Tribalism in the United States – it’s more common than you think

Following on from my first post today, about tribalism in the rest of the world, let’s consider it in the USA.  We’re accustomed to thinking of Native American tribes such as the Apache, Comanche, Sioux and so on – but there are vastly more tribes than that.  Just consider any inner-city area with conflicting street, prison and criminal gangs, some Hispanic (e.g. MS-13, Latin Kings, etc.), some Black (e.g. Crips, Bloods, etc.), some White (e.g. Aryan Brotherhood, Nazi Lowriders, etc.), some of Far Eastern ethnicity (e.g. Born To Kill [now said to be largely defunct], Wo Hop To Triad, etc.).  Many, perhaps most of them, operate along lines so similar to tribalism as to be indistinguishable from it.

It’s not just ethnicity that makes a tribe. Regional differences also lead to the formation of cultural and/or social tribes, based on shared outlook, interests and other factors.  A couple of years ago, Businessweek published an article identifying eleven different ‘nations’ inside the USA.  Click the image to be taken to a much larger version at the article’s Web page.

In his fourth book, “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North America,” award-winning author Colin Woodard identifies 11 distinct cultures that have historically divided the US.

“The country has been arguing about a lot of fundamental things lately including state roles and individual liberty,” Woodard, a Maine native who won the 2012 George Polk Award for investigative reporting, told Business Insider.

“[But] in order to have any productive conversation on these issues,” he added, “you need to know where you come from. Once you know where you are coming from it will help move the conversation forward.”

. . .

Woodard also believes the nation is likely to become more polarized, even though America is becoming a more diverse place every day. He says this is because people are “self-sorting.”

“People choose to move to places where they identify with  the values,”  Woodard says. “Red minorities go south and blue minorities go north to be in the majority. This is why blue states are getting bluer and red states are getting redder and the middle is getting smaller.”

There’s more at the link.

If you look at smaller regions in close-up, such as Silicon Valley in relation to its surrounding communities, you get some idea of the intensely tribal nature of the “techie economy”, and its struggle to integrate – or, more often, hold itself aloof – from surrounding “economies”.  That looks very much like a tribal struggle to me, with my African background.

What say you, readers?  What other US tribes can you identify?  Some are easy (e.g. veterans of military service versus those with none, or shooting enthusiasts versus gun-grabbers).  Others are more difficult.  I’m sure that between us all, we can compile quite a long list.



  1. Yes there is a large amount of tribalism in America, and the Venn Diagram of some of those overlaps (e.g. military/shooters/western culture) would be interesting to pursue.

  2. Prior to 1973 all fit males were subject to a military draft. Those who wanted to avoid the Army joined other branches. The social benefit of mingling races and backgrounds probably broke down tribal tendencies IMO.

    Today with fewer than 1% serving the impact on the nation is probably minimal.

  3. Skilled Tradesmen, white collar workers, law enforcement personnel, car enthusiasts. All tribes within tribes. There are so many variations that no "Central Planning" is ever going to be successful in such a large population. "They" simply don't know who "we" are. Example: the shock and awe of the Trump election on the people who could not conceive of such a thing happening.

  4. Surprisingly, tribalism has always been a part of our culture. The 'you ain't born here' has always existed. 'Stranger Danger' being a part of it.

    And then there are the various social organizations that used to rule small town America. The Elks vs the Moose Lodge being a good example of micro-tribalism. The Klan being another (yes, yes, all bad things about the Klan, but in the old days, the Klan was another social organization that also 'controlled' child and spousal abusers.)

    Then there are the Church wars – Catholics vs all the Protestants, who are 'against' each other and the Jews.

    Many tribes, many factions, all as fractious as the "Native Americans" when the Europeans came to settle in the 1500-1600's.

  5. Altrusim is still a thing, which makes tribalism completely logical and also resistant to change. The more somebody is genetically related to us, the more that we're likely to sacrifice for their benefit. After family and friends and neighbors, tribe comes next, then, arguably, ethnotype.

    I'm a transplant to the Spanish Caribbean, but my blood is yankee. I have no tribe close to home, except other expat New Englanders and locals from my gun range.

  6. Yes, Andrew, few know what the Klan did in its heyday of the 20s-50s. My wife's Grandfather was a Klansman in the Harrodsburg, KY area. Hr grandmother wondered about that, so she made an indelible mark on the bottom of both shoes. There was a function on the square where a man that had been beating his wife was trussed by and the local Klan to a bull whip to his back. During the activity, the Grandmother noticed the markings on the her husband's shoes and knew what he was up to on those nights he was away.

    The guy they whipped was cut down after the open his back up and told him that if there was any more wife beating, things would go far harder on him. According to family lore, he did no re-offend.

