Political analyst, author, and professor Jason Johnson is usually the one educating, so how will he do when it’s his turn to answer The Blackest Questions?
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Panama Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:06] Hi, and welcome to the Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Doctor Christina Greer, politics editor for theGrio and associate professor of political science at Fordham University. In this podcast, we asked our guests five of the Blackest questions so we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also going to learn a lot about Black history, past and present. So here’s the way this works. We have five rounds of questions about us Black history, the whole diaspora, current events, everything with each round. The questions will get a little bit tougher and the guest has 15 seconds to get it right. If they answer the question correctly, they will receive one symbolic Black fist. And hear this If they get it wrong, they’ll hear this, but we’ll still love them anyway. After the five questions, there will be Black bonus question round check all Black lightning at the end just for fun. Our guest for this episode is Dr. Jason Johnson. Dr. Johnson is a professor of political analyst and public speaker, known for his ability to bring down stories with wit and candor. Dr. Johnson is the author of The Political Consultants and Campaigns One Day to Sell. He’s a tenured professor at the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University. In my favorite city, Baltimore, Maryland doctor Johnson has an extensive public speaking, immediate background, ranging from pop culture to politics. He’s a political contributor and host at MSNBC and host of A Word with Jason Johnson is the podcast on Slate. He’s also an avid comic book collector and comic book fan and a long suffering Seahawks fan. Jason, thank you so much for joining the Blackest Questions. And some of our listeners may remember Jason and I had a podcast called What’s In It for Us on theGrio?
Jason Johnson [00:01:45] Welcome, I just want to let you know that I had not planned this, but I’m wearing a Black Lightning t-shirt. So I’m prepared for the Black Lightning Round. And if there are any questions about Black Lightning, I know all about Jefferson Pierce and his entire family. I’m set. I’m good to go.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:01] Listen, I have missed you so terribly. I absolutely loved when we had what’s in it for us when we just the two of us. I mean.
Jason Johnson [00:02:08] Really just, like, shot the shit for, like.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:11] You know, shout out to theGrio and shout out to everyone who made that happen. Because we were literally allowed to just thank you, Byron Allen, to literally just have 30 minutes to an hour of the two of us just talking about politics, pop culture, shenanigans, mayhem, chaos and whatever we felt like when it came to Black people. It was fantastic.
Jason Johnson [00:02:29] I really want the audience to know that the only difference between what’s in it for us and how Christi and I usually actually talk is the lack of profanity and slurs. That’s really.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:37] Oh, it’s true.
Jason Johnson [00:02:39] That’s really the only difference. It is the same conversation.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:42] I mean, I try you know, we try to make ourselves quite respectable for the air and, you know, use these like titles. But other than that, I mean, it is a whole bunch of whether it’s comic books or pop culture or television or, you know, why is everybody wearing eyelashes? I don’t know. I mean, these are things that we discuss on text and they just kind of came out of the podcast. Jason, are you ready to play the Blackest Questions?
Jason Johnson [00:03:05] Just want to add this. I was actually a contestant on The Weakest Link, so I am prepared for this. I’m totally prepared for this.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:12] Oh, I’m learning new stuff every day. Well, here’s our first question. Let’s see if you’re the weakest link when it comes to Black folks. Question number one, she was the first Ivy League African-American president and recently came out of retirement to lead as president of an HBCU. Who is she?
Jason Johnson [00:03:30] Oh, she’s I’m a political scientist, not a historian. I don’t think it’s Johnnetta Cole’s. Is it? Because I don’t think she was Ivy League. I mean, she was the president of Spelman. Mm hmm. And I was trying to think of the president on that one show, The Quad on BET. But that’s not a real person.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:50] No, this is a real person that is fictitious.
Jason Johnson [00:03:52] And it’s not Julianne Malveaux, because Julianne Malveaux was a president, I believe, of Bennett, but not of an Ivy League university. Can I call a Black friend?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:02] No. The Black friend that you’re calling is me. It’s Dr. Ruth Simmons.
Jason Johnson [00:04:06] I didn’t know. Okay. Oh, I didn’t know.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:08] Dr. Simmons before she was President Brown. She was president of Smith College. And I spent some time with Smith College on a fellowship. But in 2001, Ruth Simmons made history when she became the first African-American president of an Ivy League university, as well as Brown University’s first female president. And after five years of retirement from Brown, Simmons was invited to take on the presidency at Prairie View A&M University, an HBCU in Texas. Shout out to our colleague Melanie Price, who’s also a tenured professor at Prairie View A&M. And since 2017, she’s continued to serve as president of Prairie View. So, Dr. Simmons, I mean, you know, when I say in the pantheon of like brilliant Black women who were just leading the charge in academia, she’s clearly on the Mt. Rushmore, of all things. Just, you know, she’s with the Johnnetta Cole Dr. Johnnetta Cole, I should say on this pantheon. But, you know, we’re both in academia and I know that, you know. Before you went to grad school and undergrad, you were an army brat and traveled all over. Did you ever spend much time in Texas when you were traveling around?
Jason Johnson [00:05:07] Well, I can literally like honestly, Dr. Greer, I have been in Texas a grand total of three times in my entire life.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:15] Was that passing through Dallas Fort Worth Airport?
