Check It Out …Dr. Umar Johnson, private schools, and systemic responses to racism (July 19, 2017)


Dr. Umar Johnson, a psychologist and public speaker, gave a recent radio interview which was heavily scrutinized on social media. There were questions concerning his academic credentials, his claim of family lineage to Fredrick Douglass, the money he raised to start a school, and his views on interracial marriage.
Afterwards, Roland Martin invited Dr. Johnson on his television news program to clear up the concerns and field questions from the news panel.
The biggest controversy surrounding Dr. Johnson is the school he wants to operate. Dr. Johnson raised money over the years to purchase a school, but critics have called his fundraising operation and his school plans a scam.
So Martin wondered why he wanted to purchase a school when he can start a charter school. (Before Dr. Johnson started raising money it was reported in Philadelphia, where Dr. Johnson is based, The Imhotep Institute Charter School was the city’s most successful high school. It sent 66 percent of its graduates to college and out of 525 students, 99 percent of them are Black and 87 percent of them are low-income)
Dr. Johnson replied, “…Charter schools are owned by the state and I’m a Pan-Africanist. I believe what is to be done for Black people must be done by Black people, why would I want a charter school?”
Martin said, “So you want a private school?”
Dr. Johnson replied, “Exactly, an independent school.”
Then Martin turned the questions over to the panel.
One panelist was a Black Republican. He should have asked a question not traditionally posed to Dr. Johnson. He should have said a lot of low-income Black parents have supported “school choice” for years. Then he asked if Dr. Johnson was in favor of a voucher program to financially assist low-income parents with the cost of his private school.
I don’t know how Dr. Johnson would have answered, but let’s speculate.
If he rejected starting a charter school because it’s “state-owned”. Then it’s most likely he would reject state funds out of fear of “state interference” that followed the money. If that’s the case, without any further questions, we could conclude Dr. Johnson is raising money in low-income neighborhoods to purchase a private school that low-income children won’t be able to attend, and he has no interest in the only plan on the table to assist them with the cost.
But the opportunity to discuss an issue pertinent to the 21st century was lost because the panelists got into an exchange about White responses to systemic racism. Dr. Johnson stated Whites haven’t done anything in the past to systemically equalize the playing field for Black Americans.
One panelist mentioned the 1964 civil rights bill.
Dr. Johnson said, “There were two words included in that bill that ultimately served to take away from Black people what the bill was intended to deliver…They added gender and sexual orientation and as a result, White women and homosexuals have been able to strip Black Americans from the intended gains of the Civil Rights Act so there was still racism in that bill.”
Now, Title VII of the civil rights bill prohibits employers from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. (But the term sex did not include sexual orientation. It wasn’t until earlier this year in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College that a federal court of appeals ruled sexual orientation was protected under Title VII, and his White woman argument can be made against Affirmative Action policies, not the Civil Rights Act.) It sounds like Dr. Johnson was trying to convince the panel that the federal government added other identifiers to compete against Blacks, stripping Blacks from equal opportunity. So, according to his theory, Title VII of the civil rights bill is actually a discriminatory policy towards Blacks, an example of systemic racism.
It was once said, “more could be gained by scrutinizing what we ourselves mean instead of trying to convince and overwhelm others, because if we understood what we were really saying, we might not say it.”
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier. He blogs at
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