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Tribalism in America

By V. Susan Hutchinson

Kamala Harris is not just the Vice President-Elect, she is the embodiment of tribalism. When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won last week, the media gushed over it, especially as Harris is the first woman Vice President-Elect. But they didn’t stop there. They needed to emphasize Harris was the first Black woman, the first Indian-American woman, the first AKA sorority sister and the first Howard University graduate to be in such a high government office.

Everyone seems to want to identify with a piece of Kamala Harris to the point where it was even mentioned that her husband is Jewish. It seems the only group that can’t claim her as one of their own is the LGBTQ community.

Tribalism is Rampant

Tribalism, in context of popular culture, refers to “a way of thinking or behaving in which people are loyal to their social group above all else.” Claiming Kamala Harris as part of a specific group or tribe infers that she will be a strong voice for them and, maybe, only for them.

Harris will certainly govern in the best interest of all Americans, but the perception from those who can’t claim her as one of their own is that she will remember who her tribes are first and prioritize their needs.

Everyone seems to have a need for at least one label. Even White people find themselves being prideful when they can claim 1/32 Cherokee or some other Native American tribe in their heritage. Truth be told, the majority of them have no idea that their White ancestors came to America and made a concerted effort to eradicate all Native American tribes to acquire their land. It’s just something for them to make themselves feel a bit unique even though they still consider themselves White.

We should, of course, celebrate our diversity, but we should not let it keep us from reaching across the divide to understand other cultures, their challenges and what drives them.

Understanding Is More Important Than Words

The typical White response to Black Lives Matter is “All Lives Matter.” From the White perspective this statement implies that Black lives are more important than theirs. The history and mission of Black Lives Matter is no longer talked about and we are now left with three words that are misunderstood by others because they have no context. Would the average White American still give that reply if they knew the origins of the movement? Would it make a difference if they knew why it is important as a cry for not only justice for Black Americans, but as a need to be recognized as equal, in every aspect of society, to all other Americans?

Maybe we should find out by explaining it instead of just chastising them for not understanding.

Everything today seems to be taken on a personal level and may be interpreted as an attack against someone’s tribe. Those with public visibility have to be careful what they say so it isn’t taken out of context and upsets some tribe. There are no longer any “innocent” comments or faux pas’. Everyone has to be held accountable especially when their comments are unintentional or are open for various interpretations.

It seems someone somewhere is always going to be offended.

Are All White Republican Voters Racist?

Ardent Trump supporters will try to tell you it’s hard to be White in America today. It’s hard to just be any type of American today, but as a true tribe, it’s all about them. The ones that are vocal in their rhetoric about being proud to be White are always part of groups that promote racism and condemn the diversity of America as diluting out the White population.

They are not the majority; they are just the ones getting recognition in the media. Unfortunately, other tribes perceive this as they represent all of the White Republicans in America.

Guilt by skin color.

The obvious racist Trump supporters came out for him in this election, but there were, most likely, quite a few who were willing to overlook Trump’s racism. Failure of someone from another tribe to condemn your idea of what is wrong means they must hold the same beliefs.

But were all of the White Trump voters really thinking about race when they cast their ballots? Why were they willing to overlook Trump’s overt racism and support for White supremacists? There are, most likely, a number of reasons.

Maybe these White voters were practicing political tribalism. Maybe they have a history of voting Republican in their family and can’t quite bring themselves to switch parties even when it is glaringly wrong to vote for the Republican candidate. Do we just chastise them and call them names? What will that accomplish?

Absolutely nothing. It will just perpetuate the division.

It’s time to start understanding what makes Americans tick. All Americans, not just the ones who get the media attention or are sought out for their votes in important elections. It’s time we stopped putting elected officials into tribes with the hope they will be the voice and savior for them. Government officials swear an oath to the Constitution, not to tribes.

Joe Biden wants to unify America. He won’t be able to do this until he can find a way to get the various tribes to think of themselves as American first all while understanding and respecting the views of other tribes.


Author’s note: This article in no way makes any claim that racism is acceptable anywhere in America by any group. The objective is to get the reader to see that understanding goes both ways and is the key to unifying America again.

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