Huey P. Newton As Practitioner of Semiotics

In the fall of 1966, two young twenty somethings in the Afkan(Afrikan Amerikkkan) community of Oakland, California set down and chartered what would become the 10-point program of the Black Panther Party. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale met each other with opposing views on the Cuban Missile Crisis at a rally held outside of Oakland City College by the Progressive Labor Party. Although, they did disagree, the energy and desire to forge a political conscious raising and organizing program amongst those in the poorer sections of Oakland brought them close. Huey’s understanding of Black culture from the perspective of the lumpen proletariat and the proletariat helped to him and Bobby forge a set of texts(communication mediums) that would change the language and political framing of Black vernacular even unto this day.

According to Steven C. Hamel in the preface to “Semiotics: Theory And Applications”: “Semiotics is the study of sign processes(semiosis), or signification and communication, signs and symbols, and is usually divided into three branches: Semantics, Syntactics, and Pragmatics. Semiotics is frequently seen as having important anthropological dimensions.”

According to professor emritus of broadcast and electronic communication arts at San Francisco State University, Arthur Asa Berger, Ferdinand de Saussure’s work, A Course in General Linguistics, is one of the founding documents of semiotics(2010:50), what Berger dubs the science of signs. Berger quotes Saussure’s work,”in language there are only differences”(1966:120) and then continues to explain this:

“It is understood that concepts are purely differential and defined not by their positive content but negatively by their relations with the other terms of the system. Their most precise characteristic is in being what the others are not.”(1966:117)

It is interesting that one of the most philosophical, and relevant to this study, chapters of Huey P. Newton’s autobiographical account of the Black Panther Party, “Revolutionary Suicide”, in chapter 22(entitled, “Raising Consciousness”), Huey begins(1973:173) in the second paragraph with an assessment of Nietzsche’s The Will to Power. In his words:

“Nietzsche believed that beyond good and evil is the will to power. In other words, good and evil are labels for phenomena, or value judgments. Behind these value judgments is the will to power, which causes man to view phenomena as good or evil. It is really the will to power that controls our understanding of something and not an inherent quality of good or evil.” (1973:174)

Huey continues:

“Man attempts to define phenomena in such a way that they reflect the interests of his own class or group. He gives titles or values to phenomena according to what he sees as beneficial; if it is to his advantage, something is called good, and if it is not beneficial, then it is defined as evil.”

He furthers his analysis of Nietzsche’s framework by explaining how the German ruling classes used the term ‘gut‘ to describe them Selves while using the term, ‘villein‘ to describe the underclasses. As Huey expounds, the term ‘gut‘ implies “good” or “god-like” while the phrase ‘villein‘ is taken to mean “evil”.

From this place of understanding, Huey elucidates the US use of the term “Black”. He explains how the term is mainly used in the West as a term of derision or evil and how the Afkan had to remold their consciousness and reframe the term “Black” as one of pride, strength, and solidarity. As Huey states(1973:175),”This is an example of Nietzsche’s theory that beyond good and evil is the will to power.”

As the theoretical framework of semiotics suggests, there is a need to consider the semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics of the signs and symbols. As I have shown, Huey thoroughly understood the semantic and syntactical usage of signs to contain and frame a particular mode(as well as mood) in a culture, in our case, a culture of oppressors. For the pragmatics, Huey gives us the understanding behind the development of the term “pig” from an anecdote. He initiates this discussion with the reasons for the need to develop the term from a practical sense.

He writes: “In the early days of the Black Panthers we tried to find ways to make this theory work in the best interests of Black people…One of our prime needs was a new definition for ‘policeman.’ A good descriptive word, one the community would accept and use, would not only advance Black consciousness, but in effect control the police by making them see themselves in a new light.”

As stated, this is Huey in pragmatic analysis of the semiotic formula. He starts by relaying that he and the Black Panther Party felt the need use the theories they imbibed from Nietzsche in the Black urban community where they were teaching self-defense, US law, and political theory.

He continues:

“We thought up new terms for them. At first I figured that the reverse of god — dog– woudl be a good epithet, but it did not catch on. We tried beast, brute, and animal, but none of them captured the essential quality we were trying to convey.”

