Centering the African Collective: Lessons To Learn from Umar Johnson and Roland Martin

The exchange recently between Umar Johnson and Roland Martin exposed further many issues related to the breadth and depth of African-centered thought and work, imposed limitations by commercial media on ranges of thought and perspectives of critique and the power of individuality and celebrity. To discuss this and more we were joined by Drs. Iyelli Ichile and Kmt Shockley.


  1. Umar is this generation’s poor man’s Al Sharpton. He’s skillfully defanged and repackaged revolutionary Pan Afrikanism for mass consumption by those who [quite rightly] are deeply distrustful of the state-approved talking heads of eurocentric academia and who have not closely studied the work of our radical intelligentsia (e.g. Joy James, Wade Nobles, Walter Rodney, Gerald Horne, Audre Lorde, Sylvia Wynter, Cedric Robinson, Kimberle Crenshaw, Frank Wilderson, et al).

    Simply put, umar – ‘our Black shining Prince’ of overblown, pseudoconscious-sounding histrionics – is the quintessential Black Power caricature; he is the self-aggrandizing raconteur of ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing…..’

  2. Very good program. Such a discussion is needed as some get the wrong idea about Afrocentricity, the African centered and Pan Africanism. The process of all three are a collective activity, and we must remember that, and act on it in our spaces in the globe.

  3. Let’s not forget Dr.Johnson is not the problem.You are doing your part in the struggle and he is doing his.This sounded like his approach is wrong and yours is right or better.He reaches an audience I don’t think most African centered scholars do.Most of our leaders in the struggle have been celebrity like and charismatic when they speak,it is what it is.The battle front is everywhere and we all need to keep pushing.Thank God for all of you.

    1. “Most of our leaders in the struggle have been celebrity like and charismatic when they speak.” If a person uses their charisma to build or lead organizations like the UNIA/ACL, SCLC, NOI/OAAU, SNCC/AAPRP, and the BPP, that can’t be considered creating an individual brand. Ultimately the former are part of a collective, whereas the latter is a personality. I think that was the gist of the conversation between the scholars on this program. Reaching an audience is one thing. Mobilizing people into positive action is something different.

  4. Indeed! Another wonderful, thought-provoking commentary, Bro. Jared. I dig Dr. Umar on many levels. However, it’s not to be missed that his “star is rising” in this current age of celebrity and spectacle. His (and you can add ‘Hidden Colors’ into this as well) overall presentation comes off as a form of Pan-African pageantry. It’s charismatic and sexy — particularly to those who do not read books.

  5. These people who have created their individual brands, for self-aggrandizement, or for whatever reason, are the antithesis of grassroots leaders like Kwame Ture. For that reason they should be regarded as part and parcel of the dictatorship of the celebrity class, which of course is designed to provide psychological opiates to the masses.

  6. Your opening statement hit the nail on the head. The argument becomes about Umar Johnson and not the wonderful, broad breadth of African centered thought and it makes it a little difficult for us as a community to defend ourselves due to having to indirectly defend Umar Johnson the individual.

    Unfortunately Umar Johnson’s obvious passion gives others, particularly liberal Black folk, a lane to attack African centeredness, something that many of them look forward to doing so.

    There is a video of Dr. Asa Hilliard addressing what seems to be happening all over again…an attack on African centeredness or anything that addresses African first and foremost.

    Love your reporting family.

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