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“Under the power of the devil,” our lives tell us a story we hardly understand,

Marvin discovered from his teachers Sun Ra, Elijah Muhammad, and others.

The church, the mosque, the temple do not provide the needed spiritual

consciousness for out time. Nor do 19th century radical political ideologies.



Renaissance of Imagination

The Wisdom of Plato Negro: Parables/Fables by Marvin X

 Reviewed by Rudolph Lewis


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 he is not wanted” (“Parable of the Poor Righteous Teacher,” 12). Ronald Reagan ran him out of Fresno with the help of the FBI’s Cointelpro which employed a hit man who sought him out after an agent provocateur murdered his choir director Winfred Streets, who died from a shotgun blast to the back (“Parable of American Gangsta J. Edgar Hoover,” 171).

Pressured out of black studies academia, Marvin contends such programs now attract “sellout” Negroes, or if such African American elites are sincere and dedicated and allowed to remain, many die early from “high blood pressure, depression, schizophrenia, paranoia.” One or more such conditions, he believes, brought on the early and unexpected deaths of poet June Jordan, scholars Barbara Christian, and Veve Clark at UC Berkeley and Sherley Ann Williams at UC San Diego (“Parable of Neocolonialism at UC Berkeley,” 115). There remain nevertheless many educated colored elite all too willing to put “a hood over the hood” and lullaby the masses with “Silent Night,” while “colonialism [is] playing possum” (“Parable of the Colored People,” 42).

In Wisdom of Plato Negro, Marvin teaches by stories, ancient devices of instruction that appeal to a non-literate as well as a semi-literate people. (Fables differ from parables only by their use of animal characters.)  The oldest existing genre of storytelling used long before the parables of Jesus or the fables of Aesop, they are excellent literary tools, in the hands of a skilled artist like Marvin X, in that he modifies the genre for a rebellious hip hop generation who drops out or are pushed out of repressive state sponsored public schools at a 50% clip. Marvin X is a master of these short short stories. Bibliographies, extended footnotes, indexes, formal argumentation, he knows, are of no use to the audience he seeks, that 95 percent that lives from paycheck to paycheck who have little leisure for intellectual treatises.

These moral oral forms (parables and fables), developed before the invention of writing, taught by indirection how to think and behave respecting the integrity of others. Marvin explained to his College of Arts audience, “This form [the parable] seems perfect for people with short attention span, the video generation. . . . The parable fits my moral or ethical prerogative, allowing my didacticism to run full range” (“Parable of a Day in the Life of Plato Negro,” 147). But we live in a more “hostile environment” than ancient people. Our non-urban ancestors were more in harmony with Nature than our global racialized, exploitive, militarized northern elite societies.

The American Negro or the "North American African," as Marvin calls his people, is a modern/post-modern phenomenon, now mostly urbanized, and living in domestic war-zones for more than three centuries. Black codes have governed their speech and behavior; they have been terrorized generation to generation since the early 1700s, by patty rollers, night riders, lynchers, police and military forces, usually without relief by either local or federal governments, or sympathy from their white neighbors or fellow citizens, though they have bled in the wars of the colonies and the nation to establish and defend the American Republic. Their lives have been that of Sisyphus, rising hopes then a fall into utter despair. Such are the times we still live. And even more devastating the technologies of communications have become so diffuse and the science of propaganda so sophisticated the untrained minds of young and old have few defenses against the words, arguments, and schemes of white superiority.

To further aide the inattentive reader, most of the 83 sections of this 195-page text begins with a black and white photo image. Although most of these parables were composed between January and April 2010, some were written earlier. A few were written in 2008 (e.g., “Parable of the Basket,” 109) during the presidential election campaign, and a few in 2009 (“Parable of Grand Denial,” 153) after the installation of Barack Obama as president of the United States. Three of these short short stories—“Parable of the Man with a Gun in His Hand,” “Parable of the Lion,” and “Parable of the Man Who Wanted to Die”—were first published in the June 1970 issue of Black World. His classic “Fable of the Black Bird” (86) was written in 1968. The “Fable of the Elephant” (Wisdom of Plato Negro, 7) and the “Fable of Rooster and Hen” (Wisdom of Plato Negro, 97) are quite similar in form and style to the black bird fable.

Still Marvin’s traditional or “classic” parables and fables, written during the BAM period (late 60s/early 70s), differ from the ancient fables and parables, which were told in an oral setting within a rural community with some wise men available by a campfire or candle light to explain the story told. In written form the writer in some manner must explain or make the meaning evident, preferably without the mechanical explanation tacked on. That would be a bore and not quite as pleasing to a hip urban audience, as what has been achieved by Marvin’s improvisation on the genre.

