Tribalism, Genocide, and a Better Way Forward
This post was originally made on 4/27/21
Welcome to The Bloch,
It’s hard to know where to begin with this one. I’ll take a step back. A quote I’m fond of by Eckhart Tolle says: “To love is to recognize yourself in another.”
We, humans, recognize ourselves in others all the time. We do it fairly naturally. When we first meet other people we identify ourselves to others using not only our first names but also our surnames that indicate the given name of our family. Once you have the family name, you can start the small world game. You can check if you know the person’s parents or brothers or sisters. Then you can move on to learning about that person; maybe you are neighbors or classmates. Maybe you became friendly at your church or your mosque or your synagogue. Maybe you both share a love of your state or your country, a local sports team, your Alma Mater, a hobby, a particular celebrity, muscle cars, or clothing brands. We might identify with others based on our shared dietary choices or lifestyle choices. For the most part, this shared experience, love of the same things, and loving one another based on it, is a wonderful thing. It makes for some of the most joyous shared experiences in life. The problem I see with this is when this naturally occurring phenomenon of loving “those who you recognize yourself in” devolves into tribalism, and the competitive nature of humans takes over. When loving one group turns into insulting, hating, or discriminating against another, it can’t be called love anymore. I challenge you to love unconditionally, by recognizing yourself in all others.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “tribalism” as the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group. Based on this definition, I believe that a society motivated by cultural tribalism is not one we should want to encourage in the 21st century.
When we choose to identify with others and “recognize ourselves in others” based on our race, class, sex, gender, sexuality, and other non-chosen traits, in my opinion, we are moving in the wrong direction as a society. When we choose “strong loyalty” to our tribe(s) instead of open-mindedness and rationality, we lose sight of the better way forward. The better way forward I’m referring to is the one championed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement.
In 1963, Dr. King Published the book “Why We Can’t Wait,” and in it, he discussed the origins of racism in America. He denounced the injustices committed against the Native Americans, stating:
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”
It is estimated that over 100,000 Native Americans were forced from their homes and over 15,000 people died during the 1830s on the “Trail of Tears.”
Of course, the denouncement of the genocide of the Native Americans was not the only thing Dr. King discussed. The Civil Rights movement that brought him to prominence, and got him assassinated, was the result of the Transatlantic slave trade. This segment of the global slave trade “transported between 10 million and 12 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas from the 16th to the 19th century. It was the second of three stages of the so-called triangular trade, in which arms, textiles, and wine were shipped from Europe to Africa, slaves from Africa to the Americas, and sugar and coffee from the Americas to Europe.”
The wounds of this horrific history still cut deep in the Black community in America today. Very close to where I grew up, on Stone Mountain, which is the former home of the KKK, the largest Confederate monument in the world still stands tall. Finally, just last week it was announced that an African-American man, Reverend Abraham Mosley, will lead the board that decides how Stone Mountain will move into the future. This is a long-overdue step in the right direction.
On Saturday President Biden officially recognized the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I as a genocide. In his statement marking the 106th anniversary of the massacre he wrote: “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring.” Historians have estimated that around 1 million Armenians perished in the genocidal campaign during World War I.
This declaration by President Biden faces backlash from Turkey, whose people identify with their Ottoman ancestors. Turkish communications director responded on Saturday saying that “the Biden administration’s decision to misportray history with an eye on domestic political calculations is a true misfortune for Turkey-U.S. relations.” While Presidents Obama and Trump both avoided using the word genocide to avoid angering Turkey, Biden has calculated that our already weakening relations with Turkey and its President Erdoğan should not prevent us from validating the plight of Armenians more than a century ago and signal a commitment to human rights today. Bravo President Biden.
As a descendent of a German Jew, I personally identify most with the genocide committed against “my people.” I put it in air quotes because I’m saying it facetiously. I don’t consider Jews to be “my people” any more than I consider people from New Zealand to be “my people.” We have this characteristic of religion or nationality by happenstance, not by choice. So my grandfather left Germany in the 1930s and thus avoided the systematic genocide of over 6 million European Jews during World War II. Thanks, Grandpa.
And currently, there is a population of approximately 12 million Uighur Muslims in north-western China who are feeling increasingly threatened by the Han Chinese population that continues to move into their territory.
There are reports of Chinese internment “re-education” camps holding up to 1 million Uighurs, mass sterilization of Uighur women, family separation, and worse. According to BBC, “People who have managed to escape the camps have reported physical, mental and sexual torture — women have spoken of mass rape and sexual abuse.” Due to these human rights violations, last month the US State Department announced new sanctions on two Chinese officials, and President Biden promised to be “unrelenting” in calling attention to this atrocity.
You may be thinking, “this is happening in China, there isn’t anything I can do about it, it’s not my problem.” I would argue that position couldn’t be more misguided. See yourself in the Uighur Muslims. Imagine you both love the same team or are fans of the same band. Imagine it is your family this is happening to. Do your part to spread the word and make sure our politicians know that this is not okay — it never was. Make sure they know that we expect them to put pressure on China to make make the human rights abuses stop. Our Uighur brothers and sisters deserve better.
I’ll leave you with this. In a 1962 speech at Cornell College, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” I encourage you to be open-minded and to reach out and communicate with people who don’t look like you, don’t eat like you, don’t speak your language, and don’t worship like you. You’ll likely find that you have more in common than you ever could have imagined.
Until next time.