As is particularly characteristic of Huey as he relates his actions is this necessary pronouncements of what did not work. I restrain my Self here from using the phrase,”fail”, as this is not the accurate attitude to have when discussing someone in self-critique. Part of pragmatism in this space is the delineating of what symbols and signs affected the people, and that affect may not be what the practitioner hoped for, but it still reveals an objective reality about the culture of communication those people have.

After detailing what did not work for them, Huey relays an anecdote,”One day, whie working on the paper, Eldridge [Cleaver] showed us a postcard from Bevelery Axelrod. On the front was the slogan ‘Support Your Local Police’; there was a sheriff’s star above the phrase, and in the center of the star a grinning, slobbering pig. It was just what we were looking for. We began to show policemen as pigs in our cartoons, and from time to time used the word. ‘Pig’ caught on; it entered the language.”

In furthering the understanding that Huey had of the power of symbols, I also quote Huey here writing of the significance of the term and the impact he expected from not only the culture of Blacks he worked within but also those he sought to target, the police.

Huey writes:

“This was a form of psychological warfare: it raised the consciousness of the people ad also inflicted a new consciousness on the ruling circle. If whites and police became caught up in this new awareness, they would soon defect from their own ranks and join us to avoid feelings of guilt ad shame.”

This essay is to show the magnitude by which Co-founder and leader of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton utilized the theories propounded by those that detail the science of semiotics. It is to encapsulate, in a cursory manner, the awareness of the power of symbols and signs historically among some of the Afkan(Black) culture. As I have, shown, not only was Huey P. Newton skilled as an organizer, but also a theorist and practitioner of semiotics.

Why I Am Offended As A Black Man When Toure Uses The Word “Nigga”

Me and an ex of mine that shall remain nameless on the internet, had just suffered a blow out about two blocks from my mother’s house. I didn’t have the necessary tools to fix the tire, so we walked to get my mother’s husband’s tool box. Upon arriving there, he insisted that he drive us back. I conceded. In the car, a conversation about sports ensued, and my ex, the loud mouth sport fanatic she was, began to discuss her favorite teams and players. Now, she’s not the average Black woman that watches sports. She is still to this day a very athletic woman that doesn’t mind running a mile in high heels and a dress. She is very passionate about sports and understands many of the nuances that make the discussion of sports thrilling. So, when she began to relate her stance on the Rams’ season, she dropped the n-word several times. My mother’s ex was a very disciplined guy. Growing up, I got whippings for crying for falling off my bike. He doesn’t have an accentuated view of the word, but he doesn’t use it. To the point that when it was used around him, it felt like when you say the word around whites. From experiences like this, I developed a sensibility about the word,”nigga.”

 

Now, let us not pretend I’m not Owl. I use ‘nigga’ more than I use toothpaste, soap, and powder. In fact, for me, the word can be hygienic. As a person that grew up around Moors that worked out heavily and would punch you within seconds the ‘n’ in the word came out, I know the anger surrounding the term in my community even from the mouth of Blacks. I’ve also allowed white people to use it around me affectionately. I also get upset when certain Blacks use it.

 

In most of the cultures I’ve studied, there is a framework of kinship and bonding based on economic position. I actually picked up the words, “bitch,” “nigga,” and “fuck” from a classmate in one of my mother’s Sunday school classes in church(I swear my life gets more ironic the more I write about it). It didn’t dawn on me that some Blacks don’t use the term until I said it around this sister-that-stayed-up-the-street-from-me’s more affluent cousin. By that time, the energy of the word had lost much of its force, and I didn’t think of its affect on others. It would be a lesson in class that I’d never forget. We didn’t fight about it like one of my Moorish brothers back on the yard may have, but it was the frown on young “Carlton’s” face that caused my naive, yet observative and sensitive Self to pause. And with that, I learned to be cautious with the word around Blacks.

 

Urban culture has always had an appeal. With the advent of hip-hop and it’s evil twin, commercial rap, many began to venture into the culture of the darker elements of the US subculture found in many of the urban centers of the US. When I was in college, I was in a discussion with my 2-d graphics teacher about how she and her friends would recite the lyrics of NWA. She spoke of this with a certain regret found when Black people discuss that time they used to dance to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby.”

 

Her statement was that she felt she lacked a certain “authenticity.” I understood immediately what she was referring to.

