Is Tribalism different from Racism?



There is one more term that needs to be defined and contextualized. This is the word tribalism, and it is one of the words that many people use loosely without a second thought. Part of bringing tribalism into this discussion is because as I child, I was taught that my ethnic group and all other ethnic groups in Africa were tribes and still are.


Therefore, any conflicts, discrimination, and animosities between the different “tribes” are treated as some sort of tribalism and are somehow in a different category compared to racism.


It seems that because tribal people are considered primitive, savages, underdeveloped and unsophisticated, whatever happens between them is not equal to the sophistication of racism, which is occurring in a more advanced, civilized, and sophisticated society.

Therefore, let these tribal people do their thing because what else can you expect from uncivilized and primitive people apart from acts of savagery?


While this may not be what is directly communicated by the gatekeepers of civilization, actions speak louder than words and people’s attitudes betray them more than they may care to think. This may be why there is so much talk about racism, but the discrimination and animosity between other ethnic groups across the globe are not seen in the same light. It is because this does not fit the narrative or that the damage being done to people in these areas of the world is not painful enough?


All humans bleed when cut. Discrimination, no matter who does it and where it is done, is equally painful, limiting, and destructive and should be called out and condemned by all.
The time of a two-tier society is gone because tribalism is a bogus term that needs to be eradicated when referring to other people.

So, what is tribalism The Cambridge English Dictionary has two definitions that caught my attention. The first definition says,


“Tribalism is the state of existing as a tribe or a very strong feeling of loyalty to your tribe.” The second definition “it is a very strong feeling of loyalty to a political or social group so that you support them whatever they do.”[1]


I have already mentioned that the word tribe is loaded with a lot of negative baggage, especially when used to describe other people because it was coined by the colonizers to depict those they considered primitive, uncivilized, and on the fringes of civilization. These were the tribal people that needed to be colonized and taught how to become civilized.


A lot of atrocities were committed against these people and deemed justified just because they were classified as primitive and uncivilized. According to the colonizers, these savages did not know any better and could be treated anyhow.


Therefore, it is important that the first definition of tribalism be discarded and we stick with the second one, which is talking about loyalty to a party of a social group. This makes sense, although some of the excesses of being tribalistic can spill into racism as well.

[1] Cambridge English Dictionary

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