Jason Johnson [00:05:17] I mean, basically, like I went to Houston once. I went to Austin once for a wedding, and I think I was in Dallas airport on my way to another wedding. Like, I know nothing. I’m sorry no, I had one other trip to San Antonio. Yeah, three times. That’s it. That’s all I know about Dallas that’s all I know about Texas. And in fact, I also say, you know, because neither of my parents went to HBCUs and because my father’s in the military, I moved around a lot. I actually didn’t grow up around a lot of people with the HBCU experience. They didn’t have fraternity brothers or sisters or aunts and uncles who came by. And it’s interesting because in my family, well, there has been a push for kids to go to HBCUs. Most of the parents in my family have not so right my lack of history. That’s my justification.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:03] Even though Rick Simmons was the president of an HBCU and an Ivy. Right.
Jason Johnson [00:06:07] You know what?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:08] You know I’m not going to let you off the hook.
Jason Johnson [00:06:11] I’m trying. I’m trying here. I’m trying to dance my way out of it. It’s the best I can do. Like I said, I couldn’t name the lady from The Quad either. And I watched both seasons of that show. So, you know.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:18] I always tell people I went to an HWCU, so my mom went to an HBCU Florida Memorial and I have cousins who went to Spelman, Morehouse, Howard, and Famu in Tallahassee. But I mean, I was an HWCU because the same way that HBCUs were set up for the knowledge and excellence of Black people, I went to Tufts, which is, you know, initially set up for the knowledge, production and excellence of white men. So it’s an HWCU, as far as I’m concerned.
Jason Johnson [00:06:43] I kind of have to beat there. I went to The University of Virginia, which was created by a white man, so that he could have access to all of the young women that he had enslaved at that particular time to work out his issues after his wife died.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:54] So you’re like, so in the pantheon of horrible white men, founding schools you win.
Jason Johnson [00:06:59] I kind of have you beat just wanted to mention that he built the entire school around his ability to have access to enslaved women. But then denied it for years.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:08] Of course, because he was quote-on-quote dating. How do you date someone who was enslaved? Don’t even get me started. That’s going to be a tangent, but that’s a whole nother episode. But you know, you did go to two universities in the Deep South, so you went to UVA as an undergrad and then for post-graduate studies. Your alma mater is the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which is in many ways considered a public Ivy League institution, because so much of the norms and the mindset and I would just say the patterns of HWCU exclusionary practices are so poignant in the north and the south and all these institutions. Before we take a quick break. What’s one poignant memory that you have of your time that you have at UNC-Chapel Hill?
Jason Johnson [00:07:49] You know, it’s interesting. I would say that the vast majority of my time at UNC-Chapel Hill on campus was not great, because I it was the Ph.D program.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:01] Which I call College with no fun.
Jason Johnson [00:08:02] Right. Exactly. Completely. It’s going to cost you more. It was interesting going back to my alma mater. I had a great faculty there. Dan Guterman shoutout to the School of Public Policy, he is one of my favorite people. But my department itself, I point this out, I believe I was only the fifth African-American to get a Ph.D. in political science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I was the fifth, and that was 2009. So let that sink in. That ain’t a reflection of how smart I am. That’s a reflection of what that institution was like and how it treated the Black people who tried to go there. So that speaks volumes about what my experience was like at USC Chapel Hill, although the city itself and the graduate school experience outside was great.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:42] Fantastic. All right. We’ll be right back.
Panama Jackson [00:08:45] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:50] Calling all comic book fans. We’re debating some Black Panther history on the next Black as Questions podcast. Don’t miss two comic book know it all’s, take us on a historical journey. Who will truly claim Wakanda Forever? Okay, we’re back. I’m here with Dr. Jason Johnson playing the Blackest Questions. He’s 0 for one let’s see how we do.
Jason Johnson [00:09:08] Wow, wow, wow. You know what I mean? I got four more, so I’m prepared.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:12] I have faith in you, Jason Johnson. Okay, question number two. You ready to rock n roll?
Jason Johnson [00:09:17] I’m ready to rock and roll, which is Black. Just pointing out, I know that rock and roll is Black.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:23] Question number two Blending the African diaspora with science, philosophy and technology. This term was coined in the 1990s. Due to an ever growing cultural wave. That’s now being recognized as a powerful creative force that has long been a part of Black popular culture. What is it called?
Jason Johnson [00:09:40] I think that’s a really complicated way to ask about Afrofuturism.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:45] Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:46] You are correct. So Afrofuturism is a cultural esthetic that combines science fiction, history and fantasy to explore the African-American experience and aims to connect the Black diaspora with their African ancestry. Afrofuturism contains themes of reclamation, Black liberation and revisioning of the past and predictions of the future through a Black cultural lens in common. Afrofuturism is a cultural aesthetic that combines science fiction, history and fantasy. It also evaluates the past and future to create better conditions for the present generation of Black people through the use of technology, often presented through art, music and literature. So I know that you are basically an expert on this topic, so give us some of your favorite film and television examples of Afrofuturism for our audience.
