We are all a part of a tribe. It may be a tribe that we were born into or one that we choose to be a part of. There is a sense of comfort knowing that we are a part of a greater society, a part of a family. There is comfort knowing that we have the freedom to experience different things and if we don’t like it or if we happen to be rejected, we have a tribe, a family, to fall back on. A group of others who look, talk, and think like us. Being in a tribe is a blessing, one which we occasionally might take for granted.
As I sit here on a warm Sunday afternoon, thinking about when my next coffee run is going to be I’m left asking two questions to myself. One, why am I using the word “tribe” (a more time appropriate word I think would be “subculture”), and two, what does one do if they do not belong to a tribe? This post is primarily going to focus on the latter question but it’ll be interesting to just preface that with a brief explanation of why I chose to use the word “tribe.”
Let me warn you, I am neither a linguist nor a philologist – so my use of the word tribe wasn’t intentional, but I do believe there was a subconscious reasoning to it. When we usually use the word “tribe” it is in the context of the world during its early years. We grouped people based on the different tribes that they belonged to. These tribes were given names based on their physical attributes or their location (for example: A’aninin which means “white clay people” or Onundaga’ono “people of the hills”). My point is this, the significance of my use of the word is that human history is riddled with people who are a part of one group or another. The constant of humanity is their identity as part of a tribe.
Which leads me to my second question and moving the focus of this writing from linguistics to philosophy. In doing so, I’m opening up some deep-rooted struggles I deal with on a regular basis. Please, if you are reading this, do not assume that I’m looking for answers. In other words, don’t try to solve the problem. Primarily because I don’t see it as a problem. Sure, it is a struggle, but that struggle is part of who I am, it is a part of my identity. If its resolved, I lose a part of my identity.
If you haven’t caught on let me break it down for you. My second question asked what one might do if they don’t belong to a tribe. Now, bear in mind – I’m not speaking from the perspective of a teenager rebelling against his parents because “they just don’t understand”. No, that just a phase that everybody goes through and eventually finds their place in society. Don’t trivialize this struggle.
Let me give you some context to my madness. For those who don’t know my story, I was born in Saudi Arabia, to parents who attempted to raise me on traditionally Indian values, while having a mindset that always more western is nature (and to this day, I don’t know where that last part came from). In the past, if you asked me the question “who are you” or “where are you from” the answer was always straightforward and simple: I’m an Indian, who was born in Saudi Arabia, and had an American mindset. To an extent that still reigns true. I am an Indian by ethnicity, I was born in Saudi Arabia and I still have an American (or at least a western) outlook on life. It is such an amazing background and I love that it is one of the more unique ones out there. That history is a huge part of what makes me who I am today. Ever since I was born I was exposed to different cultures which allows to be respect the difference in people today. My love of cultures, my love of travelling, my love of people, my love for people’s individual stories come from being a kid who was inherently multicultural. Now you might be wondering a couple of things. What does “inherently multicultural” mean and where is this struggle he was talking about earlier? I’m getting there. First, “inherently multicultural” is my way of saying immigrant. I was born an immigrant. Let me explain.
Saudi Arabia is weird. Unlike other countries, where being born in the country affords you the citizenship to that country, Saudi Arabia does not follow that mold. Simply put, to be an Arabian citizen you had to be a Muslim, and since my family were not Muslims, I was born without a citizenship. Instead I was given the citizenship of my parents: Indian. So, when I say I was born an immigrant, that’s not a sound bite. It’s quite the literal truth. I never actually paid a lot of attention to that growing up because for the most part I was around people that looked like me (there were a lot of Indians around when I grew up in Saudi Arabia). But there was always something different about me. I preferred speaking in English (given, I was better at it than a lot of my classmates as a child) and I never really clicked with the Indian culture (I mean, I loved parts of it – the food, movies, music, and my family… but never really understood Indian culture). Again, I never really paid much attention to all that growing up.
Fast forward a few years and here I am, in Louisville, Kentucky, sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops, writing about something called the “Multicultural Crisis.” For the longest time, I never had to worry about my identity. That was mainly because I couldn’t afford wasting my time worrying about that. I was a student up until a few months ago when I graduated. In other words, if I wasn’t in class, I was doing stuff for class, so I really couldn’t afford paying attention to the identity war that was waging inside my soul. Now that I’m done with school, I’m forced to do some introspection and deal with this battle that has always (whether I knew it or not) controlled me.
