Tribalism: The Cream In Your Coffee


A couple of weeks ago, I posted a link to an article alleging that Gabrielle Union excluded Dwayne Wade’ s “break baby” from the family Christmas card. I asked my friends’ opinions on the issue and boy did I get it. For two days, my friends debated back and forth about a wife’s duties to her husband’s “outside” children. Many thought that since she knew about the “break baby” before their nuptials, she should have fully embraced the child in their family undertakings. Some felt that she had no obligation to the “break baby” and that Dwayne Wade was the only adult in that household who had any obligation to the child. If the report about the Wade/Union clan is true, I surmise that in Gabrielle Union’s mind, the “break baby” is not a part of her tribe and she feels no obligation to invite him into it.

The discussion was interesting, as I’d been thinking in the weeks beforehand about tribalism. I believe that everybody, whether it’s PC these days to admit or not, is a tribalist at heart. Before I go on, tribalism is defined as “the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group” (Google). I should note that definition was marked as the “derogatory” use of the word.

But why though?

In the Black community, tribalism is observed but only demonized when middle-class, educated Blacks practice it.  Often referred to as “skinfolk,” there’s an expectation that Black people should stick together, sometimes at unfeasible costs. We’re admonished not to judge that young man who has a rap sheet as long as my arm and even make excuses for his behavior; poverty, racism, capitalism, etc… You’re Assistant Satan if you dare suggest that that young lady with 3 children and a bun in the oven who is the cover for a nationwide story on the end of government benefits make different choices and stop self-burdening. I do not have enough fingers on which to count the times that I’ve sat in conversations that suggested that middle and upper-class Blacks are charged with the conditions in “the hood” or had a finger shaken at them for their lack of association with its residents.

These days, those people are diagnosed with a severe case of with “internalized racism.” I disagree and choose to believe that most of the time, it’s just plain old tribalism. That old saying, “birds of a feather flock together,” and your parents’ teachings that you should watch who you hang with have merit even in adulthood. I posit that the stakes are higher in adulthood, as you’re not just risking a demerit should you find yourself in the wrong company. On that note, I don’t think we can afford to shrug off that person who graduated college and moved out of the hood the next day with no intentions of returning as merely a self-hating coon.

I am and have always been a tribalist, and unabashedly so. To my knowledge, I have no friends who think everybody wants to hear what music they are playing in their car. 99% of my friends have attained an education equal to or greater than a bachelor’s degree. For most of my friends, trap music is an occasional guilty pleasure and not a part of their regular diet. Most of my friends live in safe neighborhoods and come from families similar to my own. My friends largely have the same value system as I.


Did I do that on purpose? Yes and no. Any of us that has taken a base level psychology or sociology course learned that people are attracted, both romantically and socially, to people who are most like themselves. I’ve never purposely set out to exclude people whose lives are dissimilar to my own, but it always works out that way and I believe I’m the better for it. While society tends to swear off –isms of all kinds, I’ve seen myriad situations where tribalism swooped in and saved the day. Tribalism can help build and/or preserve formidable family legacies. Tribalism can help shape careers. Tribalism can help circumvent many an unfortunate situation or can help a person survive one.

With all of the obstacles that Black people face, you may wonder how I can take this stance. Easy. I don’t believe that the only way that we can unify is to occupy each other’s space. No matter the “level” of tribe one belongs to, they still have their own issues that they have to sort through; and even with common problems like racism, each tribe decides the method of combat that they deem the most advantageous. As we work through our problems on a micro level, it seems inevitable that things should eventually change on a macro level.

I have no animosity towards anybody that’s not a part of my tribe. I wish them no undeserved affliction. In fact, I hope that they can find their own tribe of people who are as beneficial to them as they are to the tribe. But, I believe it’s time to stop trying to get Black people to strap other Black people on each other’s back. It’s definitely time to stop demonizing Blacks who opt-out of the various facets of the Black experience.

“We Are Not Our Grandparents:” Yeah, That’s Pretty Clear

About the last month or so, there has been this theme floating around social media. It has shown up on t-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, mugs and probably underwear too. It has become even more popular in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.“We Are Not Our Grandparents” seems to have become the new rallying cry to tell whites of all ages that the overt racism that has begun to re-rear its ugly head will not be met with chants of “We Shall Overcome” a la 1962.