Thus Marvin uses humor, sarcasm, irony, exaggerated and sometimes profane language of one sort or another to capture the inattentive reader’s attention. In the first parable, “Parable of Love” (Wisdom of Plato Negro, 2), Marvin explains, “every writer is duty bound to speak the language of his people, especially if he and his people are going through the process of decolonization from the culture of the oppressor.”  His parables are thus “highly political,” for there is an ongoing and unstated war of liberation. Marvin characterizes his writings, in a Fanonian sense, as a kind of  psychoanalytical or “spiritual counseling.” As he points out in “Parable of Imagination,” artists in their work must “search the consciousness for new ways of representing what lies in the depth of the soul and give creative expression to their findings” (160).

“Under the power of the devil,” our lives tell us a story we hardly understand, Marvin discovered from his teachers Sun Ra, Elijah Muhammad, and others. The church, the mosque, the temple do not provide the needed spiritual consciousness for out time. Nor do 19th century radical political ideologies. As Stokely Carmichael told us in 1969, ideologies like communism and socialism do not speak to our needs. They do not speak to the issues of race and racism, born before democracy. We are a colonized people, he argued, whose institutions have been decimated, our language mocked (e.g. Bill Cosby), our culture when not yet appropriated and stolen called “tasteless” by black bourgeois agents or stooges (e.g., Jason Whitlock in his criticism of Serena Williams at Wimbledon doing a joyful jig after her victory winning a gold medal).

In Wisdom of Plato Negro, Marvin X is about the work of decolonization, though BAM has been commodified as a tourist icon at academic conferences and in university syllabi. The “sacred” work of the artist remains. Its object is to “shatter lies and falsehoods to usher in a new birth of imagination for humanity” . . . to “promote economic progress and political unity” . . . to undermine “pride, arrogance, and self-importance” (Wisdom of Plato,160). Although he is critical of the black bourgeoisie, Marvin knows that they have skills our people need, that we must find a way to bring them home. They must  learn to have as much respect for the Mother Tongue as they have for the King’s English (“Parable of the Black Bourgeoisie,” 35).

Wisdom of Plato deals not only with the political but also with the personal. Marvin X cannot live his life in an academic (or ivory) tower, or up in a mountain, writing and publishing books. In “Parable of the Man Who Left the Mountain,” written in 2008, he explains, “in the fourth quarter of my life, I can only attempt to finish the work of being active in the cause of racial justice, of using my pen to speak truth, to put my body in the battlefield for the freedom we all deserve” (Wisdom of Plato Negro, 45). 

Though he sees the problem as economic and political, one that keeps us poor and powerless, our oppression is “equally” one that creates “a spiritual disease or mental health issue.” (Wisdom of Plato Negro, 45). Racial supremacy for him not only affects the body or the potential to obtain wealth, it also affects the soul. It is at the heart of the drug war crisis. Black people seek to “medicate” themselves with drugs or the ideology of racial supremacy to find relief from the pain of racial oppression and the suppression of the imagination. Drugs and racial supremacy both are addictive and create dependency. In numerous instances, Marvin calls for moderation of desires and discipline, to “detox” from an addiction to racial supremacy and other “delusional thinking” (“Parable of Sobriety,” 177).

Marvin centers himself in his “classroom/clinic,” his “Academy of da Corner” at 14th and Broadway, Oakland, California. There he sells his “empowering books” and offers insight, advice to mothers (e.g., “Parable of the Woman at the Well,” 58), wives (e.g. “Parable of the Preacher’s Wife,” 29), and lovers. “Other than the white man, black men have no other pressing problem—maybe with another brother, but 90% of the brothers come to Plato with male/female problems” (“Parable of a Day in the Life of Plato Negro,” 148). In contrast to his street work, the racial experts seem rather lost. Marvin reports on a 2008 conference held in Oakland by the Association of Black Psychologists, which has a membership of 1,500 Afrocentric psychologists. Even the experts with two and three Ph.D., “victims of white witchcraft,” he discovered do not know how to heal the community. When leaders don’t know, “why not turn to the people?”  (“Parable of the Witch Doctor,” 24).

There is much more that can be gained from a meticulous reading of Wisdom of Plato Negro than what I have tried to recall in this short report. Marvin X writes about such topics as sexuality and creativity and their relationship, on war, the weather and global warming, and numerous other topics that all tie together if we desire to bring about a rebirth of humanity. This highly informative, insightful, and creative volume can be of service to the non-reader as well as students and seasoned scholars, if they want to be entertained or to heal their bodies and souls so that they can become mentors rather than predators.

