“He Erred In Trying To Shine Too Brightly: On Umar Johnson’s Homophobia”



The feeling I had of being rushed down the hallway and out of the doors of the Thurgood Marshall Center by the handlers of Dr. Umar Johnson made me feel like Sofia right after she said “hell naw” in Spielberg’s film The Color Purple.   I was rushed out the building for talking back to the white man who defended Ms. Millie.  Except “the white man who defended Ms. Millie” in this case wasn’t white.

It was Dr. Umar Johnson. It was atrocious.  I felt so alone. Alienated. Like a lot of the queer youth have felt who are neglected by their parents.  When I read his slide and listened to his words, I thought about how his words were justifying Black parents’ alienation of their children.

I was planning to go home after the U.N.I.A. meeting earlier that day at the Thurgood Marshall Center when John El Badr told me about the event, and I decided to stay.  Especially since I noticed all the popular appeal.  So I decided to stay.

John told me about the queer youth who come to the Center after being kicked out of their homes by their parents for their sexuality.  And Dr. Umar Johnson’s message encourages Black parents to continue OSTRACIZING Black children.  This is the WRONG message to tell so many parents.  The message that “homosexuality is a spiritual ‘dis-ease.'”  Johnson has a doctorate in osteopathic medicine.  Not in sexuality studies, parenting, nor in Black psychology.  He is not qualified to describe or instruct Black parents on how to conceptualize homosexuality.

While leaving that event, I felt alienated. I felt sorry.  I couldn’t help but think about Amy Ashwood Garvey and how she felt by Marcus’s ultimate betrayal of their relationship.

All because she chose to stand up for herself.  Garvey would blame his demand for separation on her infidelity, but bigger than Amy Ashwood Garvey’s alleged infidelity was Garvey’s Leo ego.  She told Lerone Bennett in 1960 that “he erred in trying to shine too brightly.” According to her, he needed a “yes woman” not a partner.  According to Amy Ashwood’s lens, Marcus dug his own hole when he not only betrayed her, but he betrayed the principles of his own organization.  He trusted people around him who would only support him instead of having people around him that would hold him accountable.  It is tragic that no one in Johnson’s circle has corrected his Black Nazi ideas on homosexuality.

While Marcus was with Amy Ashwood Garvey, he wrote an important June 14, 1919 editorial in the Negro World newspaper that said “we regret that Negroes who essay to leadership should permit themselves to be consciously or unconsciously tools for white men.”  By teaching that “homophobia is a spiritual disease,” Johnson is repeating the Nazi homophobic beliefs yet doing so in Blackface.  He is becoming an unconscious tool for white men who spread homophobic Nazi ideas across the world.

According to Leslie Feinberg, “U.S. imperialism…has set up concentration camps–from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo–where anti-gay and anti-trans rape and humiliation are incorporated into the science of torture.”  Johnson is teaching Black families to abuse their queer children the same way the U.S. imperialism tortures people of color outside the world.   He is saying that that queer children should be neglected because they have a “spiritual dis-ease.”  He is continuing the destruction of Black families.

Amy Ashwood Garvey believed that her physical and spiritual protection helped keep the federal agents at bay from infiltrating and undermining the Garvey movement.  Garvey separated from her in 1920 and was arrested in 1922.  Once he left her, he was beholden to the government agents, some of whom were Jamaican, that eventually led to his January 1922 arrest.  The reasons for their separation is the subject of already A LOT of academic discussion, but I raise it to ask where in the life of Dr. Johnson is his own commitment to a Black woman?  Why is he preaching to Black men to learn how to commit to a Black woman when he has not yet demonstrated this?

Amy Ashwood Garvey believed that Marcus’s inability to commit to her led to his own betrayal of his race principles.  Dr. Johnson in his interview with Roland Martin talked about the Black man needing to be with a Black woman, but by not having and talking about his own love in a committed relationship with a Black woman, he is doing a grave disservice to the Black community about the importance of the Black family.  He is not demonstrating this importance.

Johnson said that some of his patients are queer.  In his talk, Johnson mentioned two patients of his who were bisexual men and said they wanted Johnson’s counseling to teach them how to talk to their wives and convince them that they still love them, but, just like to have sex with men.  These married bisexual men apparently represent for Johnson the “spiritual dis-ease” of homosexuality.  Johnson is misleading his audience to see homosexuality as a pathology and is over-sexualizing my community.  He is pimping Black suffering and promotes as much homophobia as Scott Lively is doing in Uganda.

His message denigrates Black people.  It claims that Black women spend too much on hair weaves and that Black men spend too much on sneakers, without any statistical evidence showing either.

My thoughts on Umar Johnson, The Color Purple, Marcus, and Amy Ashwood Garvey highlight what the karate student told Buster in Toni Cade Bambara’s novel The Salt Eaters: “Skills and drive without consciousness and purpose make you dangerous, man, dangerous to the community.”

Johnson’s documented homophobia can be read here.

Author: Dr. Rhone Fraser

Dr. Rhone Fraser is an independent writer and journalist born of Jamaican immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, on October 12, 1979. He moved to Florida in 1989 and graduated from Zephyrhills (FL) High School in 1997. He graduated from Yale University in 2001, after which time he taught in the public school systems in New Haven (CT) and the Bronx for three years. He then began writing independently and finished a documentary play on the life of Fannie Lou Hamer entitled, "Living Sacrifice," for which he still seeks publication. He earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple as of August 31, 2012. His dissertation was a literary and historical analysis of Pauline Hopkins, A. Philip Randolph and Paul Robeson. He also is a freelance editor and radio producer, and is currently producer of WPEB's Freedom Readers on 88.1 FM in Philadelphia.