Why You Shouldn’t Use ‘Tribe’ In Your Copy (unless you’re indigenous)

Every time I see someone describe their community, their subculture or their “kind of people” as their “tribe,” I cringe. Even more so when “tribe” is included in the name of an offering or service.

I have a tribe.

There are about 5,000 of us left and we’ve been subject to hundreds of years of oppression and resource denial, culminating with my grandmother who was forcibly removed from her parents and also forced to learn English and become “civilized” . . . and the trickle-down legacy that has created, three generations down the line from her.

We don’t know the language.

We don’t know much about the customs or the “old ways.”

Just like they wanted.

I have a tribe.

And it has thousands of years of history. Belonging is not a choice. Belonging does not come with a snazzy coffee mug nor will I be able to look back and say “oh that was my _______ phase.”

And every time I see the word “tribe” in someone’s copy I think “oh. They don’t see me. This product/service/person/business is not for me. They’re so culturally isolated they can’t even conceive of the idea that someone like me, an invisible and vulnerable member of society, might be interested in their offering.”

And when you don’t see me? You don’t see the systemic and cultural injustices that keep me invisible and vulnerable. And when you don’t see those injustices you, and your business, are part of the problem.

So You Want Your Brand To Be More Culturally-Inclusive?

That’s great! One of the first steps to becoming more culturally-inclusive, aware and/or sensitive is to understand which stage your own cultural identity development is.

First, you’ll need to know if you identify as a cultural minority or majority.

Cultural minorities usually operate according to the rules and values of a non-dominant culture. However, most cultural minorities are often “fluent” in two or more cultures: their own culture and the dominant culture– as well as a number of subcultures.

A dominant culture is a cultural practice that is dominant, or the majority, within a particular political, social, economic or corporate entity where multiple cultures are present. The features of a dominant culture are often seen as a “norm” for the entire society. For example, most white Americans see themselves as being “culture-less” because, like a fish in water, they can’t see their culture because it is dominant and the norm.

These norms are important to be aware of because they influence and guide all aspects of daily life including communication, education, artistic expression, law, government and business.

In the Western World, the dominant culture is almost always also a White culture.

A subculture is a minor culture within a dominant or non-dominant culture such as goth, basketball fans, artists, etc. These subcultures often have their own lingo, code of dress, values and activities.

But back to cultural identity development.

Do you identify as a member of a cultural minority or majority? Or both?

Once you know the answer, read the following stages under the appropriate cultural identity and self-identify which stage you are in.

This identity model was first created and presented by Martin and Nakayama (2000):

Stages of Minority Identity Development


Minorities will often first go through this process at a young age, whereas Majorities may not begin the process until their adult years.


Unexamined Identity

Characterized by a lack of exploration of ethnicity (race, class, gender, sexuality). Ideas about identity may come from family and friends. Negative views of their own group (from the majority culture) may be accepted.

Conformity
Characterized by an internalization of values and norms of the dominant group and a strong desire to assimilate. May be a presence of negative, self-deprecating attitudes towards themselves and their group in general. It is at this stage that a person may be labeled an “apple,” “oreo,” “banana” etc. (red on the outside, white on inside, etc.). This stage often continues until the person encounters a situation that causes them to question pro-dominant culture attitudes.


Resistance and Separatism
Negative events (discrimination, name calling), a period of dissonance, or a growing awareness that not all dominant group values are beneficial to minorities, may lead to this stage. This stage may be characterized by a blanket endorsement for one’s groups and all the values and attitudes attributed to it. Values and norms associated with the dominant group may be rejected.

Integration
A person who has reached this stage has a strong sense of his or her own group identity as well as an appreciation for other cultural groups. Anger from any previous stages is redirected in positive ways. The end result is a confident and secure identity with a desire to eliminate all forms of injustice, not just oppression aimed at one’s own group.

Stages of Majority Identity Development

[Ethnocentric]
Unexamined Identity
Individuals may be aware of physical and some cultural differences, but they do not fear other racial or ethnic groups, nor feel a sense of superiority.

Acceptance– it is important to note, most of the dominant culture is at this stage and won’t move past it.
Characterized by an internalization (conscious or unconscious) of a racist or biased ideology. This may be a passive or active acceptance and the individual is not aware that they have been programmed to accept this worldview.

Basic assumptions of passive acceptance stage:
— Minority groups are culturally deprived and need help to assimilate
— Affirmative action is reverse discrimination because people of color are being given opportunities that Whites don’t have.
— White culture (music, art, literature) is “classical”; works of art by people of color are folk are or “crafts”
— People of color are culturally different, whereas Whites are individuals with no group identity, culture or shared experience of racial privilege.

Individuals at this stage usually take two positions on racial issues and interactions with minorities: they either avoid contact or adopt a patronizing stance. Both positions are possible at the same time.

In the active acceptance stage, Whites are conscious of their whiteness and may express their feelings of superiority.

[Moving Towards Being Ethnorelative]
Resistance
This stage represents a major paradigm shift. The individual moves from blaming minority members for their condition to naming and blaming their own dominant group as a source of racial or ethnic problems.

Passive resistance: little behavior change. Active resistance: an ownership of racism. Individuals may feel embarrassed and try to distance themselves from other Whites, or gravitate towards people of color.

Redefinition
People begin to refocus or redirect their energy in redefining whiteness in non-racist terms. They realize they don’t have to accept the definition of White that society places on them. They can move beyond the connection to racism to see positive aspects of being Euro-American and feel more comfortable as White.


[Ethnorelative]
Integration
At this stage the individual is able to integrate their whiteness into all facets of their identity. They recognize their identity as White while appreciating other groups. This integration affects other aspects of social and personal identity, including religion and gender roles.

Where are you in this model? Were you surprised? Where do you want to be? What does this mean for your brand going forward?

If you’d like to book a session to discuss your and your brand’s cultural identity development, visit my Work With Me page.