The Most Tribal People on Planet Earth

Alexander Lynn

White Americans are the most tribal people on planet Earth. The other day, during a break in the action, a member of the White recovery group which I attend told me — the only African American in the room — that he recently experienced what it was like to be a “minority” for the first time. He gratuitously proceeded to describe the scene at the nightclub to which his Black friend had taken him: Everyone was Black but him. I tried to interject that this is a very common story to be visited upon Black people by unaware White people, but he persisted with details about the music, the dancing, the dress styles, each of which contributed to his sense that he was “by himself…”

People from nations of European ancestry make up 16% of the world’s people. White people make up 16% of humanity,[i] yet everyday some White people can readily be heard recounting their experience of “feeling like a minority” for the first time. How can this be, for such a small section of the human race? Economic and political domination come to mind. And tribalism: White Americans are an endemically insular people; they stay amongst themselves. The United States in the year 2016 remains highly segregated.

Images of Tribalism

Today, predominating is not so much a physical segregation (though this is very much alive and well), but a cultural segregation which premises itself on looking at the world through White-centric glasses; this cultural hegemony is facilitated by ownership and control of the means of cultural and social expression — the ability, through multiple media forms (business discourse, government nomenclature, the language of the workplace, television, and more), to present whiteness as humanness. A famous quote from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels comes to mind in this regard:

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas…” [ii]

CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, ABC, General Electric, Westinghouse, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Hearst, Gannett, Time, Turner Broadcasting, McGraw-Hill, Knight-Ridder,[iii] that is, the media monopolists — a very important section of the corporate ruling class in this country — own the means of idea production and distribution.

Naming Whiteness as Humanness In the above regard it must be noted that the various ways the U.S. government and media name human groups is directly counter to the way the people of the world, as represented in the terminology of International Law, name ourselves. Where International Law speaks of countries, that is, “States,” U.S. official nomenclature blurs countries, races, and nations as if these were interchangeable social phenomena. International Law speaks of racism perpetrated against nations and peoples. U.S. government and media speak of “minorities” (referring to 84% of the world’s people — People of Color), “ethnicities,” and “racial subgroups.” Where International Law speaks of the rights of nations to political independence, and the rights of nations and peoples to self determination,[iv] the dominant cultural expressions in the U.S. are of “Caucasians” (this is presumably the “White race…”), “Asians” (another “race”) and “other races.” In other words, the dominant discourse is of biological subspecies of the human race.[vi] Biological science has long determined that there is no validity for such — there is one species, the human race.[vii] International Law understands White Americans as a nation (a social, not biological, phenomenon), Puerto Ricans as a nation colonized by the country called the United States of America, ditto for Hawaii and Alaska; African Americans are a people (a nationality, “of-nation”), Chicanos are understood to be a nation, and International Law recognizes numerous Native American social groups as nations and peoples.[viii]

Early Tribal Fantasies Those of us who came up as children at the time of the emergence of television (1950-‘s) were treated to the images of the Lone Ranger (and Tonto , the Lone Ranger’s “Indian” stooge; translated, Tonto means “dumb ass”), Tarzan and John Wayne. Each of these “pioneers” often found themselves alone among the savage natives, and through their guile, ingenuity, pure values and resilience, they were able to persevere intact and whole in the face of their brutal (brutes are animals), unsavory hosts. Sound familiar? Somehow, my acquaintance at the recovery meeting survived his encounter with “minority” status…. These are the first images of tribalism produced by the mass media of the United States. They were the ideological reflection of the annihilation of the Native Peoples of North America by the invading, conquering Europeans.

Broken down, John Wayne-ism is the imagery of white supremacist projection — it is these White conquerors who are the real tribalists: wild, lawless, hedonistic and war-mongering. It was the Lone Ranger, Tarzan and John Wayne who framed visually, for popular consumption, the white supremacist project.

Again, to be explicit, the White American tribal disorder is not of biological origin. White Americans are a social phenomenon, born of history, not of a sub-species. White tribalism is a social disorder born of the white supremacist political and economic system, U.S. capitalism.[ix] And its adherents do not have this racism stamped in their DNA.

