AllAfrica is running an article about the evils of using the word “tribe” to refer to ethnic groups. In summary, he says that the word tribe implies primitive peoples, stuck in history, unable to get past their ancient inter familial conflicts.

I posted a comment on the article, but haven’t received any response from the author. I’m not sure if I should expect one or not. I tend to think that it is merely a game, this business of pretending that a word is the difference between a correct and incorrect view of the world. Political Correctness seems like nothing more than self-deceit to me.

Anyways, here’s the comment:

I tend to get seen as argumentative when I ask this question, but I’m still somewhat perplexed, so please be patient with me.

On the one hand, you state that most people mean a certain thing when they use the term “tribe”, and it encompasses many notions that I’ve never thought, much less associated with that term. Unchanging and timeless? Primitive? Really? Most people mean that? I must be rather out of touch with most people. Granted, I lived my early years among people who used this word to refer to themselves, with none of these connotations, so perhaps my assumptions are skewed by that fact.

But the deeper question here is that you seem to be dismissing the undeniable fact that there is tension between the Kikuyu and the Luos which is causing them to kill one another. Likewise, other groups, but let’s focus on these two for the moment. How would you like to categorize this hatred? How do you explain statements like “The world will not be a safe place until all Kikuyus are killed”, which was made as recently as today on, with the same comment being made about the Luos moments later. These are not remarks that are seated in rational thought. They are coming out of something deeper, taught to them as infants and reinforced throughout their lives.

I hope that this is an honest question, and not merely defending my use of a word that I’ve heard used all my life to designate these people groups. Surely exchanging one word for another is sophistry, if the reality is still there.

Bosnia, also, is a region of what I would call tribal conflict, as is Israel and Appalachia. It’s simply not the case that these kinds of conflicts are purely an African phenomenon. People hold grudges for generations and generations, long after the initial causes are long forgotten. Why is this? And what term should we use to refer to this undeniable reality? Exchanging one word for another, as you observe, in no way addresses the underlying attitudes associated with the word.