I think I’ve digressed enough – allow me to bring this back to the main point about tribes and being a part of one – here is my struggle: I don’t have a tribe. Or at least, I haven’t found one. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ve been put in tribes before, but sooner or later, something about who I am exiles me from that tribe.
There are perks of being me. There are perks of being born an immigrant, of being inherently multicultural. I can understand the perspectives of other more than some. I can appreciate the struggles and privileges of others more than those who do have a tribe they identify with. See, I can relate to the oppression of being colored while understanding the annoyance of white people who wants to go past that. I can relate to the Black lives matter movement while also understanding the white frustration toward the movement. I can relate to the struggles of Asians who were born in America who are trying to adapt to this country while trying to satisfy their parents’ traditional desires. I can talk to white people, black people, brown people, Hispanics, Asians, Africans, Europeans and all the other different people in the same breath and understand where they are coming from. That ability to understand comes from being a person who has always been multicultural. It’s a gift and one that I hold very dear to my heart and one that I will never want to sacrifice.
Yet, the reason I can relate to all these differences also comes from a desire to see if there one of these tribes has a place that I can fit into. So, while the ability to understand these struggles comes from my history which I have no control over (being born in a foreign land etc.), my willingness to understand the struggles comes from an almost selfish desire to be a part of one of your tribes. What do I do, then? Do I keep listening? Do I keep understanding the struggles of others and just be there when they need me? Yes. That’s what I do and that’s what I will keep doing.
This is my lament.
While I can relate to your struggle, unfortunately (and by no fault of yours) you cannot relate to mine. At the end of the day, if you are hurt or if you are in need to be around someone like you, you have the freedom to return to your tribe. I don’t. You might disagree with that – you might argue, “you’re an Indian! Your tribe are your fellow Indians!” Ah, but the only thing Indian about me is my skin color and the slight accent I occasionally have. As soon as I start speaking my beliefs and my opinions are not accepted by the larger Indian tribe. On the other hand, some might say “well, then go and be around those who talk and think like you!” Ah, but again, my skin color still comes with me and regardless of how much we agree on, the brownness of my skin still keeps me from being a part of the other tribe. “What about other brown people who are in the same boat as you?” Yes, now that’s an interesting point. There are those Indians who are born in this country and their struggle is between two specific cultures: India and America. For those individuals, the struggle is figuring out which of the two tribes they are a part of. Where my struggle is different is that my struggle isn’t between two cultures. I’m not trying to choose between India and America. I’m not even struggling between 3 cultures (India, America, and Saudi Arabia). Remember, I was born an immigrant so I don’t fit into the mold of any one culture.
Instead, my existence has become one of survival. I’ve taken the gift of multiculturalism and use that to survive in a world where I don’t fit in anywhere. When I’m in a tribe that does not look like me, I search for areas where we see eye to eye and latch on to that – I have to verbally interact to justify my place (albeit temporary) in that tribe. If I find myself within a tribe that looks like me, I remain in silence so that I can justify, even for a moment, that I have the right to be in that tribe. It’s evolution working in its purest form. I adapt for survival. I listen, I understand, I say a few words of comfort, I earn my place in a tribe. And I keep that façade up until one day, that façade is ripped away and the tribe sees that I’m an outsider. Even the tribes with the best of intentions, with the kindest of hearts, that might want to have me in their tribe, it’s no longer because they see me as a part of their tribe – but rather it’s because how my place amongst them can bolster the status of the tribe. My existence in the tribe becomes tokenization rather than acceptance. And even in a perfect world, where there could be acceptance for someone like me within a tribe that I do not belong to – acceptance does not equate to understanding.
Because in order to understand my life, to understand my perspective, everyday must be an act of survival. To understand my life, every action you perform, every word you speak, must be a risk. Where the payout is either another day with a tribe or being exiled into isolation until you find another tribe where you go through the same set of risks –rinse and repeat.
You know what the saddest part of this whole thing is? If someone were to put a gun to my head and asked me to tell them to whom I belonged to – I would kindly ask them to pull to trigger so that I could find out the answer for myself.
A note to my Christian friends: Many of you know that I am a Christian and that is a part of who I am. However, there is a tendency for Christians to shrug of this struggle (as well as the struggles of others) with the cop-out response, “you are a part of the Kingdom of God.” While that is absolutely true, it is still exactly that, a cop-out. Because that allows you to not pay attention to your fellow brothers and sisters struggles. I just want you to pay attention to the fact that I do realize that I am a part of the Kingdom. But as I await entrance through those pearly gates while here on earth, the struggles that we face, whatever they may be, makes it the wait a little more difficult for some of us.