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Your Tribe or Mine?

On the 11th of July, 2018, CNN published an opinion piece by Isaac Bailey in which he recounted – and, in some sense, recanted — his reaction to an incident of “hatred” in Los Angeles in which a Mexican man was beaten while being admonished to “Go back to your country…”

The twist, and the reason for Mr. Bailey’s reflection on it, was that the attacker turned out to be not, as he had imagined, a “white Trump supporter” but, rather, a black woman named Laquisha Jones — or, as he put it, not “…someone of a different tribe…”

Mr. Bailey’s piece was a thoughtful meditation on how our assumptions lead us to broad judgements about “us” and “them”, and about how dangerous that is.  But it also, in at least one sense, missed the point.

I sent this response to him by e-mail at Davidson College, where he teaches Public Policy.  I received no reply.

12 July 2018

I appreciate the sentiment you expressed in your CNN commentary piece yesterday. I wonder, however, about a particular turn of phrase you used:

That matters less than my mistaken, automatic assumption that it had to be someone of a different tribe long before I knew the details.

In its context, the statement implies that, in the end and after learning the details, you adjudged the miscreant, indeed, to be part of your “tribe” rather than part of a different one. And, in its context, that implies you adjudge her to be part of your “tribe” solely because she happens to have dark skin, even if she turned out to be a Trump supporter and notwithstanding all other obvious differences between her way of looking at the world and yours.

I must ask the question: is that not, in itself, another aspect of the problem? Is that the limit of our imaginations when we consider the “tribes” to which we belong?

I am a (late) middle-aged white man and so, I admit, my experiences of race are almost certainly far removed from yours. But, notwithstanding that, it would seem to me that you and I, with our somewhat similar education levels, economic status, and (in all likelihood) cultural tastes and attitudes, are likely “tribe-mates” in ways far more fundamental than a mere matter of skin color or genetic heritage. And I don’t consider people who beat up others out of some misguided sense of grievance, or who spew ignorance and hate, to be part of my “tribe”. The fact that they may have white skin or may come from the same geographical area as I really has nothing to do with that determination.

© Copyright 2018, Augustus P. Lowell

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