Before I go on, I want to jump into the “Way Back” machine. My grandparents came up in a harsh era. They came up before DNA evidence was used to exonerate a Black person of a crime they were falsely accused of at the whim of a disgruntled white person. There were no cell phone cameras to record racist encounters which could then be posted on worldwide platforms in the hopes that the racist of record would be shamed into obscurity; or at least a half-hearted apology. The only “safe space” they had might have been a Black church if they were lucky. There were no “trigger warnings” before reading a racist diatribe in the weekly gazette.

My grandparents were also hard workers. My mother’s father came from a line of land owners. Post-emancipation, they worked for nobody. My great-great grandfather built one of the first schools for other children of color in the county. They farmed their own land and sold their own yield. My great-grandfather was an acclaimed agriculturalist who somehow managed to transform the soil quality and teach others his techniques. They had 12 children and sent all of the living to college. My grandparents had 8 children and sent all of the living to college as well.

They knew that nothing was free and everything required either money, work, or both. When they or their children needed something that may have been a financial stretch, there was no Go Fund Me; there was Go Get An Extra Job. Sacrifice was not a problem for them because they knew that what they needed outweighed what they wanted and waxing tragic about people who had more than they did and how that wasn’t fair was a waste of time and literally does not pay. They always took care of business and always had more than enough.

I know that many people interpret, “We Are Not Our Grandparents”, to mean that the non-violence angle of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s is no longer an option to which the current generation is willing to subscribe. The truth is that the non-violence stance took a level of maturity, wisdom, and discipline that this generation simply does not have.

This is a generation that shuns wise advice as “shaming.” This is also a generation that will become frustrated because the same people with the wise advice won’t help them. This is a generation that will write 3,000-word “think pieces” on the evils of capitalism in rapid succession and then, after spending their last $10 on a Marvel movie (and you bet’ not say nothing to them about it), will set up a Go Fund Me asking the public to use the money potential donors earned through participating in capitalism to help them pay for anything from rent to a vacation because work is traumatizing.

As an aside, the founders of GFM sold a majority stake in the company for several hundred million dollars. They’re chillin’ off a percentage of the money you had people donate to you for rent in the name of circumventing “the system.” Death to capitalism, right?

I have said and will continue to say that without the election of President Obama, these same people who have become Tumblr scholars would still have been walking around ignorant to how insidious racism is. Our grandparent’s generation had to learn that lesson early and down to their bones. Their life depended on it. Yet, they managed to survive and progress at the same time that their churches were being bombed and the KKK was at their front door. Many of them had to sit vigil with shotguns just to keep their family safe. There was no keyboard behind which they could hide.

Contrary to what Millennials say, previous generations did NOT have it easier. They realized that life is what it is and in the face of that reality continued to work, fight, and push on knowing that standing in one place with their proverbial bottom lip poked out and being mad about their parents and grandparents or even society at large, got them no closer to where they wanted to be in life. As “trigger warnings” go, our parents and grandparents should hardly be able to leave the house let alone have raised us.

Maybe some of the political moves the Boomers made caused economic trouble for Millennials. That happens throughout every generation. In 30 years, people will be pissed at Millennials for the fact that nobody knows the difference between “there”, “their”, and “they’re.”


Oh, and that non-violence thing? On an almost daily basis, we see and read accounts of this generation coming in contact with overt and even violent racism (and other –isms/-antagonisms) and doing nothing more than posting about it on Facebook and getting their friends and followers, who ain’t gon’ do shit either, emotionally riled up for 20 minutes. This generation, that pats itself on the back for its ability to “drag” people for 90 minutes on Facebook and Twitter, doesn’t have the fortitude to offer the same wisecracks they furiously type out on Facebook when they’re face-to-face. Then, there’s the assertion that “silence is violence” and that someone calling you a name is violence. Yet, a huge part of the “dragging” people luuuuurve to do is…calling names.

With that said, George Zimmerman, the one that you who are not your grandparents guaranteed would be in hell by now, is still alive so I don’t think our generation really wants to have the non-violence discussion with our noses in the air.

Enjoy your caps, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and whatever else while they’re fresh out the box. Just remember that the major reason that you even have the luxury of walking down the street wearing a t-shirt alluding to an (idle) threat of retaliatory violence without having to let everyone know that despite your “dragging,” you ain’t about that life is because of the work of the grandparents whose work you derogate.

We are not our grandparents. We make that clear every single day.