Jason Johnson [00:10:30] Oh, so obviously there’s a big clear one, which is like Black Panther, but it’s not just Black Panther, the movie, it’s also sort of Black Panther, the comic book. There’s also Mosaic. There was a great book that came out in the nineties called Zero about a Black man who was an assassin who had to dress like a white man in order to sneak into different kinds of environments and actually do his job. There’s an example of sort of Black steampunk. So my Afrofuturism, the Isaac Award winning book, Bitterroot, which is actually being turned into a movie by Regina King, basically imagined like a steampunk version of the Ghostbusters. It takes place in 1920s Harlem. So these are all recent things, I’m working on my own graphic novel right now that I’m really super excited about. But it’s, on the down low. I got to be very, very quiet about what I’m working on. But I always, say this about Afrofuturism and sci-fi and everything else like that. This stuff, isn’t new? All of science fiction, all of science fiction is essentially rooted in Black people and those who don’t realize this. You know, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as an allegory about the Haitian revolution. Frankenstein was the monster that white colonialists had created that they had to take down. Babar, the elephant that we read as kids, was about whether or not you could assimilate Africans into French culture. Isaac Asimov’s Rules of Robots, right? They were based on slave codes. Why? Because the word robot has its root in Czechoslovakia and language for the word slave. Okay, all of this stuff. So every time you see a movie about robots rising up and gaining consciousness and killing the white folks who created them, it is literally a metaphor for Black people. So, you know, I’ve always thought that Afrofuturism, it’s great and it makes sense and it works, but it almost people get caught up in that term and forget that every single element of science fiction from The Terminator to Planet of the Apes and everything else like that, they’re usually metaphors for how white society has tried to wrestle with the existence of Black people who they attempted to enslave, who one day broke free.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:29] Which also seems like I hear you saying in the undergirding conversation is also the fear of Black people rising up.
Jason Johnson [00:12:36] Exactly.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:37] Fear is the undercurrent of so much of this conversation.
Jason Johnson [00:12:40] Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:41] Wow. I look. I see. And, you know, the thing is, this isn’t really my genre. You know, I love a good 30 minutes sitcom, and that’s what I watch over and over again. Like, I’m four years old. I can literally just watch the same movie for, you know, the next six years in a row. But okay. Before we take a quick break, who’s your favorite Afro futuristic author that you really enjoy reading?
Jason Johnson [00:13:03] Favorite Afro futuristic author right now? I don’t know. I mean, I read Nnedi Okorafor. I think she’s done some good stuff. I like I liked Eve Ewing’s. You know, the author Eve Ewing. I liked her writing on Ironheart. I can say I interviewed Phil Bootie, who is a conceptual designer who helped come up with the costumes for Black Panther and Wakanda Forever. And while he’s not a writer, I mean, the way that he creates costumes and the way that he sort of does worldbuilding. I’m a huge fan of. So there’s a lot of people who are sort of involved in the steps of creating a sort of mainstreaming Afrofuturism, that I’m a fan of. I can’t think of a specific author because I think it’s involved in too much.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:48] Well, I will say I’ve read some of Nnedi Okorafor and I actually really enjoyed it and that’s not my genre. But I thought it was a great introduction for someone like me who’s like eh, this isn’t really my thing. I thought her writing was really accessible and I say that as a compliment. And then obviously viewing shadows even, you know, I always every year on the anniversary of Emmett Till’s death, I always post a poem that she wrote about Emmett Till, which I think is the most beautiful thing is of our listeners. So let’s take a quick break, and I’m here with Dr. Jason Johnson.
Panama Jackson [00:14:19] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:24] Okay, we’re back. I’m here with my dear, dear friend. We’re playing The Blackest Questions. You’re doing pretty well. One for one.
Jason Johnson [00:14:31] I feel smarter now. I feel smarter.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:33] That’s right, you’re at 50%.
Jason Johnson [00:14:35] I feel womansplained. Now I’ve taken the red pill I’m just saying.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:38] Well, you know, I’ve always given you a hard time about your shenanigans and mayhem. Okay, question number three. You ready, Rock?
Jason Johnson [00:14:44] I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready to Milly Rock. I’m good.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:48] Question number three. She is known most notably to serve as co-anchor on ABC World News Tonight alongside Peter Jennings. From 1978 until 1983. As the first Black network news anchor in the United States. Who is he?
Jason Johnson [00:15:04] Goodness gracious. It could have been easier if you said Bernard Shaw, who we just recently lost. I know Bernard from 1979 to 1983?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:15] 1972 to 1983.
Jason Johnson [00:15:16] 1973?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:16] Co-anchor. ABC World News Tonight, alongside the late Peter Jennings.
Jason Johnson [00:15:22] Co-anchor, late 80’s? I mean, Lester is still here. Bernard just passed. This is this is I’m I’m racking my brain. I know it’s not. Gosh, I think I think I think I might be stumped. I mean, I’m trying to I’m trying to think this is this will be a time that I would like call Roland Martin. And he would talk my ear off for 20 minutes as to why I don’t know this.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:44] Right. Why don’t you know this?
Jason Johnson [00:15:47] Going to be, like, shaming me right now, but, like, and then, like, offer me seven books that I should have read.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:52] Right. So the answer is Max Robinson. And I want to remind our listeners, this is not a show where we get everything right. This is a show so we can all learn more about Black people in Black culture.
Jason Johnson [00:16:03] She’s trying to cover for me.
[00:16:04] No, because you’re brilliant. But I mean, you know, listen, I’ve been on the on the other side of the hot seat and I was oh for three when I was on our our dear friend Panama’s podcast for theGrio. So Max Robinson started his broadcasting career as a disc jockey in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and he moved to Washington in 1965. And after becoming the first Black person to co-anchor a national news broadcast at ABC in 1978, he spoke about the racial prejudice at his workplace to Smith College audience, actually in 1981. In 1983, he left the network after being demoted and lasted only two years at Chicago’s WMAQ befor leaving to freelance, and he essentially disappeared from public view. But he spoke out frequently on behalf of better treatment and more visibility for Blacks in the media. So we have Max Robinson to thank for our careers on various networks and what we do as we sit alongside other scholars and intellects and journalists, but also as we host and co-host various shows. And so you mentioned Bernard Shaw. And so Max Robinson was said to be close friends with Bernard Shaw for over 20 years. And we recently lost, as you mentioned. And so we’ve commented, you know, we thought about Shaw’s impact on reporting these last few weeks. But do you think that Black journalists get recognized as much as some of their counterparts? I mean, the fact that we don’t know who Max Robinson is to me is a disgrace in what we’re doing in the larger media sphere.
