7 min read
Dear reader.... you might not like what I'm going to say. But see if you can imagine a world without tribalism after considering that it is alive and real and defining us every day.
Centuries later, people have migrated and their skin has adapted to varying degrees of sunlight. We have light skinned and dark skinned, we have thick hair and thin. We have light eyes and dark. Most importantly, we have an even greater variety to choose to categorize. We humans feel the pressure of so many humans trying to take resources and power from us. We must band together... and the easiest way to band together is simply to choose to be amongst those who look most like us. By choosing to make the ones who are already similar to us, we oversimplify the differences amongst our group. If they are different thinkers, we begin to indoctrinate them and change them so they think like us.
Maybe it isn't just skin anymore. Maybe it's a uniform. Maybe it's a series of symbolic tattoos that tell us which gang we are part of.
Maybe it's just easier... to choose to be with a group of people that will protect us, even if our similarites are shallow and superficial.
I began my introduction into anthropology assuming that tribes were small little groups of villagers that barely anyone knew about somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. I saw it as a primitive term, something based on old reports and studies. I don't think that anymore.The tribes are real, and very complex, and they're right in our backyard. They are in our street and in our homes. They are tagging our buildings and shooting up our streets. They are working in our stores and they are in and out of jail. They are cops and they are gang members and they are mobs and they are families and they are even the elite upper class.
I'm walking this very strange line between worlds every day I show up to work. I genuinely like the sheriffs I see every day, and I genuinely enjoy the personalities of my students who are inmates at the jail. I can neither take the side of the sheriffs or the side of the inmates, ever. I relate to them all as humans. And yet, I know they are from different tribes, and that those tribes are in many ways pitted against each other just by the fact that this generational feud extends into law enforcement and "street thugs". Even amongst my students, they have history amongst themselves and others that separate them; values that they carry that define them and that they believe protect "their people", and stories of enemies and battles that almost always are paid in blood or sacrifice.
So where does this feud end? Will it ever? If my own friends who are not gang members, but happen to be queer, or immigrants, or POC (person of color), hate the cops so much because of the stories they grew up on, of fearing the cops, of being harassed by them, then what keeps them from joining a gang that would protect them from harassment? Or what keeps scared white kids, who have been exposed to the misdirected anger and violence of a POC, from deciding all POCs are violent, and what keeps them from joining another gang, or tribe or telling their kids that POCs are hateful and the enemy tribe? After enough altercations with violent and drugged-up criminals, what keeps the mind of a cop from getting jaded? After all, they're being shown the worst, are they not?
The story seems to feed on itself, and this multigenerational feud of tribes keeps going on and on and on....
So let me leave you with these images. See if you can notice the characteristics, the uniforms, the tattoos, the characteristic similarities that define each group. See for yourself if it seems like we have many tribes amongst us....
We always find ways to show what tribe we belong to... don't we.