What's so Special about the Black Man? A Conversation about Accountability

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What is so special about men in our society that they can never be held accountable for their actions? I would like to examine this question by presenting two examples: Bill Cosby and “Dr.” Umar Johnson. Not that these men are particularly more special than any other black man in our community, but these two black men seem to be safe from all harm, critique, and negative words being placed upon them by their own communities. Countless times have I witnessed male celebrities and semi-celebrities be made front page fodder and dinnertime gossip based on their actions and/or inappropriate behavior. And countless times, I have witnessed my own people, male and female alike, find defenses for the men’s actions and just cause to forgive and forget their transgressions. The rallying cry for their defense: anything “for the culture,” the Savior and Hero complex placed upon them both, and an incessant need to be like the popular, more privileged culture (BKA “The White Man).

Let us examine them both, shall we?

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Dr. William “Bill” Cosby, Jr is one of the most beloved comedians and philanthropists in the African-American community in specific and the comedic world in general. His hilarious and countless stand-up comedy specials, philanthropic efforts, and record-breaking television series’ (I Spy, Fat Albert) and side-splitting comedic films (Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s Do It Again) helped shape what can be now considered “family-friendly” comedy: not brash enough to scare off the preacher, but friendly enough to be viewed by all ages. The Cosby Show gave me a familial model to aspire to. The affluent African-American family, a two-parent household, responsible adults with professional careers, and well-mannered and respectable children was not shown in this light prior to Cosby’s illumination of it. A Diff’Rent World was the only reason I wanted to attend an HBCU. It’s also the reason I chose to become a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated. Never before had African-American youth been given a platform to be shown as intelligent, fun-loving, political, philanthropic, analytical, and human. For the duration of his comedic career, Cosby has been the protected pillar of laughter to all who have encountered him, directly or otherwise.

So, once his sexual prowess was made into fodder by Hannibal Burress in 2014, subsequently triggering hordes of victims to come forward, several questions and charges came into play. And several debatable points were to follow. Were the victims credible due to the time in which they chose to reveal their story? Were the victims credible at all? Is this a conspiracy created by “the white man” to keep Cosby from being a powerhouse in the entertainment and production industry (how many times has Cosby been allegedly in the process of purchasing NBC?). Of all the questions asked, however, the one that was never asked on a consistent basis remain this: what if he’s guilty? Then what? How do we handle taking America’s Favorite Dad to task for being America’s Most Wanted based on his predatory sexual prowess?

And what about the victims? Do they even matter? Have they ever?

Dr. Umar Abdullah Johnson is, [allegedly] by trade, a clinical school psychologist. Educated primarily on the east coast, he is said to hold degrees in both Psychology and Political Science. He is also rumored to be a descendant of abolitionist, author, and lecturer Fredrick Douglas. And while his resume’ does not read anything like Cosby’s, his aspirations can be held to the same standard. As a Garvey-enthused Pan Africanist (a principle that dictates that all African counties and individuals should be unified in some capacity for the benefit/advancement of their races and communities) and a school counselor, his stance on the miseducation and the mis-diagnosis of black youth in the educational system is a strong one. And a stance I agree with. His stance on creating a culturally and academically relevant space for our black boys [and girls] is one that needs to be both addressed and supported wholeheartedly. The Fredrick Douglas and Marcus Garvey International Academy for Black Boys (FDMG for short) is the brainchild of “Dr.” Johnson: a school for black boys, instructed and mentored by black staff, and guided by their black community. In theory, all of this sounds like the cement necessary to fill the educational gap for minorities.

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So when the same man who claims to be a para-professional places direct and primary blame on the parents of the very students he is recruiting for his school, side-eyes began to rise. When the same man, a clinical mental health professional, refers to sexually active women as having “THOTish Personality Disorder,” eyes in the mental health community rolled harder and faster than Snoop Dogg at a smoke fest. When this self-proclaimed “Prince of Pan-Africanism” began a GoFundMe to fund FDMG but has yet to locate a building, staff, or administration for its operation, questions began to arise. When the same man who gives “Women’s Only Conferences” informing single black mothers why they are so and how to no longer be has two outstanding child support cases from two separate women, trust began to be broken. When the same man gets on national television and proclaims abstinence just to be outed by the very stripper he was sleeping with at the time, hands flew in the air in frustration and disbelief.  But for every question raised and eye roll, an equal amount of advocates for Johnson came forward. The typical cries of “Stop looking for a reason to tear down another black man,” “He’s actually doing something for the community; what are YOU doing?” and “We need to protect him instead of judging him!” rang loud and clear. Even after being accused of not having the proper licensure to call himself a “doctor of psychology,” black men and women rallied around him like a messiah. Never once questioning his lies, his ethics as a mental health professional, or his morals as a black man. None of that mattered. What does matter is that this black man is uplifted and heralded, even in the midst of his mess.

I have never understood why we, as a people, are so desperate for a leader that we will neglect all good sense and every victim affected by the actions of men such as these two. What is so special about them that they must be saved? What, because they’re black? Because they’re black MEN? Because we actually do need more solid leaders among our people? While all these things are true, at what point do our leaders (or those with the potential to do so) become impervious to criticism? At what point will it ever be okay to hold our own to the very standards that all humans are expected to live by? Especially considering the fact that women in general (and black women specifically) are demanded to always know, and therefore do, better? Men are such powerful beings, and absolutely necessary to the evolution of this world, and the black community. But why are they privy to the privilege of protection that women are not? Why is there never a rally for punishment but always a call for us to forgive, understand, extend compassion to, and love the black man? Why is it that when he does wrong, it is not addressed? And why when it is addressed it’s dismissed with the loving arms of an understanding sista or brotha who cares more about the cause than they do humanity?

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Kawana N. Williams is a native Chicagoan and the author of, “Coming to My Crossroads", a memoir about her diagnosis of and struggles with ovarian cancer. She is currently a licensed Professional counselor with the State of Illinois.