    There has been serious divisions in the country from the beginning. It is ironic that it was southerners that set up the situation that led to the war of northern aggression. For a number of years, the killing of over 700,000 men, and deaths of, perhaps, as many as 1.5 million civilians in the south, things calmed down and only on rare occasions was the loss rubbed in the faces of the south. Because of the hard left, things are heating up, and it may lead to a real civil war, something Lincoln's war was not. people need to look at Lebanon in the 80s to understand what happens when you have a real civil war. Until things shake out into clean lines of enemy and friendly, it is exceedingly nasty, and no one knows when the "bullet with their name on it" will meet them, or who will fire it. Such anarchy is never pretty and is always destructive. I hold the people that are calling for such things, the loony left, in utter contempt. They would get what they deserve, but a lot of people would die who did not deserve it.

    Blogger's captcha has gotten more ridiculous with time.

  7. The author's descriptions leave much to be desired. Calling southern NJ and Eastern PA (Camden NJ and Philadelphia PA…LOL) as places where "Political opinion is moderate, and government regulation is frowned upon." is ludicrous.

    I personally consider anyplace east of the Mississippi, any city of more than 20,000, and anywhere that a large contamination by Californians (read: AZ, CO, WA, OR, etc) has occurred in the last 40 years to be nowhere I would choose to live.

    Regarding familial tribalism, I have zero affinity towards the majority of my relatives. I did not get to pick them, and deselected the great majority of them. Actions, not words, always. People despise that standard because it does not allow them to use cheap chin boogie as their default MO.

  8. Some gang members in Savannah tried to pick on some army guys, and discovered that the army is probably the biggest gang in the US 🙂

    On a side note, I wonder how history would have gone if the South has imported Chinese to work the early rice fields, instead of blacks from Africa?

  9. Paul D:

    It's been my observation, and experience, that "neighbors" is not a good indicator for tribal membership. Maybe if your family and their family have occupied the properties for a generation or three it might work, but I wouldn't count on it to any serious extent.

    This appears to be true even beyond the US, the Bosnia area being a horrific example. Ireland, for that matter. All it takes is a difference in religion in lots of cases, although that may be one of the lesser variables here. One seldom picks their living space predicated on the close compatibility with the neighbors. Even if you do, you may end up later with new neighbors that are problems.

  10. Regarding Silicon Valley, the town I live in has had a huge influx of Asians, who then took over political control. They have been driving out the industrial companies, and building high-density housing in their place. They haven't, yet, made inroads in replacing single-family homes, but I suspect that is only a matter of time. There is very little industrial space left.

    I figure they will have most of the town converged about the time the Big Shake(tm) hits. I wonder how they expect to handle that many people when it all falls down around their ears?

  11. Academia. There's quite a bit of tribalism in the sheepskin clan, moreso in the ivy infested type, but still there. It's a form of credentialism that has overtaken the substance of it, credentials once being a way of knowing who had the practical skill, now in some cases- I would say many- being a form of virtue signaling rather than representing knowledge and skill.

    Depending on how far down the rabbit hole you want to go, there are ever more and more divisions in American society. The left has made a good run of it by identifying and pushing wedges into those divisions while demanding loyalty to ever more ridiculous causes. Which may be more by design than accident.

    Using those categories to divide us weakens us all. That isn't the American way. We steal the best from everyone and make it our own. Pizza and tacos. Democracy, constitutional republican government, federalism. It's all American, with our own unique stamp on it now. Viva le differance!, or however you say it. *grin*

  12. If one cares to investigate the ownership and operational control of the entertainment industry, the tech industry, the financial services industry and media industry one is hard pressed to not notice the nearly monolithic tribalism.

  13. The author at Business Insider is interesting, but far too wrong in too many places to be useful. Perhaps he gets some things right in the broadest brush-sense you can imagine, but he's wrong about far too much. Anonymous at 1447 talks about the problems with Philadelphia and Camden, he's wrong about South Florida, too. Certainly there is a strong Spanish/Caribbean influence, but locals also know SE Florida as Southern New York City. It's a mix of Yankeedom and Spanish/Caribbean.

    It's laughable to consider Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville, for example, as equivalent to small town Alabama or Mississippi. Orlando is like Miami: heavily influenced by immigration waves from his "Yankeedom" as well as Spanish/Caribbean culture moving north.

    Atlanta doesn't fit in with small towns in the "Deep South" either.

    I'd bet that you'd find people from every one of those areas saying it just doesn't describe their place.

    I think the author's drive to have identifiable areas on a map kept him from learning everything there to be learned. I'm not saying there is no tribalism, I'm saying I don't buy his vision of it.

  14. One thing that I think is unique about the USA is that our tribes are often self selected and not familial/ ancestry based like tribes elsewhere. I wonder if this is because of the US history of individual freedom, or the fact that immigration and the 'melting pot' broke many of those ties.

    I agree with SiGB above that our culture is far from homogeneous and regional like the author assumes – there are many exceptions to each 'country' that he lays out, the biggest one being the difference between rural and urban.

  15. I've read that because there are too few would-be white gangbangers in Los Angeles to form their own gangs, their only option is to join one of the small number of Mexican gangs that occasionally admit a white member or two.

