Qualitative Empiricisms: Why Abstractions On US Black Social Theory Fail(A Brief Thought)

“Those with an understanding of history will know that the power of symbolic objects is not new. Complex ideas such as religion, nationhood, and even love are often expressed through the use of objects to help make complicated and abstract ideas simpler to relate to. A cross stands for Christianity, a flag conveys national identity, and a wedding band represents a marriage.” – When Pixels Dominate Design, Your Hardware Is The Brand, Max Burton


Often, my abstractions and metaphors about experience, whether macro or more personal, evolve while I am coding or designing. Studying book after book and still realizing just how much I actually need to be decomposing and reverse engineering projects in the wild(that is, products that are creating what we refer to as the “cutting edge”, instead those rehashed versions of curve thinking) has lead me to understand just how dangerous academic abstraction can be when dealing with poverty and culture. Technique cannot be abstracted and then mastered, it has to be developed, and then we begin to form ways to make it more modular or thought sized as I like to refer to it.


No matter what esoteric phrase or conceptual framework one uses to explain that hip hop has and does influence dope dealing more often than it has influenced social or political change, that bottom line must be understood in a very empirical way: hip hop has and does influence dope dealing more often than it has influenced social or political change. Now, because, EVEN THAT STATEMENT, is a product of a layer of abstraction, it can be rewired or remixed(or as I would communicate, “some nigga done tried to put extra words in my writings”) in such a way that frames it as being generalizing or even a scathing attack. Since it is abstracted– meaning, we are not standing in a dope house in St. Louis’ Murderville(Walnut Park) or The Gibb(Gibson) questioning a group of youthful illegal substance peddlers about their influences — it often demands further protection in the form of other abstractions, typically abstracted numbers we refer to as statistics. Now, graphs and graph creation can be awfully fun, however, none of my days selling crack, using heroin, attempting to sell women, or whatever aspect of that lifestyle I was employing at the moment came with graphs. Life, usually, doesn’t come with them. And, yes, this can begin to beg a few questions about the manner in which we compartmentalize our theories about social engagement, especially when dealing with group of people with so many dynamic and intricate patterns of interaction.


Semiotics is the study of symbols, and symbol usages and developments. Words are symbols, they are abstractions, that are packaged thoughts and concepts about reality and our perceptions of such. Theoretical frameworks such as “standpoint theory” or “muted group theory” are also symbols, a tad bit more esoteric, but symbols nonetheless. However, it is the very nature of their esoteric being that makes them dangerous, I don’t advise anyone to go to your Black neighborhood barbershop or beauty salon and toss such phrases about without anticipating someone asking for those layers to be broken down in more accommodating conceptual pieces. And sure, I am aware that there are those under the impression that possessing an understanding of esoteric or simply just overly academic terminology somehow makes them more intelligent, or “smarter”. I would press that this is much further than the truth and a product of the social system’s need to class based data and emotional reactions as class sensibility. Symbols outside of a social construct tend to become meaningless. The communication of the US Black(Afkan) metropolitan is just as intricate and dynamic, if not more so, than within the confines of any highfalutin discussion held by Harvard professors. And let us be totally sensible here, there is a lot to be stated about the assumed “intelligence” of one that is unable to communicate their ideas to those people they are actually discussing.


It is unfounded for a group of people that claim to be the intelligentsia of a group to also be so damned detached from said same grouping. And yes, we have to consider US slavery’s more socially debilitating practices of punishing Blacks for reading, which instills fear and every other cultural element into a majority of our people. We have to consider th social stratification of symbols within the context of a White male rulership such as the US where Blacks seek to feel better than one another by virtue of their association with White USA. Assimilation can no longer be discussed as that evil thing others do, it needs more tangibles other than pointing at Blacks we dislike and labeling them pejoratively. We have stop being so afraid of our people that we can only forge theories from the frameworks of individuals who have or had no connection to those they concoct social theories about. A statistic is not a person, and although they are helpful tools in mapping where resources should be allocated, without the human touch, the embrace, the significant empathic ties that fashion the reasons why forge lasting bonds and build institutions around those bonds, those numbers should not be used to launch ideologies that tend to be more like myths and fables than science. Nor should they be treated with more reverence than actual interacting with those people the numbers are forged to represent.


As you already know, OWL's Asylum is 100% funded by readers like you. In order to help cut hosting and research costs down a little, please donate a few bucks, or more, but definitely, every dollar goes a long way. Just as long as this essay you just read!!!