Jason Johnson [00:17:26] Well, I think I think there’s a difference between what your average news consumer should know and like what my obligation should be as a faculty in the school of journalism. I mean, because I could name a ton of anchors and I can name a ton of reporters. Right. But the history of journalism may or may not be something that most people actually know. I think if you ask your average American, can you name the nightly news anchor in the town you grew up in? They can’t tell you, can you name who could? Most people tell you if they were shown pictures. Who is Dan Rather? Who is Peter Jennings and who was Tim Russert? I bet you most people wouldn’t know. I mean, I really don’t think most people would actually where all of those things maybe our parents age would. So I think we have this tendency sometimes to disassociate from the people who deliver us news. They come into our homes every single night, or at least they did for the last 15 years or so. I don’t think most people would know that. And so, you know, and certainly when it comes to Black folk, I mean, probably some of the longest tenured journalists that had the biggest impact on my life besides Bernard Shaw was Gwen Ifill. Right away, I watched Gwen Ifill when I was a kid. Bryant Gumbel. Right. You know, Stuart Scott. Like these are the people who I grew up watching. But I think in today’s sort of diversified media environment, I don’t know who those people will be. I mean, probably Joy, Joy Reid, but that’s probably the most consistent face, her and Lester Holt, probably the most consistent faces that anybody in Gen Y or Gen Z are ever going to see.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:18:49] Right and I think we’ve sort of made the shift from network to cable representation. And so I definitely think that Joy Reid is in that pantheon now because so many people don’t even watch local TV anymore. Right. I mean, I think it’s so interesting that you mentioned Bryant Gumbel because, you know, he’s such a prolific journalist. And, you know, now he’s moved over to sort of sports with his brother Greg. But I definitely remember it was such a big deal that he was on the Today Show.
Jason Johnson [00:19:13] Oh, yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:14] Morning. Yes. So the fact that he was he was on our television, we had that that tiny little Black and white TV in the kitchen. And so when I’m eating my Pop-Tarts and strawberries before I went to school, he was there, you know, with what was a Katie Couric.
Jason Johnson [00:19:28] It was Katie Couric. Yes.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:29] In the morning. And, you know, he just there was there is a level of intellect about him that just seemed so far beyond many of the conversations he was having.
Jason Johnson [00:19:41] Bryant Gumbel is one of the many people in journalism and one of the sort of media entities that I always say. I appreciate that he got to do a lot of his work prior to the internet, and here’s why. He took a lot of heat on Black radio and sort of Black commentariat that existed pre-Internet about not being Black enough. About not addressing issues that were concerns of our community. And, you know, and he was usually like, hey, you know, it’s not my job. It’s first thing in the morning, I got to work with Katie. But if you see the second half of his career, what he’s done with Real Sports on Bryant Gumbel, clearly this is a guy who was always down, right.
Bryant Gumbel [00:20:17] I know you hear the right things. But as African-Americans, all of us are used to hearing stuff and knowing. Both when we hear it. You know, I don’t know if it is at the time, but I know that the results are.
Jason Johnson [00:20:30] But the things that he’s done. And I believe at this point, I mean, he’s been doing Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel for at least 20 years.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:38] At least 20 years. Yeah, I remember when he first started doing it, I was like, hey, isn’t that your your brother’s bandwidth stepping on Greg’s toes? Right. Right. The the content, the the level of the stories that he’s telling, the Real Sports is so elevated. I mean, it’s it’s beyond a 30 for 30. It’s a real deep investigative, journalistic dive that really shows that he’s you know, he was so disinterested in making pancakes that in the morning, you know, he almost like couldn’t even hide it. And he was like, I’m not here for this banter in the Hawaiian shirt with you, Willard Scott. I don’t care. Like, even as a kid, I picked up on it. Right?
Jason Johnson [00:21:15] Right. Right. You know.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:16] And and I think there was this interesting dynamic of this Black man who was also seen as, like, not nice to his white female.
Jason Johnson [00:21:23] Yes, yes, yes. I mean, he.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:25] He’s mean, quote unquote to her.
Jason Johnson [00:21:28] We didn’t have the word shady in 1991. But you could just like if the camera it was very like the office, you know, if the camera would just pan over, I guess he’s like, why am I here? Why? Oh, hey. Hey, Katie. Right.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:38] We didn’t say, girl back in the day. But if you could right, Bryant Gumbel would be a meme. That was like girl. Gee, G-U-R-L, exclamation point. Oh, okay. You know what? We need to have a whole separate.
Jason Johnson [00:21:51] Yes, yes.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:53] You go down the rabbit hole of the Today show. Okay. We’re going to take a quick break with James Johnson.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:57] We’ll be right on back.
Panama Jackson [00:21:58] You are now listening to theGrio Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:03] Okay, we’re back. I’m here with my dear friend Jason Johnson. We’re playing the Black questions and we are here for question number four. Jason, you doing all right? I so appreciate you being here.
Jason Johnson [00:22:14] I’m adequate. I’m one for three. At this particular point.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:18] It’s hard in the hot seat, it’s really hard in the hot seat.
