Letter: ‘Tribalism’ is offensive

Sunday, June 10, 2018

I read and enjoyed your editorial headlined “The state of American tribalism” (Monitor Opinion, June 7). I agreed with your assertion that we should widen our lens when viewing others who differ from ourselves. I do, however, take issue with the use of the term ” tribalism.”

The term has very negative connotations for black people and Native Americans. The word is strongly associated with primitive behavior, or as you quote from the Economist “primeval” behavior. This is not merely political correctness. Words matter a great deal. We know from social science research that the mere act of labeling groups can result in group members conforming their behavior to fit the label. The example of the Stanford University experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo comes to mind.

In the future I would suggest you use the word “sectarian” as a better alternative.