 

can’t speak to my work in the community without someone asking me if I’ve read such and such book, or if I know such and such person. After I wrote “The Green DJHTY,” I had to deal with people asking me about obscure symbols of Kimit and even more obscure raps and movies. I can’t sell a nickel bag of weed in the streets without someone seeking out my resume. My culture is extremely conservative; we question one another with the precision of a veteran district attorney. You cannot just speak to a thing or even participate in an activity without critique or investigation. And my culture isn’t just Black culture. Not every Black can possibly understand why I don’t turn around when police are behind me, or why I don’t say phrases like,”assed out” or why I don’t avert glances when someone looks me in my eyes in passing. I support a monolithic Black presence, but I don’t subscribe to the belief that all Blacks share the same culture. We don’t. And many Blacks in the public eye know they are getting away with something that would get them jaw strokes if done in the Black communities they attempt to speak for. And let us be completely frank here, most of those in the public eye speaking as ambassadors of Black urban issues have no true field work. It is like the difference between a critique from Malcolm X versus one from Louis Farrakhan in the 1960s.

 

This isn’t a piece about street credibility. It isn’t. It is a piece about when neocolonialism goes unnoticed. The same feelings I have about Toure discussing anything about Black people in the United States, I have about Obama telling Black church audiences that their children need to pull their pants up, but not doing the same to white parents whose children walk around college campus borrowing the same style. I listen to Drake. I like many of his songs. I don’t like when he uses the word because he not from the same experience. I don’t have the measuring stick of who should or shouldn’t use the word, but I do have my instincts bred out of the experiences of those that usurped the terminology. No, we are not all inheritors of certain elements crafted and engaged by Blacks.

 

The very fact that Toure writes,”That said, I do see two instances where I would argue that it is acceptable and potentially useful for whites to say nigger” is very telling to me. The fact that he would give some sort of cultural clemency to Tarantino is even more telling to me. I’ve been in a room full of white people watching “Reservoir dogs.” I know that awkward feeling that comes from having to bear the word not only coming out, but being placed on the lips of a white person. I’ve been on a college campus in a classroom forced to listen to some “liberal” instructor use the term in the “intellectual/artistic” context that Toure discusses. It doesn’t change anything. Like Debo might say,”Das my word, punk.”

 

I’ve stated this elsewhere, the word ‘nigga’ is a cultural commodity. You are absolutely right, Toure, it is sexy. It is powerful. And the discussion from a guy that allows mainstream media to play him like the token nigga is frightful. I don’t care how many disclaimers Toure uses in the piece, or how much others will label this piece as ad hominem, the fact is that just like most white people, he can’t speak to a phenomena of a culture that he isn’t even apart of. I don’t care how many music artists he has spoken to. I can interview every dentist in the state of Iowa and that don’t make me a damn practitioner worthy of speaking for dentists with an authoritative tone.

 

Regardless of the two cent disclaimer, hell, mine are at least believable, Toure presents an argument. In the world of psychology, an argument is a weapon. You are probably reading this because you’ve read many of my arguments with others. They work. Well. The same way that Randall Kennedy offered a reason why ‘nigga’ shouldn’t be consider ‘fighting words,’ in his book, you are being given an excuse to infringe on the cultural power of Blacks. Whether you use the word or not, it presents an opening into a discussion that is not even for most people to have. I agreed with Toure for the most of the article until he started giving out passes. The stage that speaks of is also where Mel Gibson gives his racist rants and where a certain alum of “Seinfeld” evoked images of Blacks being lynched.

 

I await the debate, I’m not saying that only Blacks of the lumpen can use the term, but maybe still…

Is the Debt the US Owes Blacks….Self-Inflicted???

…we must all realize that the oppressive contract cannot be broken as long as any sort of hierarchy exists to perpetuate the sensitized relationships of Amerikan tribalism, classism and racism. Society is rendered impossible by such relationships. The establishment of society through intercommunalism will require that the social contract be completely altered. Clearly alteration cannot take place unless hierarchy is destroyed. Can we expect the hierarchy to do away with itself???
Then the real undertaking at present is the unconditional freeing of the people. We plunge beyond ideological debate before this immediate task. The black man and the black female must be, as I have mentally ordered things, completely joined together in the act of liberation! I accept my black mama with all her fears for my life that border on hysteria at times. But I also realize that it is the “role of the living,” of all the innocent, to discover unitary practice and conduct and move against the institutions that close on the oppressed.” – Comrade George Jackson from “Blood In My Eye”

