For Marvin X, a founder and veteran of the Black Arts Movement of the late 60s/early 70s, we who strive for a rebirth of humanity must choose to be a mentor rather than a predator. “No matter what, I am essentially a teacher,” he lectured at California College of the Arts, where he was invited by poet devorah major. Marvin has taught at Fresno State University; San Francisco State University; UC-Berkeley and San Diego; University of Nevada, Reno; Mills College, Laney and Merritt Colleges in Oakland. But, Marvin warns, “The teacher must know . . . no matter how many years he gives of his soul, his mental genius is not wanted” (“Parable of the Poor Righteous Teacher,” 12).
while “colonialism [is] playing possum” (“Parable of the Colored People,” 42).
The Wisdom of Plato Negro
Review by Ishmael Reed
Photo: Michael Simon
If someone would write a book demythologizing the Black Power movement, how would they assess it? One of great nobility, or one of hypocrisy, one of courage or one of cowardice, one that fostered change in the status quo, or one
that was part of the problem. Or would one conclude that it was one having mixed results.
Marvin X, who is not only a terrific writer but a Black Power historian has served us well by listing all of the 60s poets who were influenced by Islam and other non-Western sources, (though, without Muslim scholars there’d be no Western civilization.)
African writers, whom I interviewed for my book about Muhammad Ali find African American Muslim conversion puzzling since they view Islam as an invader’s religion and one that treats the indigenous population, harshly, but one cannot underestimate the influence of Islam upon the world.
However,if I had to pin down the influences upon Marvin X’s The Wisdom of Plato Negro,Parables/Fables,I would cite the style of Yoruba texts. I studied for some years under the tutoring of the poet and scholar Adebisi T.Aromolaran ( “ Wise Sayings For Boys and Girls”)and was guided through some texts in the Yoruba language which revealed that didacticism is a key component of the Yoruba story telling style. Africans use proverbs to teach their children the lessons of life. Marvin X acknowledges the Yoruba influence on his book, The Wisdom of Plato Negro, Parables/Fables.
He imparts wisdom by employing cautionary tales and uses his own life and mistakes to consul the young to avoid mistakes. George Bernard Shaw said that if you don’t write your own plays, others will write them for you and they will “degrade”and “vulgarize” you. As part of a grant, I attended local theater for three years and found the portraits of blacks to be offensive,mostly. The women were prostitutes and the men were like the black man in “Precious,” a bestial evil.
Marvin X in “One Day In the Life”, his classic play about recovery, which I saw at the Black Rep., the only local theater that doesn’t depend upon a audience that desires guilt free productions, was one of the few plays that wasn’t escapist, or preached post racism or blamed the victim.
Moreover, unlike some of the books written by popular African American writers, his book does not look backward to the period of slavery, though some of that is here. He writes about the contemporary problems of a community under attack. He blames crack for causing “ a great chasm between adults and children, children who were abandoned,abused, and neglected, emotionally starved and traumatized.”
don’t live here, have blamed the middle class for abandoning the urban centers.They’re wrong. The middle class is making all of the cash from profits from vice. They run the motels, where the prostitution trade takes place.
When Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker slapped an injunction against two prostitution hotels which were scenes of child sex trafficking, beatings and rapes by pimps, the proprietors complained that she cost them $80,000.
The middle class are the absentee landlords, who plopped down a crack house in my neighborhood, they’re storeowners who make hundreds of thousands of dollars selling liquor. None of these proprietors is black! When I asked the Muslim who runs the Northside Supermarket, who was paid a fawning tribute by a clueless Chronicle reporter, who painted him as some kind of Santa Claus, when those attending our neighborhood crime meetings have complained about the criminal activity in from of his store for years,I was called out of order by an Oakland policeman, who turned out to be a friend of his, when I asked what a Muslim was doing selling liquor?
I wrote, “I am sure that I’m not the only North Oakland resident who is outraged by Chronicle writer, Justin Berton, portraying Yahya ‘Mike" Korin of Northside Supermarket as some kind of neighborhood Robin Hood who hands out turkeys to the poor at Xmas.
“I've attended meetings over the years, where our neighbors, black, white, and Hispanic, have complained about this store which attracts some of the most unsavory elements in our neighborhood and whose violent behavior has threatened the safety of our residents.” I had to mention whites because “Mike” was claiming
that only newcomers were protesting against his store, and that he was some
kind of benevolent uncle to the folks.
Marvin X exposes the situation of other ethnic groups invading black neighborhoods and making the lion’s share of profits from vice, while the media focus upon the mules of the operation, the pathetic and disgusting pimps, the drug dealers who are killing each other over profits that are piddling next to the great haul made by the suppliers of the guns and the drugs. Don’t expect the local newspapers to cover this end of the distribution.
rides him to success. If you need a free ride to success,jump on the Negro’s back and ride into the sunset. He will welcome you with open arms. No saddle needed, just jump on his back and ride him to the bank.”
When you learn that the government ignored the dumping of drugs into our neighborhoods by their anti-communist allies, you can understand the meaning of Marvin X’s words. Not only are invading ethnic groups and white gun suppliers benefitting from using the black neighborhoods as a resource ,but the government as well.*
Marvin X also takes aim at the Dream Team academics who “parrot” the line
“The state academics and intellectuals joined loudly in parroting the king’s every wish. Thank God the masses do not hear them pontificate or read their books. After all, these intellectual and academic parrots are well paid, tenured and eat much parrot seed. Their magic song impresses the bourgeoisie who have a vested interested in keeping the song of the parrot alive.”
off campus intellectuals by conducting an open air classroom on 14th and Broadway, downtown Oakland, which is how the peripatetic philosophers like
Plato used to impart their knowledge in open air academies.
The Black Arts movement expanded the audience for poetry. It inspired thousands of young people to write. They are the grandmothers and grandfathers of the Hip Hoppers. They produced children who are high achievers. The only thing that could mar the Black Arts legacy is its tolerance for a lunatic fringe. One, who used to edit a black magazine, but hasn’t written a lick since the 1960s, came out here recently and was greeted warmly, when if you put some white skin on him and covered him with tattoos, he’d be indistinguishable from your ordinary low level skin head,without the Budweiser six pack.
I would give the Black Arts a mixed review. I’m the one who said that in
the global village, nationalism is the village idiot. But I have supported it in concrete ways because the Black Nationalist movement is the only roadblock to black culture becoming extinct!
Derided by the mainstream press and taking on Reagan at the height of his popularity, the freshman senator battled to reveal one of America's ugliest foreign policy secrets” Salon.com, Oct.25,2004
Ishmael Reed,author of “Going Too Far, Essays About America’s Nervous Breakdown”