  16. The funny part is "even though America is becoming a more diverse(TM) place every day." No, it's not "even though" it's "research indicates partially because". Even fanatical Transnationalist, leftist lunatics have been forced to acknowledge that reality. Diversity lowers social trust. Robert Putnam was horrified by, and did grossly unethical things to try to hide, the results of his exhaustive research into the subject. He delayed release of his research whilst scrambling to find a way to massage the data, or conceal/spin his/its conclusions, but he failed. An article about the subject:

    and a link to the abstract (the caveat they inserted is a barrel of laughs, really):

    or just google "diversity lowers social trust" or "Robert Putnam". The amount of effort devoted to spinning and unsuccessfully attempting to dismiss the results…it's really eye-opening.

  17. I found the author's maps interesting but somewhat flawed in the general areas where I've grown up and spent a great deal of my life. Northern Missouri he shows as Midlands when for the most part, at least in the ne, and even into central and nw missouri have much more of an Appalachian and Southern dynamic. This has diminished in larger cities but the more rural and small towns still exhibit that lineage. People still even slip into a very southern Appalachian accent when not around outsiders. Lots of the first settlers here, like my people, were Virginians and some of the Tidewater variety. You even get some of that southern and Appalachian influence in the more rural first 1 or 2 "rows" of counties in southern Iowa in certain areas. I'd imagine it was even more prevalent pre-civil war. A war which in northern mo was a very nasty theater of the war that is largely forgotten today. There weren't the large battles like the east but a series of short conventional battles which ended in brutal northern occupation and ugly guerilla war and retribution killings for the remainder or the war and even after.

  18. Perfect example of tribalism – look at the region where Euchre (card game) is played. (Mostly within about 50 miles of Ohio, and also in Iowa.) Iowa was mostly settled by people moving out from Ohio, and still has a very similar culture to rural Ohio.

    Listen to how people talk (worked better before national TV homogenized the speech), and watch what games they play.

  19. Agree with other commenters about the size of the various regions. Left Coast should include the western parts of WA & OR as well as a bit more of CA; El Norte should include the southwest, as well as parts of CA, NV, and CO. The southern border of Far West should be somewhere in northern CO.

    Read an interesting article about tribalism in Oregon (and most of what he said applies to WA as well): Generally speaking, we'd have two much more homogeneous states if the Cascades (running N-S) had been used as the border instead of the Columbia River.

  20. Comments reflect that the society and culture we each live in is less of “tribalism” and more of the algebraic summary of the various sub-cultures, ethnicities, religious, educational, economic, and as well geographical influences.

    A couple questions to consider when you consider just and only just the pseudo-tribalism the author proposes:

    Examples – would a religious person (say a Sikh, or a Jew, or a Mormon just for argumentative examples) turn First to another person of their pseudo-tribe as presented in time of need, or prefer & identify with others from their respective religion even if those offering aid were from a different pseudo-tribe?

    If you yourself was to move to a different pseudo-tribe area adjacent to your present one, how long would you be an outsider?

    If you moved back to your original area after years living away would you immediately be recognized as having that “something special”and readopted as a returning tribal member, or would you have to reintegrate?

    Is the assimilation process measured in years, lifetimes or generations?

    Or do you every integrate? Taking this again to extremes would a white person from Minnesota be so well integrated that over time they could be assimilated into the pseudo-tribe “el Norte” perhaps as a full non-gringo tribal member? If the migrant was a First Nationer, or a deep southern person of mixed ethnicity would it be different? If the Minnesotian migrated to the “Midlands” how quickly would they meld in?

    A gay couple moves between these pseudo-tribal areas, will they be seen as coming from their original pseudo-tribal area, or as part of a different form of subculture?

    If the use of the word “tribe” wasn’t so diluted as to have lost much scholarly utility one could argue that the author’s use was promotional, but even scholars have muddled the word’s useage badly, and with the contemporary culture using the word interchangeably with everything from a natural tribe, clan, sub-culture, ethnicity to political units, it becomes obvious we struggle to both define and then limit the definition of the word.

    Yet we do sense the distinctive nature, the culture that is less integrated to the whole than homogeneous in itself, that exhibits internal loyalty, identity and values its connections & connectivity over other options to connect.

    Even on that sort of testing we may well sense a tribalism embracing virtually connected groups of people. Often these “technical tribes” ha amalgamating experiences and values, especially economic shared interests that easily cross numerous tribal boundaries. Would a youngster earning their way programming have more or less affinity to another programmer doing the same thing vs the retirees living next door? Hard to say.

    Perhaps is it simply useful to recognize that people “bunch up” in modest sized identity groups and that in God’s eye each one of us is special.

  21. Tribal affiliation also explains why SJWs feel the need to spew their comments everywhere they go, even if the topic at hand has nothing to do with politics. They're tagging the neighborhood's walls for their gang. Then, when we tag over their graffiti, they get seriously offended – they and their gang have been dissed. Then they have to get revenge, and either up the volume, mass for a swarm attack, or switch tactics to the real world (slander, doxxing, swatting).

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