Wisdom of Plato Negro ends with the “Parable of Desirelessness” (193), which mirrors the “Parable of Letting Go” (61). In the materialist culture of contemporary capitalism we are beset on all sides by “greed, lust, and conspicuous consumption.” There are a “billion illusions of the monkey mind” that lead nowhere other than an early death, suicide, or cowardly homicide. We all must “hold onto nothing but the rope of righteousness.” That will guide us along the straight path to full and permanent revolution and liberation.

Order direct from the publisher: Black Bird Press, 1222 Dwight Way, Berkeley CA 94702. $19.95

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Saying of the Prophet Muhammad

The Messenger of Allah  said, Allah has set forth the following as a parable: There is a road that leads straight to the destination. On either side of the road there is a wall in which there are open doors with curtains hanging on them. From the remote end of the road, a voice calls, “proceed straight and do not turn aside.” Whenever someone intends to lift a curtain from the door another voice calls from above, “Beware! Do not lift the curtain, otherwise you will be lured inside.”

The Prophet (sall’Allaahu alayhee wa aalehee wasalam) explained the parable by saying that the straight path is Islam, the walls are the limits imposed by Allaah, the open doors are the things that he has prohibited, the voice which calls from the end of the road is the Qur’aan & the voice which calls from above is Allaah’s monitor in the heart of every believer.lutonmuslims

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Review of Wisdom of Plato Negro by Raushana Karriem—Editor-in-Chief Muhammad Speaks Newspaper, Atlanta GA—29 August 2012—Marvin X candidly admits that his addiction to crack robbed his children of their father and his wife of a husband.   The reader is indeed lucky that he survived his addiction, and that his talent for writing and storytelling survived so that his work may live as a testament and instruction to future generations.

He rightly describes the current economic crisis Black America sees itself in as our being the ‘donkey’ of the world that every other people ride to economic prosperity.  Black people live with this reality daily, as we patronize others who come to this country sell us food, liquor, do our nails, sell us hair, and the list goes on.  We witness them take our money, and deliberately not live in our community.  We know that they would never think of patronizing us.  Yet, we are willing participants in our own exploitation.

Why do we continue this path to economic destruction? Are we like the parable of the elephant as described by Marvin X? The circus elephant   tied by a simple rope and did as his trainer instructed, until one day, he decided to break free, wreaking havoc on everything in his path? Are we Samson, who brought the pillars down on the temple and destroyed himself along with his tormentors? The Wisdom of the Plato Negro is a must read for it explains the contemporary condition of our people. What path we will take to correct this condition is in our hands.—blackbirdpressnews

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Review of Wisdom of Plato Negro by Ishmael Reed Marvin X  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.
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.*

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 interested 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 on 14th and Broadway, downtown Oakland, which is how the peripatetic philosophers like Plato used to impart their knowledge in open air academies.—blackbirdpressnews 

Marvin X The Poet / Playwright, "What If There's No God But God"

Marvin X: "In the Name of Love" at Yoshi's San Francisco Part II

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

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#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

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#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
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The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story

of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government

By Eric Liu and Nick Hanaper

American democracy is informed by the 18th century’s most cutting edge thinking on society, economics, and government. We’ve learned some things in the intervening 230 years about self interest, social behaviors, and how the world works. Now, authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer argue that some fundamental assumptions about citizenship, society, economics, and government need updating. For many years the dominant metaphor for understanding markets and government has been the machine. Liu and Hanauer view democracy not as a machine, but as a garden. A successful garden functions according to the inexorable tendencies of nature, but it also requires goals, regular tending, and an understanding of connected ecosystems. The latest ideas from science, social science, and economics—the cutting-edge ideas of today—generate these simple but revolutionary ideas: The economy is not an efficient machine.

It’s an effective garden that need tending. Freedom is responsibility. Government should be about the big what and the little how. True self interest is mutual interest. We’re all better off when we’re all better off. The model of citizenship depends on contagious behavior, hence positive behavior begets positive behavior.