“Is She Your Blood?” I introduced one of my daughters to a White American recently, and this person asked me, “Is she your blood daughter?” I looked at this woman as if she was speaking a different language (she was; she was speaking White American). To such expression on my face she responded, “Well, today you have to ask… [emphasis added].” I said, “No, you have to ask [emphasis in original]. In fact, only White people ask such questions.” Deep devotees of the nuclear family and patriarchal norms (i.e., children as property — in this regard, the white supremacist project and male supremacy are twin systems, born together, joined at the hip since birth),[x] in the daily discourse of middle class White Americans are concepts such as “half sister,” “step son,” “adopted children” (“orphans”), “mother-in-law,” and more. These are staple categories for the White American tribe. How does 16% of the population avoid ever experiencing themselves as “minorities”? By insisting that “we [People of Color] have to ask” whether our loved ones are our blood family (i.e., whether we own them by their laws…).

White People can be Anyone They want to be A progressive political activist friend of mine has a Jewish-sounding last name, and I asked him if he was Jewish (I was inquiring about his heritage). He told me, “No, I don’t consider myself Jewish. I’m not of the Jewish faith [he does not practice Judaism, the religion], nor do I consider Jews to be a people in the United States.” I said, “Neither do I.” He then revealed that, “I consider myself to be Palestinian…” He went on to explain that he feels very close to the Palestinian national movement, that he has numerous dear friends among this oppressed people, and that he yearly visits Occupied Palestine. My observation of this person is that each of the claims he made about himself in this last sentence are true. I asked him a few days later, “How does this make you Palestinian rather than a White American?” Rather than admit that it is very common for White people to wake up on any given day and claim to be…something other than White people, he told me, “I think you took what I said out of context”…

The Boston Globe received the below letter to the editor a few years ago:

Dear Editors: It was quite disgusting reading the first sentence of the review about John Mayer (I’ve never heard of him) regarding his desire to be “Sam Cooke one day and Jay-Z the next,” then “Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield” (“Next stop: beyond ‘Wonderland’,” Globe, August 27, 2006). Why didn’t he throw in John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix and Aretha Franklin while he was at it? It brings to mind the oft-quoted African-American saying, “White people can be whatever they want to be.” The Globe columnist shares equal responsibility with Mayer (whoever he is) for citing this bizarre and disrespectful declaration. Sincerely, Yolanda Lynn

This is not what we mean when we implore White people to transcend their whiteness and strive to become fully human…

Ancestors.com, et al Witness the latest DNA craze. The advertisements portray “candid” testimony from White people who find out, “I am 12% Native American.” This satisfied customer gushes on about “discovering” who she really is. This is the cultural-identity-parallel to bariatric surgery/weight loss surgery in the field of medicine: Morbid obesity is born of the disease of compulsive overeating — there is no known cure for food addiction. By a sleight of hand, the U.S. medical industry passes off the procedure of stapling the stomach of the addict as a cure… Similarly, by “discovering” that, “instead of me having mostly Irish blood, it turns out that I am 28% Greek;” that is, by taking the DNA pill the otherwise White American national can solve his identity issues. Tribalism of this magnitude is a very difficult problem to solve, and this DNA craze is root and branch of the white supremacist project.

Have you seen the Ancestors.com client, a Brother (African American) who discovers that one of his descendants was a slave?… :-( … Not to worry, he then discovered that another of his forbearers was a doctor!… :-)

Naming God The reverend of my church (in the center of Boston’s African America) began his sermon today by introducing a spiritual, and enunciating that “The Black church has always addressed not a theoretical faith, or a faith based in our minds or books, but a faith that is from our lived experience, one that comes from, and is rooted in, our bodies.” He gave his sermon while we sang, clapped and danced. Black Americans transparently own our relationship to a transcendent reality as one experienced by us as Folk. There is no White church in the US where you will hear the pastor or preacher say that their faith is White. Why? Because when White people worship, they are firm and uniform in their understanding that it is humans that are worshipping, that White people are simply humans. To hear them tell it, there is no White quality to their worship.

Tribal Manners I live in a historic public housing project; Villa Victoria was the first Latinx (mostly Puerto Rican) housing project in Boston, built in the early 1960’s. It is also historic because it is all that is left of Boston’s South End Latinx community, after a tidal wave of gentrification in the 1980’s wiped out Folks from this locale. The housing project is now surrounded by a segregated gentry — White upper middle class people. When I come out of the building in the morning, my neighbors and I greet each other, “Good morning,” “Hello,” “How you doin’?” One block beyond the confines of the projects, I see Mr. Businessman with his brief case, and I say “Good morning,” and he clutches his bag, and rushes by me turning his head away as he goes.

