American tribalism 

In America, tribalism is alive and well. There arefour kinds – class, ideology, region, and race. First,

class. Pretty easy. Rich folk and poor folk.

Second, ideology. Liberals and conservatives. They

don’t merely disagree on political issues, each side

believes the other is evil. Intermarriage is

discouraged and on the rare occasion that it

happens, is considered remarkable. Third, region.

The North and the South. The two sides fought a

civil war and tough stains from that war remain. The

North looks down on the South while the South

resents the North. Finally, race. There’s a ladder of

racial hierarchy in America. White is always on top,

specifically White Anglo-Saxon Protestant,

otherwise known as WASP, and American Black is

always on the bottom, and what’s in the middle

depends on time and place. (Or as that marvellous rhyme goes: if you are white, you are all right; if you are brown, stick around; if you are black, get back!) Americans assume that everyone will get their tribalism. But it takes a while to figure it all out. So in undergrad, we had a visiting speaker and a classmate whispers to another, “Oh my God, he looks Jewish,” with a shudder, an actual shudder. Like a Jewish was a bad thing. I didn’t get it. As far as I could see, the man was white, not much different from my classmate herself. Jewish to me was something vague, something biblical. But I learned quickly. You see, in America’s ladder of race, Jewish is white but also some rungs below white. A bit confusing, because I knew this straw-haired, freckled girl who said she was Jewish. How can Americans tell who is Jewish? How did the classmate know the guy was Jewish? I read somewhere how American colleges used to ask applicants for their mother’s surnames, to make sure they weren’t Jewish because they won’t admit Jewish people. so maybe that’s how to tell? From people’s surnames? The longer you are here, the more you start to get it.


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (2013) Americanah. Yaba: Kachifo Limited. (pp. 216-217)

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