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The Long Affair

Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800

By Conor Cruise O'Brien

In The Great Melody, O'Brien wrote a masterful study of one of the great early opponents of the French Revolution, Edmund Burke. Now he applies his counterrevolutionary principles to an examination of Thomas Jefferson, reevaluating Jefferson's thought and correcting some scholarly misinterpretations. But while the book will appeal to anyone interested in Jefferson and his pivotal role in American politics, the themes are less well-developed than in The Great Melody, and the book is ultimately disappointing. Through plentiful direct quotations from his subject and his own effective analysis, O'Brien demonstrates that Jefferson's support of the French Revolution began to wane after such support no longer furthered his domestic political aims and when he came to see it as a threat to slavery. Because of his support of slavery, says O'Brien, Jefferson is no longer appropriate as an icon for an increasingly multiracial American society.

He points out that racists on the right have begun to claim Jefferson as a prophet, but O'Brien seems to repeat their mistake of evaluating him only through his views on race. Though Jefferson may indeed have been a racist and did not intend the Declaration of Independence ever to apply to blacks, the brilliance of the document was that it could be expanded over the years to include groups previously excluded. Though one would not want admiration of Jefferson's principles to lead to support for white supremacy, neither would one want rejection of white supremacy to lead to disbelief in the revolutionary idea that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

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The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry

By Rita Dove

Selecting poets and poems to represent a century of poetry, especially the riotous twentieth century in America, is a massive undertaking fraught with peril and complication. Poet Rita Dove-a Pulitzer Prize- winning former U.S. poet laureate, professor, and presidential scholar- embarked on what became a consuming four-year odyssey. She reports on obstacles and discoveries in an exacting and forthright introduction, featuring striking quotes, vivid profiles, and a panoramic view of the evolution of poetic visions and styles that helped bring about social as well as artistic change [...] Dove's incisive perception of the role of poetry in cultural and social awakenings infuses this zestful and rigorous gathering of poems both necessary and unexpected by 180 American poets. This landmark anthology will instantly enhance and invigorate every poetry shelf or section.—Booklist

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Sonata Mulattica: Poems

By Rita Dove

This 12th collection from the former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize recipient is her third book-length narrative poem: it follows the real career of the violin prodigy George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860), a former pupil of Haydn, as well as the grandson/ of an African prince, or so his promoters and teachers in England said. Moving to Vienna during the Napoleonic Wars, the violinist met and befriended the famously moody Beethoven, who was prepared to dedicate his famously difficult Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower until a rivalry for the same woman drove them apart. Dove tells Bridgetower's story, and some of Beethoven's and Haydn's, in a heterogenous profusion of short poems, some almost prosy, some glittering in their technique. In quatrains, a double villanelle, what looks like found text, short lines splayed all over a page and attractive description, Dove renders Bridgetower's frustrated genius: Music played for the soul is sheer pleasure;/ to play merely for pleasure is nothing/ but work. Dove does not always achieve such subtleties—those who loved her early work may think this book too long: few, though, will doubt the seriousness of her effort, her interest at once in the history of classical music and the changing meanings of race.—Publishers Weekly

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Aké: The Years of Childhood

By Wole Soyinka

Aké: The Years of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perceptiona lyrical account of one boy's attempt to grasp the often irrational and hypocritical world of adults that equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes into history lessons, conversations into morality plays, memories into awakenings. Various cultures, religions, and languages mingled freely in the Aké of his youth, fostering endless contradictions and personalized hybrids, particularly when it comes to religion. Christian teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of ancestral spiritswho alternately terrify and inspire himall carried equal metaphysical weight. Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that "God had a habit of either not answering one's prayers at all, or answering them in a way that was not straightforward." In writing from a child's perspective, Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult snares of cynicism and intolerance. His stinging indictment of colonialism takes on added power owing to the elegance of his attack.

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Andrew Johnson: The 17th President, 1865-1869

By Annette Gordon-Reed

Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth man to ascend to the highest office in the land, is generally regarded by historians as among the weakest presidents. Gordon-Reed has no intention of moving Johnson up in rank (“America went from the best to the worst in one presidential term,” she corroborates). So this is no reputation rescue. Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, takes as her task explaining why we should look anew at such a disastrous chief executive. She reasons he is worth looking at, though her reasoning yields a far from sympathetic look. In a short biography, all bases can be covered, but the author is still left to exercise the tone of a personal essay, which this author accomplishes brilliantly. Her personal take on Johnson is that his inability to remake the country after it was torn apart rested on his deplorable view of black Americans.

In practical terms, his failure derived from his stubborn refusal to compromise with Congress in the abiding post-Lincoln controversy over who was to supervise the Reconstruction, the executive or the legislative branch. A failure, yes, but more than that, a failure at an extremely critical time in American history.Booklist

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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posted 30 August 2012




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