An Antidote to Tribalism

Several years ago I began paying more attention to Rochester’s status as one of the most segregated communities in the country (One aspect of white privilege is that we don’t have to pay attention). Because of where I lived (Penfield) and how I lived, I was complicit in this racial segregation. I hung out with my own tribe, almost exclusively. Also, with a typical white mindset, I was not conscious of what I was missing in my life because of this separation.

I offer some sweeping generalizations here (there is no monolithic Black culture), but these are some of the qualities I find in abundance in the people I’m coming to know, late in life:

Resilience: This is so evident in the historical arc of Black history in this country. Slavery was only the beginning. Jim Crow, lynchings, disenfranchisement in myriad forms, interpersonal, structural and institutional racism to the present day. Determination in the face of seemingly impossible, unjust circumstances.

Courage: Again, historical and present day. There are the well-known icons like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, MLK, etc. But I’m at least as awed and inspired by the countless stories of bravery, determination and audacity, at high risk, by “ordinary” citizens of color I’ve met.


Truth-telling: The willingness to speak truth to power, to call us out on our entrenched bias, our privileged advantage, our intentional and unintentional crippling actions and attitudes. This characteristic is especially striking because the truth-telling is so often met with denial or defensiveness or critique about how something was said – in short, white fragility.

Patience: Beyond-belief tolerance as we continue to shelter ourselves in denial, fragility, privilege, arrogance, and judgments. As I become more aware of “hidden” history and more educated about current reality, I’m awed at times that we’re even still on speaking terms.

Ingenuity: An example: while do-gooder whites are convinced that they can “help” poor people by teaching how to manage finances better, I’m instead astounded at the stories I hear of stretching a dollar, juggling demands, generating extra income, making a way out of no way. Perhaps the teaching should be in reverse.

Righteous Anger: Every credible study supports the case that the deck is stacked against African Americans in each major societal system (Believe me, I’ve scoured hundreds of sources). When people in your tribe are being imprisoned or killed at a staggering rate; when any protest you mount is critiqued rather than heard; when white folks in towns like Penfield dismiss your grievances, or remain silent, then anger has legitimacy.

Forgiveness: A readiness to meet us as we emerge from the fog and the self-satisfied superiority, the abuse of our power, and our complicity in all that has held them back.

  • Forgiveness for the centuries-long thievery of their dignity, their freedom, their humanity.
  • Forgiveness for having obliterated their ancestral history, and having the audacity to lay our last names on them, a vestige of the ownership that existed, and persists in different form.
  • Forgiveness for imprisoning them for the slightest offenses while many in our own tribe run free for far worse crimes.
  • Forgiveness for all that Dr. Joy Degruy has labeled “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”.

Humor: a readiness to find lightness even in the midst of trials and setbacks. I’ve been in intense meetings, people grappling with critical, sometimes life-and-death issues, and suddenly the whole group is cracking up with some playful riff!

Faith: Although faith takes many forms in the Black community, I so often find a faith in God, a higher power, a Supreme Being to be part of the bedrock, the grounding that sustains and inspires, grieves with and celebrates with. The times I’ve joined in worship with a majority-Black community, I’m struck by a passion, an intensity, an animation that seems so lacking in our white-bread mainstream churches. While so many of us worship in ornate, impressive buildings, comfort and privilege don’t generate the same vitality.

Although religious practice has declined in Black communities (as it has nation-wide), I so frequently find this underlying faith expressed as I listen to and meet with Black sisters and brothers. Here is a term I first heard from the CNN commentator Van Jones as he described this foundational conviction, even in the midst of struggle:  “Hallelujah anyhow!!”

Personally, I’m full of gratitude for the ways my Black friends and acquaintances inspire me, accept me, challenge me and love me. I had a mere inkling of what I was missing.

This all benefits me. If the story ended there, I’d be another self-congratulatory, enlightened, appreciative racist: “Gosh, aren’t they wonderful!” The real work is becoming pro-active in Black-led, anti-racist campaigns, and in challenging the systems in my own spheres of influence – among my own tribe.  Thus, the antidote to tribalism is two-fold:  build relationships, and move to ACTION!


An excellent one-hour interview on NPR’s Sounds True with Van Jones.  Challenging messages for people on both ends of the political spectrum – on politics in general and racism in particular.  Well worth the time!:  Van Jones

8-minute video:  Van Jones interview on Ellen DeGeneres on Inequality and Gun Violence in America: Ellen Degeneres

“The Souls of Black Folk”  Classic book by W.E.B DuBois

“The Autobiography of Malcolm X – as told to Alex Haley”  Time magazine selected this NYT Bestselller as one of the 10 most important nonfiction books of the 20th century.

“Understanding Structural Racism”  Tues. Nov. 27, 6:60 – 8:30 p.m., 540wmain.  Details

“5 Steps to Transform Your Conversations about Racism”  On-line Master Class with Dr. Amanda Kemp:  Wednesday Nov. 28, 8:00 a.m. or 8 p.m.  Details

National Coalition Building Institute Workshop: “Privilege” on Thursday Nov. 29, 9:00 – 4:00. Details

“How to Kill a City:  Demolition & Disinvestment in Rochester” Educational workshop, Sat. Dec. 8, 2:00 – 4:00.  Visual Studies Workshop, 31 Prince St.

Follow Ally Henny on Facebook – a Black woman with clear, concise messages to white folks.


The Rochester City School District is beginning a search to replace Barbara Deanne-Williams whose resignation is effective December 31.  Contact School Board members to encourage community participation in this process from the beginning.  The report by Distinguished Educator Dr. Aquino noted that community involvement (parents and knowledgeable community members such as Howard Eagle) is essential.  In the past, the Board has been far less than responsive to such community input in this selection process.  The results (5 Superintendents in 7 years) is clear evidence that this needs to change.

December Marketplace, Sat. Dec. 1, 1:00 – 5:00.  Alternative shopping with cultural artifacts and gifts.  Baobob Center, 728 University Ave. AND/OR Ujamaa Marketplace Kwanzaa edition Sat. Dec. 29, 1:00 – 5:00.  Same location.

Encourage your friends, co-workers, family members, and neighbors to subscribe to this blog!

5 thoughts on “An Antidote to Tribalism”

  1. Tribalism of many types exists in all societies as a way to maintain life and too often control other tribes. The denial of tribalism and its negative impact is an on-going issue.


    1. Mike, I’ll respectfully disagree with your view that the denial of tribalism is a current issue. I’d propose that identity…in all it forms and sub-cultures…is being manipulated by those who benefit from the status quo in economic power. Today’s power elite is global as well as local (e.g. economic “developers.”) That manipulation is what is what’s experience directly by people of color and working poor or through the media by those of us at a distance. For example, Drumpf and the GOP are now comfortable being overtly racist vs. Reagan’s “dogwhistles” which helped lay the groundwork for that. Of course American history is rife with versions of this form of economic “tribalism” beginning with when the “Pilgrims” landed.


      1. Bob, I agree that tribalism exists today and that it has a strong racial and socioeconomic impact. And tribes existed before 1620 and still exist in many forms.


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