I recently figured out this social peculiarity: Gentrification displaces the families, the extended families and communities of People of Color and poor people. (The poor White working class people of South Boston are now being moved out en masse by a yuppie onslaught there…). When formerly historic Black communities like Harlem and Roxbury are gentrified, the last Folks to go are street people, drug addicts, pan handlers, the homeless, street walkers. Many of the newly arrived “community residents” have never experienced community in their lives — the suburbs are generally neighborhoods, geographic entities, not communities. When they see me coming towards them on the sidewalk, and (“heavens to Betsy”), I say “Good morning” to them, they know what’s up: I must want something from them. Their immediate task now becomes to figure out how to get away from me without losing anything. White tribalism is a pure form of projection — they steal our locales, homes, schools…, and they’re worried we’re going to steal their bag….

Millions of Righteous White People

What often gets lost, even in the exposure of this tribalism,[1] is the negative effect it has on White people. There is no human group more bereft of their real history than are White Americans. There are millions of White Americans who have lived righteous lives, but who they are and what constitutes the elements of this righteousness is left out of the history books and the promoted images today of what is “supposed to be” White.

Those Abolitionists who risked and gave their lives in the prosecution of the Underground Railroad — the depth and breadth of their contribution to a genuine People’s History of the United States is left out of the official version.[xi] Many of the White working class men who sacrificed their lives in the Civil War actually did so for the cause of freedom for Americans of African descent.

The socialists who boycotted both World War I and World War II because they were imperialist wars were maligned, jailed and otherwise written off — we don’t hear about them.[xii] Those White laborers/union activists who fought for the rights of all working people,[xiii] including workers of-Color — there are no cit-com’s or prime time TV dramas depicting such personages.

The humans of European descent who devoted their lives, on the side of the people, to the national liberation movements, their contribution was indispensible to the victory of the cause of humanity, and yet their immense countenances[xiv] are buried underneath the cultural icons of the modern West — movie stars, music idols, fashion models and sports heroes.

Today, there are many White people standing against “the tribe,” and for human liberation. As we seek to move beyond a sick culture, from a decrepit system, from a dying civilization, it must be a fully humanizing process, and all White people who seek to be humans must be supported in this healthy project. People of Color, as part of our social make-up, are inclusive peoples. We support these White people who in acting as humans will “suffer” their exclusion from the White tribe. They will be ostracized, tarred and feathered.

While there is no known cure for White tribalism, the spiritual strength of righteous White people who seek to be humans is certainly the antidote, and can put the disease in remission. It is only the healthy inclusion of each other that can result in a successful transition from social decay to the achievement of genuine humanity, righteous, beautiful and free.

[1] Effective writing should not have to explain itself. However, the responses to the first drafts of this story seem to demand elaboration on its central term, tribalism. In this narrative it is a discursive device. This article does not aspire to social science criteria; it is journalism. This writing uses everyday experiences to depict the impact of white supremacist ideology on all of us. In this regard, the concept “tribe,” that is, in the history of its practical use in Europe and the United States, is 100% white supremacist. The historiography of the concept reveals it to be a wholly White-centric exercise, entirely within the “white canon,” part of the Western ideological arsenal, emblematic of the Euro-centric compendium.

Language is created by people, and words change their meaning as people change the world. As European colonialism became an era-identified universal system, and, since the creation of the US following the anti-colonial war for independence culminating in 1776, the United States global colonial mission followed suit, becoming the definitive imperialist state on the planet. The term “tribal” has been an ideological mechanism to frame indigenous peoples, the nations and peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, as worthy of subjugation and annihilation, as ungodly, “savages,” who need to be civilized. As the John Wayne images reveal themselves today, it is the colonial system itself which is the very definition of sub-humanity.

A sociological tract might assemble quantitative data. For example, the pie chart on race (p. 2). This pie chart assumes race as a viable, legitimate and useful social science determinant. A social science exercise would, further, investigate all of the concomitant literature of the discipline on this subject. On the basis of the data and the excavation of the other organized written material on the subject, the social science tract would draw conclusions, would present findings, and argue for its own interpretation of certain identifiable results.

Moreover, the purport of such a discourse, in the vast majority of what passes (“passes”: i.e., sanctioned — published — by the Academe) for social science is ideological. In other words, it is “findings” in favor of either conservatism, fascism, liberalism, bourgeois democracy, and/or Western-defined “socialism.” Each of these is a variant of white supremacist ideology. For example, Bernard Bailyn, the celebrated Harvard American History Professor, in his heralded/definitive treatise called The Teaching and Writing of History, observes that “Robert E. Lee [was a] wonderful man [a wonderful slaver] who quietly disappeared after the Civil War, serving loyally as President of Washington College [this became his job once legal chattel slavery was abolished]…” (University Press of New England, 1994, p.56). Which variant of white supremacist ideology is our esteemed Harvard expert on history expressing in this pronouncement?

