Umar Johnson, second from right (Michael Harriot/The Root)

Two things can be true at the same time. It is possible to believe that Oprah Winfrey might be the transformational black woman of our generation while simultaneously believing that she is not qualified to be president. One can believe that Kanye West is an attention whore who exists somewhere on the fuckboy spectrum and that he is a musical genius.

When it comes to Umar Johnson, it is possible to believe that he is an egomaniacal charlatan who peppers agreed-upon sophistry about white supremacy with half-truths, homophobia, misogyny and irresponsible bullshittery in order to serve his own purpose of stuffing his pockets with the dollars of trusting black people ...

Advertisement

... and he is a credentialed school psychologist who is being unfairly targeted by either his detractors or the state of Pennsylvania to discredit him and undermine his professional credibility in an ultimate attempt to render him without certification.

Both of those things can be true; and after attending the ghetto-fabulous hearing, church service and attempted legal lynching before the Pennsylvania State Board of Psychology—I find it hard to determine which side won. It was billed for weeks by Johnson as “Ifatunde vs. the State”—where he would be railroaded by the white supremacist “system” and stripped of his credentials. His detractors hoped that it would be his day of reckoning—when he would finally be exposed as a fraud who never earned a doctorate in clinical psychology or a master’s in school psychology, and be made to refund the money for the Shaka Zulu School for Boys in Dashikis.

It was neither.

And it was both.


Johnson was in no danger of losing his credentials today. Jenni Chavis, the hearing examiner in charge of overseeing his appearance before the Pennsylvania State Board of Psychology, made sure that the room, filled with 50-75 spectators—most of whom were black women in support of Johnson—understood that his certification as a school psychologist was not at stake today.

Advertisement

The hearing administrator specifically noted that the charge against Johnson—engaging in the practice of psychology without a license—was governed by Pennsylvania’s Professional Psychologist Act and could not result in his being stripped of his Ph.D. or his school certification—which was governed by the Department of Education.

But as the case unfolded in a Harrisburg, Pa., hearing room, two things became abundantly clear:

  1. The prosecutor was obviously trying to persecute Umar Johnson. It was obvious to everyone in attendance that the state’s case had no merit and was spuriously thrown at Johnson for a reason no one could seem to figure out.
  2. Johnson could easily have avoided the charges and swatted down the case if he weren’t so obstinate, unorganized, bullyish and—dare I say—arrogant.

Advertisement

Michael Harriot/The Root

By the end of the hearing, Chavis, a black woman, seemed exasperated. But it was difficult to tell if she was just tired of Johnson’s grandstanding like a combination of a Baptist preacher and snake oil salesman, or if she was upset that the state of Pennsylvania wasted her time adjudicating a trumped-up case.

Or maybe she was upset that the entire incident is so obviously a case of the white establishment targeting a black man who is obviously well-qualified (there should be no more debate; his education and credentials were never questioned by the state), and he still might not win, because he is so fucking arrogant and inept.

Advertisement

The central issue is this: The state of Pennsylvania alleges that Johnson has advertised himself as a “psychologist” and not a school psychologist—there is a distinct difference. Unlike a psychologist, a school psychologist cannot lead people to believe that they are being given psychological exams, and even the use of the words “psychology,” “psychological” and “psychologist” is governed by law. The state alleges that Johnson did so.

He, on the other hand, asserts that he did not violate the law because of two reasons:

  1. He always presents himself as a school psychologist; and
  2. He is allowed to practice school psychology privately, as long as he is employed by a school (which he is).

Advertisement

Now, here is where it gets hilarious. The state prosecuting counsel, who looks exactly like white supremacy personified, brought only three pieces of evidence:

  • Two interviews from Johnson’s appearances on The Breakfast Club. I’m serious, y’all. The prosecuting white man (who was so white that the judge threatened to clear the room when he spoke of “Charlie Mayne thee God”) didn’t even have the video from Johnson’s website cued up to the part where he allegedly called himself a psychologist. Everyone had to sit there and listen to Johnson rant about white people until the video finally reached the desired section where he briefly said “yes” when Charlamagne referred to Johnson as a psychologist, but only after Johnson repeatedly explained his credentials as a school psychologist.
  • An old version of his website on which Johnson described himself as a “school psychologist” who offered psychological services. Again, Johnson is allowed to do this privately as long as he is employed by a school.

Advertisement


Here is the problem: In the proceedings, Johnson represented himself, and went to fight the white people without a white-person translator, known as an “attorney,” in the common parlance. Johnson could have legitimately acquitted himself of the charges by simply bringing a copy of his current contract or providing the details when the state prosecutor asked him for the details.

Instead, he insisted that “he didn’t see that letter.” Johnson reminded the court that he met with one investigator already, and the next investigator he spoke with didn’t seem serious. He put the prosecutor on the stand and argued with him until the adjudicator intervened. He hounded the attorney. He preached so much that the woman overseeing the hearing threatened to oust Johnson’s supporters for their constant “amens.” He called his supporters as “character witnesses” for them to testify that he never uses the term “psychologist”—only after the attorneys tried to explain that it wasn’t necessary and that it wouldn’t make a difference. They let him do it because they just wanted to go home.

Advertisement

Johnson made it perfectly clear that he was being railroaded. He definitely proved it. The prosecuting attorney shook Johnson’s hand afterward and explained that it was just a part of the job, to which Jonson exclaimed, to the delight of his acolytes, “Boy, you white supremacists sure are crazy!”

Even during his movielike triumphant speech on the steps of the courthouse, surrounded by his supporters waving the red-black-and-green flag as a backdrop (yes, every word of that last sentence is true), Johnson reiterated the lack of evidence that the state was drumming up against him.

And he was right—he was railroaded.

And he will probably be found guilty.

Umar Johnson, surrounded by his supporters after his hearing before the Pennsylvania State Board of Psychology (Michael Harriot/The Root)

Advertisement

The vast majority of people who attended will tell you that Umar Johnson dismantled the case of the white supremacists who have been trying to discredit him and whose only evidence was a couple of YouTube videos. The legal scholars, psychologists and attorneys in attendance will tell you that he will probably lose his case because he didn’t have the original documentation that could have led to dismissal of the case in 10 minutes.

No one presented evidence that Umar Johnson engages in the practice of psychology without a license.

Umar Johnson will probably be convicted of engaging in the practice of psychology without a license.

Advertisement

Both things can be true.