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I will preface this by saying I am a white woman, and what I am telling you is due to education I have gratefully received from black, brown and indigenous folx. I am not here to speak for BIPOC, there are many people who have spoken at length about this subject who you should seek out and listen to.

I am addressing white people in business in particular: stop using the term “tribe” to mean your fucking email list.

What you think you’re using it for: A cute buzzword for a close-knit community of like-minded people.

But it doesn’t mean that. It’s a term to describe a familial, cultural, and historical group who often live close together.

If we think of how we started hearing the term “tribe” in context as children at school, I’d be lying if I didn’t say my immediate connection would be to African tribes or to Native American nations.

And I bet you’d be lying as well.

And, unless you’re talking about a political faction from the Roman Empire, or a specific tribe of people, you’re using “tribe” wrongly

So how is it easy for us as white people to take a word that we know has racial connotations and make it about us and our marketing? When we use this term, we are effectively profiting from cultural appropriation.

It’s your fucking email list, not The Maasai.

This is white privilege in action.

Stop using this term.

Other terms you could use?

Team. Friends. Chums. Community. Collective. Club. Society. Union. Alliance. There’s THOUSANDS of neutral terms that would fit so much better. Use a thesaurus.

I am still learning. I have made mistakes, and am willing to be called out for the mistakes I will probably continue to make in my journey to unlearn inherent racism. You are not a bad person for using “tribe” in your marketing. You are a questionable person if you continue to ignore it despite reading this.

Further Reading

Using “Tribe” and “Tribalism: to Misunderstand African Societies – David Wiley 2013

Is using the word ‘tribe’ or ‘spirit animal’ offensive to Native Americans? – Curated by Dr. Kiona, 2018

Why you might want to rethink using the word ‘tribe’ for your business community – Eli Trier, 2019

The Trouble With Tribe – Chris Lowe, 2001

 

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