Jason Johnson [00:22:20] Really challenging for me. I got to tap into my inner Black lightning. I’m ready.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:23] And I get lovely DMs and texts from our listeners who were just like, I got two out of five this week, you know? And it’s it’s really it’s really hard to be in the hot seat. I mean, I’ve had the tables turned and I did not do well, so I get it. Okay. Question number four, featuring prominent African-American and other Black historical figures, this is one of the only museums in the nation dedicated to the preservation of African-American history. What museum is it?
Jason Johnson [00:22:52] My first thought would have been the Motown Museum or the Archive of the Source Awards. But the actual answer is the Black Sonia, the National Museum of African American History. That is in Washington, D.C., where theGrio had a party during the White House Correspondents Dinner just a couple of months ago.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:23:09] Well, actually, for the sake of this question, it’s actually the National Grape Blacks and Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
Jason Johnson [00:23:17] I was only like 40 minutes away.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:23:20] Listen, you’re down the road. So and this is actually my aunt’s museum, Dr. Joe Wade Martin, who’s she and her late husband, were both professors at Coppin, also in Maryland. So the great Blacks and Wax Museum was established in 1983 and in a downtown storefront on Saratoga Street in Baltimore or Baltimore, as they say. And since its opening, the museum has become a prominent, nationally recognized institution. It’s evolved into a powerful compendium of wax figures. It houses approximately 150 figures and people from the past from obviously Dr. King and Rosa Parks to the President Obama. But there’s also this is my favorite section. There’s also a section on Black Baltimoreans. So various politicians and individuals who’ve made the city of Baltimore such a great and beautiful city. And I always tell all of my students, you have to have two favorite cities, one favorite U.S. city, one non-U.S. city, and Baltimore, Maryland is my absolute favorite U.S city. So before we get into your.
Jason Johnson [00:24:16] We never understood that. But that’s just fine. I know you love I mean, look, there’s pretty things in Baltimore. It’s never been my faith. It wouldn’t be wouldn’t be my favorite city. It wouldn’t be my top three favorite American cities.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:29] Charm City? The city that reads in appropriate libraries, the cobblestone streets, the skyline, the architecture. I mean, it was in competition with New York, New York with, you know, finance, Baltimore with shipping New York won fine. But the air in Baltimore, my skin is amazing whenever I’m there, it’s on the water. Oh, the birds are there. This is when I tell people, you know what these people like to listen to go go and go to Washington, D.C., whatever. Go to Baltimore, it’s way more than just crabs. It is when I say it’s called Charm City for a reason. There is a level of beauty and joy that that city brings me. What’s your favorite U.S. city since you moved around?
Jason Johnson [00:25:08] A lot? You know, my favorite U.S. city will probably be Atlanta. I mean, it’s not it’s not the most creative thing for a Black American to say.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:14] Oh, Jason Johnson absolutely not. That’s like saying my favorite restaurant is Golden Corral.
Jason Johnson [00:25:18] You know what? First off, P.F. Chang’s. Thank you. Get it right. It’s like a second coming to a strip mall near you. No, I actually really like Atlanta. I’ve always loved it. I like seeing all sorts of Black and brown people all the time. I like that there are tons of things you can do. I don’t really tend to. I mean, it’s interesting. Lots of cities have amazing history, blah, blah, blah. You can go see the history. That’s not what presses me. I mean, yes, I’ve been to the the MLK Library. I’ve been to a sort of, you know, historic Georgia things. I just literally like the energy of the city. I always have. And I went there for ten years. Like, it just it just feels it just feels comfortable when I’m actually there. And even as the traffic has gotten worse, and even if they’ve had their sort of interesting political things one way or another, I actually it’s it is a place that you can live and actually enjoy and multiple parts of your life. There’s a lot of cities that are fun, like as a teenager or in your twenties or thirties or fifties and 60, 70. Atlanta is a city that you can enjoy throughout your entire life. Like, I wouldn’t want to live in L.A. as a senior citizen.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:15] Oh, gosh. Right. And I mean, and as a New Yorker, I’m thinking, like, when do I have to leave this city? Because I went up and down these subway stairs. If I’m 85 years old and getting moved by the riff raff, I don’t know if that’s really for me. But I will say this. I mean, Baltimore is a blackety Black city. And it’s such a beautiful politically city. Don’t forget, you know, Nancy Pelosi’s family, the D’Alesandros, are from there long history of Black leadership. You know, Ta-Nehisi Coates and I can talk for hours. I mean, I think I may love Baltimore more than he does. His first book, Beautiful Struggle, you know, obviously details Baltimore. It is an ode. But even the first time we ever met and I went off on Baltimore, he was looking at me like and most Baltimoreans look at me this way. I don’t understand how you’re not from here. You need to work in the tourism bureau. Like, it doesn’t make sense that you were this much of a fan of Baltimore and you don’t live here. But I’ve spent so much time. I mean, every free moment I had high school and college. I was in Baltimore. I’m going in like two weeks just cause.
