by Naeemah Jackson, Director of Family Programs

These days, the word “tribalism” is front and center in our social discourse.  You and I can easily choose a tribe that defines our collective identity when we move from “I” and “Me” to “Us” and “We.”   So, who are we?  And where do we belong?  Do we change our value set once we gain entry into the tribe?  Or, do we maintain the “I” am within the tribe?

Recently I had the great good fortune to facilitate an Implicit Bias session in a northern Indiana rural community.  The fifty participants were members of that community; majority White men in their 50’s, 60’s and a few in their 70’s; blue-collar workers; hunters; campers; and fishermen; with shotguns in their trucks outside.  I was the only Black person in the room.  Now, I could have easily slid into a presumptive attitude that it would be difficult to establish a sense of common beliefs with this audience around family values; politics; socio-economic status; class; work ethic; and assume what their ideas on race, gender, and other social justice concerns were.  It would have been very easy – and very wrong.

There I was, standing before them, locks and all – proudly wearing West African inspired jewelry – looking at them – looking at me.  Most not really wanting to be there – but they had to be.  So……here we go.

Their tribal identity was strong, but I was determined to demonstrate that tribalism or not – we are all members of the Human Tribe.  Living, Loving, and working on this big blue marble – moving hither and dither – trying to make a life worth living for ourselves, our families and Loved ones.  Oh, indeed, we have much in common – much more than the restrictive tribal mind set alludes to.

The going was slow at first – legs and ankles crossed – arms firmly folded across chests – and no smiles anywhere.  But slowly, slowly, arms came down; bodies leaned in; laughter shattered rigidity; and eventually, true participation stood up and declared itself present.

Without a doubt, there were uncomfortable and difficult moments; particularly when members of the audience expressed – quite vehemently – their anger, frustration, disillusion, and fear of members not in their tribe.  We worked through these feelings; dissecting stereotypes and blowing away perceived grievances.

More work needs to be done – but believe me – major shifts occurred.  At the end of sessions, I always ask the participants for a “one-word whip” which can sum up their experience.  These were many of the words expressed again and again.  “Thoughtful.”  “Eye-opening.” “Made me think.” “Surprising.”  “I’m glad I did this.”  “I didn’t realize.”

Did everyone leave that Implicit Bias session convinced that they will employ the strategies and ideas to help pinpoint their own implicit biases?  Did they all buy into it?  No, of course not – but at least 75% did.  These people are now aware that our implicit biases can lead to explicit biases that can adversely affect members of the other tribes. 

We laughed together, we learned from one another; we shared experiences; and at the end of the day I was invited into their tribe.  If only for the day.