis overturned and what they can do to protect their children from being left back in school or suspended from schools. Basically I want to give a presentation on education law because that's an area of weakness for Black people in general.
I also want to talk about our economic condition and what we have to do as Black people which means we have to start building our own Black banks and Black credit unions so we can finance the movements we need and the types of institutions our community needs.
I also want to talk about the illusion of inclusion and the multicultural agenda. This new social movement that is influencing Black folks not to identify as Black but as people of color which I consider a very dangerous strategy. This is dangerous because other groups of color are no more interested or loyal to Black people than the Anglo Saxon of America. So it's important that we continue to stand out and identify as Black people.
I'll also be talking about my plans to build the Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey Academy. We're trying to acquire the Chamberlain-Hunt Academy in Port Gibson, Mississippi. We're also interested in St. Paul’s historically Black college in Lawrenceville, Virginia. We have a two million dollar fundraiser underway to try to purchase one or both of those schools.