Jason Johnson [00:27:14] It’s funny, I’m just pointing out that if Dr. Greer does not come by and visit me and speak to my department, which is there in two weeks, I’ll be quite offended. But she sneaks into the city. Doesn’t necessarily tell me. I will say this also about the city. I, you know, while I teach there, why teacher at Morgan State University, which is sort of the the north sort of the northeastern corner of the city. I always like my experience of Baltimore is very much like this biopsy. Like I come straight in downtown, drive all the way through. I see everything from like Fells Point to Camden Yards, and then I sort of go into the more sort of under-resourced places that are now beginning to gentrify because it’s the last affordable city on the East Coast that hasn’t been completely eaten up by Zillow. So I haven’t lived there, which I guess sort of changes my experience. I usually go in, I teach, have that experience and I leave.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:00] Well, maybe we’ll do a live taping of his questions with Jason Johnson in Baltimore. I implore all of our listeners to go to Baltimore. But you know, the running joke about Baltimore before we take a break is, you know, people always said if the world is coming to an end, move to Baltimore because everything in Baltimore happens 20 years later. So, afe and sound. And on that note, we’re going to take a quick break.
Panama Jackson [00:28:22] You are now listening to theGrio is Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:27] Okay, we’re back. I’m here with my dear, dear friend, Dr. Jason Johnson, and we’re playing the Blackest questions. Jason Johnson, are you ready for question number five?
Jason Johnson [00:28:34] I am ready to win this question because apparently the rest of these have been fixed. This entire thing is rigged, the whole system is rigged. And I am prepared for questions that I can actually answer that haven’t been based specifically on things I won’t know. So I’m prepared. Okay, I’m.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:48] Ready. Well, I will. Come on a word with Jason Johnson at any time and be see. And you do you can ask me all types of questions that I know and I’ll sit there just with my nerves. Like, I don’t know Jason, I don’t know.
Jason Johnson [00:28:59] You’re going to edit out like 80% of them, but that’s fine.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:29:01] Okay, here we go. Question number five. In the late 1960s, the first African-American appeared in mainstream comics. Who is he?
Jason Johnson [00:29:13] In mainstream comics?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:29:15] And that’s the clue in mainstream comics.
Jason Johnson [00:29:19] Okay. Because this is the late 1960s, I believe. All right. So it was it was Fantastic Four number 57 is the first appearance of Black Panther. Black Panther appeared before Jon Stewart, which I think was the 1972 Black Lightning, which I think it was 1974. But you had a Jungle King character in Gold Key Comics that was actually in the early sixties. And it actually being Black Panther was first created. He was the cold tiger. He was a Black Panther. But if you’re saying mainstream, I’m assuming it’s a marvel or DC. So that’s got to be Black Panther.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:29:59] Okay, well, according to my research is Samuel Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon.
Jason Johnson [00:30:08] Wrong, I’m disputing this.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:30:09] Okay, well, I will talk to my producers because, you know, I’m basically Alex Trebek. I’m not. I’m not. Well, The Falcon, though, this can be a bit tricky for comic fans. This is according to our research here at theGrio, The Blackest Questions. This can be a bit tricky for comic book fans since the first Black superhero to appear in mainstream American comic books is Marvel’s The Black Panther, who first appeared in Fantastic Four, number 52 in July 1966, the first major Black character to be featured in comic strips. It was in cartoonist Lee Foxx’s adventure comic strip Mandrake The Magician, which featured the African supporting character Lothar from its 1934 debut, The Falcon, introduced by Stan Lee and Gene Colan in 1969 in Captain America, is noted as the first Black character to appear in a mainstream comic. He could fly on mechanical wings and control birds via telepathy, and the superhero from Harlem often slipped into the role of Captain America.
Jason Johnson [00:31:05] Ummm, no.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:05] Okay, I saw we take it to the Comic-Con crowd.
Jason Johnson [00:31:09] I’m taking this to the comic… I’m literally sharing this with my blerd group because what, number one, Falcon got his wings from Black Panther. So, yeah. So I don’t know that he was the Falcon wasn’t a superhero initially. He was a sidekick. And if you go back to the first sort of mainstream comics, we’re talking Marvel and DC, that would be Mal Duncan, who appeared in the sixties version of the Teen Titans. So I, I dispute this. I am, I am stamping my fist down say I don’t think I would say Falcon was the first. It would either be Black Panther or you can have Lothar, which was interesting because he was never given any real powers and he wasn’t part of that. Lothar Flash Gordon Flash Gordon Mandrake The Magician. There was a cartoon called Defenders of the Earth in the eighties that sort of resurrected that character back. But I dispute this is okay.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:59] So, okay, first of all, I love this and I love you. This is the first, you know, disputed response in The Blackest Questions. Now we’ve got call the audience and and have people sort of let us know which is which. Maybe we should just we should call Marvel and DC and sort of.
Jason Johnson [00:32:17] I’m literally I’m literally because because like if you if you go back and again some of this has to do with your definition of what a superhero is or what a mainstream comic is, right? Okay. Mainstream is only Marvel and DC then. I’m almost 100% sure that that Black Panther preceded the Falcon who released the Falcon when he got his wings. Because initially he didn’t have wings. He just had he just had the bird that he had the telepathic communication thing with. If you go back to Black characters, period. Well, yes, that goes earlier. And I think that would include Mal Duncan, who didn’t have powers but was part of The Teen Titans. So some of this definition based.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:52] So, I’m going to take a guess. Are you really into comics?
Jason Johnson [00:32:55] I’m just going to say that I have an access in my brain to Wikipedia for all sorts of petty Black information.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:02] Well, anything but this is a pretty Black information. I really appreciate this, Jason, because, you know, not only have you spoken at Comic-Con in San Diego, right? I mean, so much of it, at least for me, observing how. Your knowledge and love of comic books has expanded more into the public sphere. It is also, I mean, going right in lockstep with what this podcast is all about is really making sure people know the history of Black people in this country, whether it’s real or in comic books. Right. Because we have been erased from so much of the narrative and so many of our contributions, it is definitely important. So we’ll get it right. We’ll have to have an addendum on to the episode once we figure out whether it’s Falcon or Black Panther or maybe the nuance of the language of superhero versus comic book, we’ll figure it out. But I think it goes back to your statement about sort of Afrofuturism, where it’s just there is also this underlying fear of sort of Black people in mainstream anything, white people as like leaders and characters of our own stories, Black people and like heroes of our own world, God forbid.
