“I’m so happy to be part of this tribe,”—a simple and positive social media post. It elicits “likes” and supportive comments. Another common post in our running group page, “ten miles with my tribemates, so proud of them.” You’ve seen it, in your team’s Facebook page, or in business groups, or supportive social networks. On Instagram you’ll find the ubiquitous #bridetribe hashtag. But It seems like there is always someone who responds with something like, “be careful how you use the word tribe. It can be considered racist.” But they don’t tell us why. Why would this be?
My brain goes in all sorts of directions—is the bigger topic related to tribes of Africa? Indian history in the United States? Or is it generating a feeling to some that we are making a cultural assimilation or appropriation? If so, I would argue the person complaining about it is the one assigning a negative thought process here.
An old article on teachingtolerance.com talks about the use of “tribe” in reference to the study of African nations which we are not doing…. that use of the word promotes misleading stereotypes, saying “It carries misleading historical and cultural assumptions. It blocks accurate views of African realities.” We can all agree that more education is always a good thing, especially today, on the subject, but we are not college professors. We are not writing academic articles for history journals. We are not referring to anyone from other countries as tribes. We are not studying African nations and producing reports. We are not influencing any political thinktanks. All of that academic life has nothing to do with calling ourselves a “tribe”. Even the good old Merriam-Webster dictionary is okay with it:
“a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest“
“informal + humorous : a large family“
Google search results produced one marketer who says that use of “tribe” in marketing “is over with, don’t use it”. She pokes at the #bridetribe as an example. So what? The #bridetribes aren’t selling a product or creating social change. They are having fun. They are expressing their friendship. Her advice may be okay for marketing professionals selling serious products, but we don’t need to worry about that.
Another marketing ‘expert’ says we should come up with alternative words. He offers a long list and here are just a few, which crack me up. He must be extremely woke:
- Society (vague much?)
- People (how original!)
- Horde (really?)
- Troupe (are we circus folk?)
- Family (duh)
- Gang (probably would get flagged on social media)
- Coterie (WTF?)
- Syndicate (very “Bourne Identity”)
- Friends (no shit)
Over the summer on a hot Sunday, I was scheduled to run eight miles in the sticky, humid weather. Turns out, my legs were done before mile 5 and I gave in and decided to walk the last three-plus. I encouraged the group to forge ahead. I know my way through town and told them I would be just fine. A friend hung back and walked with me (even though I repeatedly encouraged her to run off). Later when I thanked her for being so patient, she said “hey, we are a tribe, we don’t leave people alone out there.” You see? How is this a bad thing? Dear marketers, I really don’t think switching “tribe” out for the word “community” would be effective here.
John Boudreau of Wilbraham, MA described his tribe to me. “Lindsey’s Tribe” is one of the leading fundraisers for our local breast cancer nonprofit, Rays of Hope. ROH has raised over $15M to date and the funds have stayed local to western Massachusetts residents. (Heck, I don’t matter in this equation, but I did get into running so that I could learn to run the ROH five miles in support of my mother, diagnosed in 2014 and cancer-free today.)
“The “Tribe” got its painful but beautiful start when Lindsey lost her first child 12+ years ago. They had just closed on their first house. While she and the baby were in the hospital for five days, a group of friends started coming together to help them get the house cleaned up to move in. What ended up happening was a magical group of over 30 young people who cleaned, painted walls and ceilings, installed lights, landscaped, refinished floors….over a four-day period. The Tribe was born. They were again called to action when Lindsey was diagnosed with breast cancer. They helped with the boys, cooked meals, delivered groceries, went with Lindsey to chemo sessions….”
I recently finished reading TRIBE by Sebastian Junger. The book jacket says that the author “demonstrates that regaining our tribal connection – largely lost in modern society – may be the key to our psychological survival.” In the Introduction he talks about his decision as a young man to hitchhike across northwestern US. “The sheer predictability of life in an American suburb left me hoping—somewhat irresponsibly—for a hurricane or a tornado or something that would require us to all band together to survive.” See, that’s just it – a common goal, a common challenge. Our running group is not enduring military stress like Junger writes about, but the goals and the bonds that form are real.