I want to thank every body for taking time out of their days, nights, evenings, lives in general to come aboard The Asylum. As of late, we’ve been making quite a few changes. Maybe not so much change for those who have been around The Asylum since before the first resurrection when I utilized my account with Amazon Affiliates and even the Google Adsense account. I haven’t placed the Google ads back up, but it is on my mind. A part of living is eating. Now, as my good brother, Coach Bilal Sankofa reminds me always, a pack of Ramen noodles is only 16 cents. Albeit, I’m a fifth degree black belt of the Art of the Ramen, but a person can’t live off of bread alone.(Speaking of Jesus quotes, how much fire do you think Mary smacked little Jesus when he told her he had to be about his father’s business?).

All that being said, we’ve been behind the scene rewiring the programming mechanics of The Asylum. In the process of adding many of the advertisements you now see, I’ve also been working on Search engine optimization. A tedious task of wording and networking techniques designed to receive the oft coveted position of having The Asylum placed on the front page when someone does a search on terms such as “media analyst” or “black man losing his fucking mind online”. In an effort to check which sites where either paying Google for their position on the front page(yeah, I’m hating!) when those keywords were piped in, I ran across an interesting article which stated that,”the Media Audit reports the average African American spends 4 hours and 21 minutes per day online — 10% more than the amount of time for all U.S. adults”. Now, we of The Asylum have our own reasons for being careful with statistics. Upon further reading the article reveals:

The new national study of 7,000 African American adults shows they spend an average of 13 hours and 24 minutes per day exposed to all media. With the internet now taking 32.5% of their total daily media time, the study underscores how traditional media has been affected by rising internet use among African Americans.

I’ll leave it up The Asylum to decide how those statistics should be read, me, personally, I’m taking them as the study shows. Namely, of the 7000 Blacks reportedly studied, a pattern of higher internet usage than other forms of media was detected. What that means is more marketing geared towards Blacks online. Nothing new in that. The report also notes that Blacks consume more media than any other group. In my mind a light beams, and it isn’t the pills I just popped(well…just stick with me here…).

According to a number of sources(got to love linking, I could never get away with that in an academic peer review) the spending power of Black people will reach $1 trillion within the next year. The wording of that doesn’t elude me. “Spending power” instead of economic power, or investment power. That is much more than a mere ploy of semantics. It is the difference between a hammer being a toy, a tool, or a weapon. Failing to assess that small adjective’s qualifying affect on the human psyche will only assist in being unable to apply the equation when used as an analog. That analog would be the interwebs. In the artery that we pump out ideas regarding how Blacks will use that economic power, we should as be involved in a flow of ideas regarding how we will be using the interweb. How will we use the interweb as a means to deflect and usurp the “conceptual entrapment of imagery” as sociologist Dennis Rome calls it in “Black Demons:Mass Media’s Depiction of the African American Male Criminal Stereotype”?

…we have to think about building a media base that has the resources and the muscle to promote…the way they should be in order that the world may see them, we are depending on some other vehicle that is not indigenous to our interests…
…the contributions we have made in the country cannot be reduced to a few negroes making money…
– Brenda Verner, Media Analystinterview with Richard Steele on WBEZ Chicago

As I have stated elsewhere, there are only truly three search engines on the Web: Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Bing. That means that three companies, with Google still leading the pack, have a database, a cache to be sure, of not only the websites housed on the servers that create the internet, but also the queries, the searches, that are made by those that use the applications. Couple that with social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and we begin to notice just how lonely it can be at the top office of information harvesting. Facebook’s founding representative, Mark Zuckerberg, has made his sentiments regarding privacy being a thing of the past known publicly. Twitter has packaged the updates of it’s users and struck a deal with the Library of Congress that allows user’s updates to be archived for the purported purpose of historical review. The word history doesn’t only imply past, it also means a study of the present, and a preparation for the future. Ultimately, our inability to ween our Selves from the hegemony of corporate interests. In fact, many are working towards establishing their stronghold further. Instead of making them spend with their website, many are demeaning the value of Black owned anything that doesn’t resemble the corporate model.