Jason Johnson [00:34:06] Right. Right. God forbid that they have that kind of agency, God forbid. And if you look at a lot of those. Here it was. Because here’s the other thing. If you were if you were talking about sort of appearances of people, you could also argue James Rhodes, who was Tony Stark’s. Yeah. So if you’ve ever seen those Marvel movies, he’s War Machine. He’s played by Don Cheadle.
Don Cheadle [00:34:23] Well, we want to take the high ground. Okay. So look at the biggest gun up on that, right?
Jason Johnson [00:34:28] Right. Okay. Yeah. It was initially Terrence Howard, then Don Cheadle. James Rhodes, who became war machine, appeared in like the first ten issues, I think, of Iron Man and he eventually became War Machine. So again, a lot of this has to do with how are you calling somebody a hero and what do you mean by mainstream comic? There’s a lot of those sort of Black characters appeared very early on and didn’t get powers until later, but were considered part of the superhero team. So, you know, Rhodes, Falcon, Jefferson Pierce, T’Challa, all of them, they’re all kind of bouncing around the sixties. It depends on which one you want to start with.
Don Cheadle [00:35:02] And I just saw somewhere John Majors is going to be one of the new superheroes coming.
Jason Johnson [00:35:06] Yeah. So so Jonathan Majors. Which, which most people have discovered him through Lovecraft Country, which if you haven’t seen it is one of the best 8 episodes of anything to anybody has ever seen and indicative of how frustrating our modern media environment can be that you can have a show like that that has such critical acclaim, was rewatched at one of the highest rates of anything over the pandemic, and yet couldn’t get a second season because of.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:35:31] Shameful. Shameful.
Jason Johnson [00:35:32] Yeah. Complications.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:35:33] I loved him in Last Black man in San Francisco.
Jason Johnson [00:35:36] I haven’t seen that. I haven’t seen that yet. But him and I thought him and Jurnee Smollett and Wunmi Mosaku, I believe, who played Jurnee Smollett sister. I thought so many of the roles in that movie are Courtney B Williams.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:35:49] Michael Kenneth Williams.
Jason Johnson [00:35:51] I mean, like they were kind of just, just too much talent for that particular show. But yeah, like there’s he’s going to be playing, he plays Kang the Conqueror, who really basic for people who aren’t into comic books, is basically this brilliant Black man who was a scientist in another dimension, realized that he could build relationships with versions of himself in every single dimension across time and space, and started a war between himself across multiple universes.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:36:17] Oh my gosh. Okay, you know what? Here’s the deal. This isn’t really my genre, as I said before, but I’m going to say we’re going to go to that when it comes out.
Jason Johnson [00:36:27] That would be cool that’s going to be next spring.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:36:29] Whether it’s East Coast, West Coast. I’ll even dress up, I’m into it.
Jason Johnson [00:36:33] You don’t have to put on a costume persay that’s not quite the 40 year old version, but yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:36:39] That’s not mandatory? I thought everybody had to dress up all the time.
Jason Johnson [00:36:41] This is my cosplay.
[00:36:42] Okay, so I’ll wear a T-shirt of some sort cause I want to support you and your interests, and I want to support Jonathan Majors. All right. We’ll take a quick break before we get to Black Lightning.
Panama Jackson [00:36:50] You were now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:36:55] Okay, Jason, before I let you get out here, we’ve got time for the Black bonus questions in the bonus round with no right answers, you just tell me how you feel. I like to call it Black Lightning and I feel like that sounds like a comic book so you know.
Jason Johnson [00:37:07] And I’m lightning quick with my clickety clack. So there we go.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:37:10] And these are just this is off the dome. You tell me how you feel. Okay.
Jason Johnson [00:37:13] Okay. Freestyle.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:37:14] Freestyle. That’s right. If you had to choose DC or Marvel?
Jason Johnson [00:37:19] Marvel’s got more Black people.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:37:22] Jefferson Pierce a.k.a Black Lightning or Virgil Hawkins, a.k.a. Static?
Jason Johnson [00:37:26] Virgil Hawkins all the way.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:37:28] Groundbreaking roles for Black Women in Afrofuturism, TV and comics. Goes to Michonne from The Walking Dead? Or Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek?
Jason Johnson [00:37:36] Definitely, Lieutenant Uhura. I actually didn’t like how Michonne was written in The Walking Dead for a very, very long time. And then when they decided to ignore the relationships that she had with African-American men and partner up with Rick, which I had absolutely no sense at the end of the show, I really think they wasted what had been built with her in the comic book.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:37:53] Russell Wilson or Warren Moon?
Jason Johnson [00:37:55] Oh, now, or Russell Wilson, Warren Moon. I would have to say Warren Moon only for this reason. Russell Wilson’s one of my favorite football players. Warren Moon. There was so much racism in the NFL that when he was drafted they wouldn’t let him play quarterback. So he had to go to Canada and won four Canadian Super Bowls before he was able to come back to the United States and play as a quarterback. So that to fight through that kind of racism and still be that impressive for that time, I have to give a slight edge to Warren Moon. But Russell Wilson’s currently my, my my current favorite Black quarterback.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:38:26] Okay, better stand up Chris Rock or Martin Lawrence?