Conversely, this essay is non-ideological. (The peoples do not refer to themselves as “tribes.” Please refer to endnote #8 to approach the way Indigenous peoples name themselves.) The purpose of this essay is to instigate, to stimulate, to induce the reader to locate herself and her role inside the white supremacist project. Where today do you act out the “savage” role as prescribed by John Wayne? Are you still being “settled” by the Pilgrims today?; by your supervisor at work; by invading gentry into your neighborhood; by the local police; by the Immigration and Naturalization Service authorities? In what ways are you being engineered to help with the project — how are you being asked to participate in “settling” others today?

The White American nation is arguably the most dominant nation in the history of humankind. Like all nations since the emergence of Western Civilization as a global era, there are social classes in the White nation, and as such, the state (United States of America), as an organ of class rule, represents the will of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class; this is the dominant class in the White nation. That monopoly capitalism and white supremacy are coincident systems, indeed, one-and-the-same system, is evidenced by the fact that the preservation and maintenance of corporate rule depends on all classes in the imperialist nation to adhere to the white supremacist project. The ideology and practice of white supremacy defines the economic and political system.

The last section of this essay (to which this digression is a footnote) is attempting to show that this monolithic adherence to monopoly capital and white supremacy cannot be counted on. It is possible for we the people to move past dying Western Civilization to our creation of a sane, healthy, human social order.

[i] Mossling. (2010). “Global Population by Race & The Future of Our World.” http://www.sciencechatforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=82&t=16165

[ii] Marx, Karl & Frederick Engels. (1845). The German ideology. New York: International Publishers.

[iii] Herman, Edward & Noam Chomsky. (1988). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.

[iv] United Nations Doc.A/4684 (1960) states flatly: The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to world peace and co-operation…. All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political stature and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.Declaration of the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.” General Assembly Resolution 1514, 15th United Nations, 1960. United Nations Doc. A/6014 (1965) further states: All states shall respect the right of self-determination and independence of peoples and nations, to be freely exercised without any foreign pressure, and with absolute respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Declaration of the Inadmissibility of Intervention in Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of Their Independence and Sovereignty,” General Assembly Resolution 2131, 20th United Nations, 1965.

v Mossling. (2010). “Global Population by Race & The Future of Our World.” http://www.sciencechatforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=82&t=16165

[vi] Jones, Jacquiline. (2013). A dreadful deceit: the myth of race from the Colonial era to Obama’s America. Basic Books.

[vii] American Journal of Physical Anthropology. (1996). “[T]here is a broad scientific agreement that essentialist and typological conceptualizations of race are untenable…” “Pure races, in the sense of genetically homogeneous populations, do not exist in the human species today, nor is there any evidence that they have ever existed in the past.”-p.714. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

[viii] “…As peoples, and only as peoples wielding internationally acknowledged rights to restore our fully national existences… we place ourselves in a position to excise the parasite… the long road to liberation — which is to say, the route back to ourselves — begins right here…” Churchill, Ward. (1994). Indians are us? Culture and genocide in Native North America. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.

[ix] Baptist, Edward. (2014). The half has never been told: Slavery and the making of American capitalism. Basic Books.

[x] Lynn, Alexander. (2013). “Class society was male supremacist before it was white supremacist.” Roxbury: Social Justice Education.

[xi] Nelson, Truman. (1972). The Old Man: John Brown at Harper’s Ferry. Beacon Press.

[xii] For Socialists who resisted WWI and WWII see Zinn, Howard. (1999). People’s History of the United States. New York: Haperperrenial.

[xiii] See in this regard, the PBS documentary: American Experience. (2016). “The Mine Wars.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/theminewars/

[xiv] Cole, Peter. (2015). “RIP George Houser, US ally of Southern African liberation struggles.” http://africasacountry.com/2015/09/george-houser-us-ally-of-southern-african-liberation-struggles-is-no-more/

[xv] Cole, Peter. (2015). “RIP George Houser, US ally of Southern African liberation struggles.” http://africasacountry.com/2015/09/george-houser-us-ally-of-southern-african-liberation-struggles-is-no-more/

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