Somethin' Proper, the Autobiography of Marvin X, from the introduction by Dr. Nathan Hare
photo Kamau Amen Ra
Somethin' Proper, the Autobiography of Marvin X, Black Bird Press, 1998
from the Introduction by Dr. Nathan Hare, the Black Think Tank
In SOMETHIN' PROPER, we quickly see that we are inside the pages not only of Marvin's private political papers, comprising a lyrical diary shaped to be read and enjoyed like a novel by the masterful hands of an internationally noted black poet, but we are being escorted to the cutting edge of a fascinating postmodern black literary genre in the making, the notes of an undying black warrior who refuses to give up, give out or give in!
Although easy to read by almost anybody wishing to do so, SOMETHIN' PROPER (apparently a phrase from the drug subculture, i.e., BREAK ME OFF SOMETHIN' PROPER), presents us at once with an opportunity for a deeper understanding of a panorama of participants in the often poignant but sometimes hilarious inner workings of the black male psyche, from the middle class bourgeois pretenders such as "tenured Negroes" on the academic plantation and their "negrocity," to "coconuts" in the corporations, and across the spectrum to brothers in the hood, particularly the way in which utility and haughty demeanor conceal and mask the panoramic and pervasive depression of the black male.
Before his death at the early age of 36, Frantz Fanon, the black psychiatrist who lived and wrote about the relations between the oppressor and oppressed in the battle of Algiers (Wretched of the Earth; Black Skin, White Masks, and A Dying Colonialism), presented us with clear psychiatric paradigms for the struggles Marvin deftly captures for us.
Marvin is able to give us insights into himself and his affiliates (Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Little Bobby Hutton, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis, et.al., that are original but reminiscent of Fanon, because Marvin is bearing the covers on his life and the life of others.
Of all the many disorders and distortions that plague the black male, each and every day, perhaps the ones that take the heaviest tool on his ravished brain are those that—if not contained by armed resistance—revolve around the painful difficulty of gaining control over his individual and collective destiny, around what is known in mental health circles as "the locus of control," the dilemma of resistance to the enemy from without and the enemy from within (including the self, if we consider that there can be no master without those who, for whatever reason, are willing to be a slave). Might makes right but not for long.
If we honor the likes of Patrick Henry for saying "give me liberty or give me death," it is no matter that when the Negro says give him liberty or death the white man tries to give him death! The so-called Negro is confronted with a choice Patrick Henry had not reckoned with, something Fanon called "reactional disorders" or "psychosomatic pathology" that is the direct product of oppression.
But out of a last ditch desperation in self-medication and the management of his pulverized and thwarted emotions, in a mindless effort to soothe his psychological and social wounds, the black male is introduced unwarily if discreetly to the vicious cycle of self-mutilation and induced addiction, which takes hold and spreads like an epidemic virus as part of the psycho-technology, historically, of the white man's oppression of the North American African and others around the world.
In his powerlessness and victimization, with nothing left to lean on, the black man is likely to mount the seesaw, if not the roller coaster of racial psycho-social dependency and messianic religiosity (becoming the mad-dog religious fanatic, believing in a savior other than himself) on the one hand and the individual chemical dependent on the other, i.e. the dope fiend.
Marvin decontructs both. In the bottomless caverns of addiction in any form, there seems no amount of religiosity, coke, crack, alcohol or sex sufficient to sedate the social angst and shattered cultural strivings.
The more the black man tempts to medicate his anxiety and to mask his depression and self doubts with pretense and hostility, the more he finds himself in trouble with the persons he must love and be loved by than with the alien representatives of the society that would control and castrate his manhood.
Novelist Richard Wright, addressing these paradoxes and dilemmas in his own autobiography BLACK BOY, explained that, "Because I had no power to make things happen outside of me in the objective world, I made things happen within. Because my environment was bare and bleak, I endowed it with unlimited potentialities, redeemed it for the sake of my own hungry and cloudy yearning."
The catch is in the way these things turn out after the boy has been taken through the meat grinder of growing up within the machinery of white social control. In response, the strategy or road most taken by both Marvin X and Richard Wright, to put it simply, is FLIGHT (what Wright as a matter of fact names the middle passage of his novel, Native Son, book 2 of 3).
As surely as the individual who accepts oppression is constantly in flight from his racial identity, the black man who rejects it is constantly on the run from the agency of white supremacy that must control him and wishes to annihilate him outright. And here is where Marvin's story is most valuable to us , helping us to grasp the meaning of the tradition of escape within our race, literature and history, stretching back to the slave trade and slave ships of the middle passage, down to the demanding requirements of escape from coercion, incarceration and surveillance in the modern era: he takes us through a childhood of continual efforts to avoid juvenile hall, to the flights of his father (despite punishing ambiguities, Marvin X dedicates his book to both his parents in memorial), calling upon pure personal honesty and the deepest levels of understanding to appreciate the parental struggles of his own and the resulting psycho-sexual and social conflicts.
Without professing to do so, Marvin X speaks here most effectively of all black men, exposing their triumphs and follies, telling all he knows about everybody, including himself, always seeming to exact the hardest toll of all on himself, inviting us openly and unashamedly into the intricacies of his youthful endeavors to love too many women, including more than one try at the practice of polygamy (at one point he had four wives, in the Islamic tradition), until he realizes that if monogamy is the love and marriage of one woman, polygamy is the love or marriage of one woman too many!
I predict that SOMETHIN' PROPER (the life and times of a North American African Poet) will readily emerge as an underground classic as well as a classic of the black consciousness movement and the world of the troubled inner city, a manual of value to any brother who has lost his way and the sister who would help him to understand or know how to find it, to find it within himself, in the intriguing story of Marvin X, who has been there and the women and political fellow-travelers in the black movement who were there with him in his often daring escapades, his secret flights and open confrontations with white supremacy.
In the end, is he bitter? Or is he happy as a negro eating watermelon on massa's plantation? Well, in the beginning white people are devils—but by the end, all people are devils—in Marvin's world. After all, this is his story. Nevertheless, by the end we are convinced Marvin has regained faith in himself, his God and his people.
And it is gratifying in an era of the sellout, the faint hearted and the fallen, to see that Marvin X was one black man who met the white man in the center of the ring and walked with him to the corners of psycho-social inequity, grappling with him through the bowels of the earth, yet remained one black man the white man couldn't get.
I'm glad I stopped that day on Market Street and bought a pair of Marvin's sunglasses, but I wish I knew where to find those sunglasses now, because I could feel so proud to wear them, or, better yet, I could lend them to some other brother who was trying to find his way to SOMETHIN' PROPER while moving in the direction of the sun.
--Dr. Nathan Hare