Jason Johnson [00:38:30] I have never liked Martin Lawrence and I’ve never thought it was funny. It’s good. It’s got I’m just I’m saying I never thought Martin Lawrence was funny. I I’ve watched a grand total of three episodes of Martin the TV show. It’s just not funny. And I love Tanisha Arnold and I love her in Everybody Hates Chris. And she was funny in the clips I’ve seen from her, but I was never, never a big fan of Martin.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:38:49] But I mean, even Martin’s stand ups?
Jason Johnson [00:38:51] No, I. I always thought his stand up was a little blue for me. And I didn’t I didn’t find his show funny. I don’t even think I’ve seen I think I’ve seen one one Bad Boys.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:01] Oh, interesting.
Jason Johnson [00:39:02] I know. Super hot take.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:05] Me, I’m always like, you mind if I drank a glass a water. Ok, interesting. We’re going to have to have a whole conversation about Martin because I have some I have some real thoughts, ok better voice, Aretha or Whitney?
Jason Johnson [00:39:15] Hmmm probably Whitney just because I’m more familiar with her music, but also because her songs have resonated with me more. But if I were a musicologist, if I were someone who actually knew music, I would give a more honest answer. So, Whitney, for me, based on my ignorance of what octaves are actually supposed to be, how people are supposed to sound.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:33] Okay, cause I’m going to have to play you some Arthea, but that’s okay cause I’m like, I’m going with Martin Lawerence. I’m going with Arteha. Would you want to live in Wakanda?
Jason Johnson [00:39:43] No, I would not want to live in Wakanda. And the main reason why is because people don’t understand this, because it’s a part of the comic. But, you know, they sort of they clean it up for MCU. Well, on that’s kind of racist. And they don’t really like foreigners. And it’s it’s a theocratic monarchy. Even though Ta-Nehisi Coates sort of wrote the change to the monarchy, it’s a more democratic system, but it’s a theocratic monarchy full of xenophobic elitists. And if I were to show up, they probably wouldn’t look too kindly upon me. Literally, the whole movie is about them basically deciding if they want to deal with those nasty, mongrel sized African Americans as opposed to keep their pure people back in their own country. So, I mean, Zamunda, I might want to take it there. That seems like a relatively nice place, but what I would have to be there on a research grant in the hopes that I’d be treated with respect.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:40:28] I was totally team Killmonger all the way. I was like, I don’t understand why everyone’s like, against Killmonger. I’m like, I’m with him. I understand your beef brah.
Jason Johnson [00:40:34] He hade a bad plan. Because his plan was terrible.
[00:40:36] But I get the beef. Okay. Who’s your favorite comic book hero?
Jason Johnson [00:40:43] By powers. By powers. My favorite comic book hero is The Flash. I’ve always thought the idea of super speed in life would be amazing by reading just pure, unadulterated enjoyment. My favorite character is probably Spider-Man. I’ve loved Spider-Man since I was a kid. I’ve always thought that that his his struggle, the sort of working class kid thing, even though that was not my life, it made sense to me. He was a superhero who had real world problems about making his own costume and paying rent and stuff like that. And he always had a sort of acerbic sense of humor, which made sense to me.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:41:13] Okay, last question. What is your prized possession?
Jason Johnson [00:41:17] I have been keeping journals and diaries since I was in seventh grade. On days when I’m feeling particularly reflective, I can literally look back on August 27th and look at what I was thinking on that day. Over the last 35 or 40 years of my life. Within that month, it has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever made for myself. I also took almost every single major email between me and loved ones and friends all throughout graduate school and undergrad, and printed them out and put them in folders so I can look back on my entire life, my journals and my collection of old emails are my prized possession to keep me humble. It gives me a lot of insight about life, and one day there will be gifts that I give to my own kids so they know what their dad was actually thinking about drugs when he was in college. Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:00] I adore you, Jason. I just want to thank you so much for joining us on The Blackest Questions Promise you’ll come back?
Jason Johnson [00:42:07] I will definitely come back and I will have you on my podcast and then you can give me all sorts of shenanigans and heat there and tell me that I’m a terrible, unloyal person and we will have a field day.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:17] Well, and also, I mean, Jason Johnson for our listeners, I mean, most of you know that he is part of theGrio family and he sometimes writes for theGrio, but obviously he joins us in our various podcasts on the Black Podcast Network at theGrio. And I just want to thank Jason Johnson for joining us today.
Jason Johnson [00:42:32] Thank you.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:33] Thank you for listening to The Blackest Questions. This show is produced by Akilah Sheldrick, Jessie Vargas and Sasha Armstrong. If you like what you heard, please download theGrio app and listen and watch many more great shows and share it with everyone you know. So was Jason Johnson, right or wrong?
Jason Johnson [00:42:50] Wrong. I am disputing this.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:53] We’re bringing in a comic book writer and expert to help us figure this out. So don’t miss next week’s episode of The Blackest Question. We’re bringing Jason back and he’ll be joined by comic book expert and writer Evan Narcisse.
Maiysha Kai [00:43:08] Don’t forget, you can listen to theGrio’s Writing Black Podcast hosted by me, Maiysah Kai. This isn’t your typical writing podcast. We interview any and everybody that has anything to do with writing from comics to poets to authors to journalists, to politicians and more. Remember, that’s Writing Black every Sunday, right here on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, download theGrio’s app to listen to Writing Black wherever you are.