Knowing the economic power of the Black in the wilderness of the United States;knowing the possible propensity for internet usage and its possible projections into the future, I believe that we are doing our Selves a grave injustice by not taking full advantage of the resource under our own auspices. Instead of writing specious blog posts denigrating the Black entrepreneur, we should be promoting a means for the Black entrepreneur to have their own presence on the interweb beyond MySpace, Black Planet, Twitter, WhereBlackPeopleMeet, and Facebook. Viable entities can be created by Blacks in the same way that viable Black communities thrived during the 1910s when Blacks were forced to do business with one another. If we can avoid the temptation to be confused by our titles and efforts to achieve status and positions created by the same system that created the position of slavery. To remove the harness that is draped over our cognitive bodies seeping our souls of their vitality we must unlock our Selves from the belief that everything White is right with regard to the technological, the economic, the academic, and the scientific.

We have a chance to incorporate our Ancestral teaching of Thoth: of the one that crafts worlds with the electromagnetic properties captured within symbols like an inductor. Instead of asking is debt self-inflicted, ask is it necessary to live in a society where it is impossible to avoid incurring debt of some sort. Rent must be paid for days already lived in an abode. That means every day you stay in a rental property, or one that has a mortgage agreement, you are going into debt. Since we are so concerned with debt, why not ask was the debt that the United States government owes to Blacks self-inflicted? We must remove the resistors along the circuitry of our current progress, and build a new framework that can withstand the trends of cultural attenuation that prompt us to see our Selves outside of the context of history. As the battle for our minds moves beyond the plantations, beyond the burning black communities, beyond the bodies of babies bitten by dogs, beyond the bodies of babies burned in churches, beyond the bodies of babies shot through the neck, beyond the scholars murdered by train/bullet/needle/crack pipe/cancer cells, we have to continue to develop a regenerative ideology that promotes one to know the difference between a cultural creative practice and their own programmed elitism.

As a media warrior, it is treasonous for us to continue to use the interwebs as a means to promote the very same thought schema that pitted the darker ancestor against the lighter ancestor. The broke neighbor is being exploited by the not-so-much-as broke neighbor(I mean, damn, come on, y’all in the same neighborhood), and yet that same not-so-much-as broke neighbor is willing to come to the defense of those approved by the status quo. It is the house nigga, field nigga, free nigga paradigm remixed for the 2010 plantation! We are using the interweb to buttress the feeling of superiority and privilege of the very people who believe that you aren’t even a human! You are an ethnicity to them. That’s why there is porn, and there is ethnic porn. There are social issues and their are ethnic issues. That is why the term “ethnic” crops up as a determinant between white…and other than so. And their privilege is so encapsulated into the thinking of the Black that we propagate Manifest Destiny and “The White Man’s Burden” without realizing it.

In his book, “The Hidden Cost of Being African American”, Thomas M. Shapiro states,”…part of the power of dominant groups(in this case, whites) is their seeming invisibility and the fact that their status is often taken for granted, as if they are not active actors, agents, or benefactors in an unequal relationship. This is the mentality of white people that many of us Blacks who are using the interweb as a tool and a weapon are helping to infect our people with! What will we not do for money? What will we not do for a chance to be closer to the privileged class?

Too many of us have imbibed our Selves into an ejaculatory frenzy of ego worship based on polished mimicry of the western ideal. The asili, the basic cultural seed, of the western ideal, the Zeus factor, the Platonic separation, this diseased notion of bi-polarized non-thought. The belief that everything in existence is not only at war, but in a state of qualitative separation. That one element, function, or faculty is somehow, it must be, better than another. And Blacks have suckled on that whore’s inflamed, scaly, crusted, puss filled breast for so long that we base our standards of activity on theirs.

The interwebs are the new battle front for the minds of Black people, most likely the young. I pray that we all consider the efforts that we are putting forth, the thoughts that we are disseminating, and the degree of empathy our connections to the Black community infuses us with.

This is the level of development favored by the oppressor, the artless empty ideals of the pseudo-nation, love and respect for a flag, a nationalistic song or beat, the fervent belief in a bond or organization which arises out of a thwarted longing for real community. The establishment does everything in its power to ensure that revolutionary rage is redirect into empty outlets which provide pressure releases for desires that could become dangerous if allowed to progress. At this stage in the development of monopoly capitalism, there are two alternatives: aggressive revolutionary activity or calcification. Conservative society, black or white, is decadent society; due to the absence of creativity and movement, conservative society always burns itself out. – Comrade George jackson, Blood In My Eyes