Literature Readings

Allegory of the Cave (Plato) and How It Compares to the African American Community

Sometimes we are poisonous to our own people. 

There once was a young boy named Eric who dreamed of one day making it big. He dreamed of mansions and cars and freshly cooked Sunday night dinners. His parents worked hard to keep their family together and he was often left to raise himself in the downtrodden streets of the inner city. Eric spent the first year of high school skipping class and getting high in the bathrooms. He was good with numbers, they flew through his head like music notes and he used them to buy an entourage. His friends were soon like brothers in arms, fighting against the man and whoever else dared to keep them down. While they loved him, his parents cracked but never wavered due to a shred of hope that their hard work would soon pay off in that he would live past eighteen.

After a night of danger and sticky red hands left one friend dead and another in jail, Eric makes the decision to get his life together. His skipping school days are behind him. Books and highlighters become his new best friends and good times shooting ball on the courts fade away. His parents, still fighting their own beasts of debt, forget the pat on the back. He struggles and fails but is determined to achieve his goals.

Years later he graduates from high school with a higher than stellar gpa and scholarships  for college. He excels through college, graduating in the top of his class. His parents are older now with withered hands and sad eyes but finally proud. His heart breaks as cancer eats at his fathers pride but he keeps his head up and makes promises. His parents nod and smile, they know where they come from and no one they grew up with had ever made it out. The rays of the sun have beaten their souls and the shackles of life have torn them apart.

Eric started as an intern, with pressed collars and loafers. He learned the walk and took pride in his ability to stride. He rose through the ranks and soon a placard with his name etched in gold lines the door and desk of a corner office. He buys his parents a new house and he pays for their bills. Their eyes light up as the final grasps of freedom can be felt with their finger tips.

Back home, despite his attempts to give back to the community that raised him, Eric’s old buddies curse his name. They spit on his shoes and call him a traitor. How dare he make a better man out of himself? They ask him who he thinks he is and refused to take his so-called charity. Estranged family members, who’d dapped in between video game wins, now show up with hands out stretched and angry faces. You owe us, we had circumstances. Blood means give. After dishing out all he can bare to give, Eric is worn down and even though they see his bleeding eyes they keep asking for more. Eventually he retreats back to his office and donates from afar. He’s got places to go and promises to keep. Now with a family of his own, he’s the man in charge and makes sure his kids know what it means to give to others but not give until there is nothing left.

While reading The Allegory of the Cave, something really struck home for me. You might think that I would glean something about religion or believing the government’s lies but my thoughts went down another path. I thought about the prisoners in the cave as us, African Americans and the shadows on the walls as the so called truths we’ve been fed from others about ourselves. Outside opinions that we take on faith because it’s been ingrained in our upbringing.

We, as black people, have been oppressed, yes. We’ve been beaten down, run over and held back. We’ve been taught about the violence of our own people, warned against the false intelligence of our own people and suspicious of our own people. Generations trickled self hatred and ignorance. We poured the inability to rise above our limitations down the throats of our youth and branded anyone who squeezed through the cracks a deceiver, a Judas, an Uncle Tom.

For generations we have been stuck in this phase of anger. It is all the evidence we need to believe that we are stunted. We have a fixed mindset of what the truth is. To some, the truth is that we can not make it. We dream to, we aspire to but do we honestly believe we can? The shadows on the walls of our ancestors who couldn’t fight back make no noise due to their stolen voices. We watch them with our heads locked forward unable to turn away from the lull. When one of us dares to break free of his chains we smile and nod but block out the noise of their excitement. He will be back, we say and we continue to stare at the shapes stretching before us.

He begins his journey, continuously pulled down and degraded by his own people. As he struggles forward, he starts to believe. I can make it! No one believed me but I did it! He returns to the cave, staring up at the shapes of his ancestors, hoping to enlighten his peers. Look, look what I’ve done! I told you this could happen. Come, join me. They deny him.

Do we expect to fail? How many times do we trash our wealthy brothers and sisters just for making better decisions in life than we did? Especially the ones who come from our same streets. The ones that we can’t use the excuse ‘they had it better than me’. How many times do we say ‘I knew he’d be back’ when one of our own returns to the nest after failing their great try?

Another thing that hit me was that this goes both ways. Will he remember how hard it was for him to see others succeed? After he’s achieved his goals and reached the top tier, does he say to himself “I understand how they feel, I remember being that kid that would say ‘this old black man with his tailored suits just don’t get me!’ ” One thing that I wrote down while taking notes was “Eyes can be confused in two ways”.

Anyway, I know this was something different than what I usually do but I really wanted to share my thoughts on this. I’m not really one that will spend my time spouting about “The Man”, etc but this is something I definitely think about. This is one of the major reasons why I wanted to go back to college and finish my degree. I love to learn, to experience new things, new ways of thought. I’ve already opened my mind more than I thought possible and I still have far to go.

Please let me know what your thoughts are. Did you get this from The Allegory of the Cave? If not, what did you take from it?

Good Readance,
Jade