Marvin X is Plato Teaching on Oakland’s Streets

By Ishmael Reed Marvin X is not only a terrific writer but a Black Power historian…. 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: texts in the Yoruba language reveal 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. He imparts wisdom by employing cautionary tales and uses his own life and mistakes to consul the young to avoid mistakes. 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.” 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. In the “Parable of the Donkey,” Marvin X writes: “ The so-called Negro is the donkey of the world, everybody 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. In  “Parable of the Parrot,” Marvin X also takes aim at the Dream Team academics who “parrot” the line coming down from the One Percent that the problems of Blacks are self-inflicted. “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 interest in keeping the song of the parrot alive.” Marvin X’s answer to this intellectual Vichy regime has been to cultivate off campus intellectuals by conducting an open air classroom (Academy of da Corner) on 14th and Broadway, downtown Oakland, which is how the peripatetic philosophers like Plato used to impart their knowledge in open air academies. Ishmael Reed is the author of “Going Too Far, Essays About America’s Nervous Breakdown.” He is a Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley. Email: A book party for Marvin X will be held 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 1 at the Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St. in Oakland. For information, call (510) 200-4164
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