It’s not racism, it’s tribal.
-Lorna, Orange is the New Black
Art by Butterbap.
Orange is the New Black reminded me an aspect of storytelling we often forget, the tribal identity. Perhaps we don’t really recognize it because unless pressured people do not think of themselves really as a “tribe”. Whenever modern people think of tribe they often think of First Nations, or Native Americans, or of far off peoples living in faraway places. Truth be told, we all came from clannish tribal peoples at one point. Before there was Sweden the Geat, Svear, Gotar peoples fought over land in the time of Pettyt-Kings (tribal warlords of sorts). Rome battled numerous so-called Barbarian Tribes in its march to Empire, and even recently a “uncontacted” came out of the Amazon for the first time.
One reason people love the stories of groups such as the Sopranos, Game of Thrones, or even Leviathan Wake’s is that it goes to t he core of the political identity someone holds with their tribe.
One reason I have always found tribal identit;y so interesting is that it goes to a different level of ethnic connection, something t hat is rarely seen these days. When i designed Altear, the idea of politics was to pit ruling tribal Chiefs against the will of the nobility. A means of creating a multi-prong instance of politics where nobles battled over land, and the Throne. Tribes then dealt with feuds, and provided a background for creating coalitions for power. The Dark Age was filled with Germanic, Celtic, and Roman peoples battling for what was left of the Empire. The same could be said by the later periods of the Northern and Italian Renaissances.
The feeling in this case was a sense of connection related to the various realms that inhabited Europe and the world at that time. Now the nations found in LiTS are far larger than the cities of Florence, and Milan, but they are small in comparison to the grandeur of the entire Star Empire. Nations back then were made up of Dukes, Princes, Kings, Archdukes, and Counts. The power of the Papacy was at its highest in the medieval world.
The Tribal Stories found in LiTS related more to the competition between the various ruling Noble Houses, than it does specifically to the stories of a given people. In Altear, Tribe was one of the major identifications of the major powers in a country. For the Amazones in Arrow Child, Clan, and Bloodline (Ozikon) are extremely Tribal. So the very essence of family relation, and identification in all these stories relates to the following simple phrase:
“Me against my brothers, my brothers and I against our cousins, my brothers, and cousins against the world.” Anyone who is -not- in the Tribe is a potential enemy, The sufferage of the entire people is a means of wrong upon you. Its a collective thought process. An ideology we often see on the National or Sub-national level or in sports.
Its more than Reaction
Tribal identity is more than just how people connect, and work with each other. Its also about blood, and family relation. Many peoples who are from a singular existing “Tribe” are often part of large inter-related communities. Even in Land in the Stars the Nobility is heavily rooted in the local bloodlines of their given fief. Among the Amazones the relationship one holds to family is sacred enough that they record their lineages in the “Book of Blood” to remember the works of their ancestors or Honored Dead.
This sense of connection even greater for my character Nyla who is an active member of a fictional Salishan Tribe in Washington state. However, for Nyla she straddles the line of being a full “member”, and being half-way out. Something that deals a lot more with the racism implied by being a “Half-blood” (racism against biracial children).
In essence the idea of It’s Tribal in my works focuses on the complex relationships communicated not just across nuclear families, but also on the communal level. It implies a sense of national, and sub-national politics, while layering on even ore multi-faceted storyline lines. Finally, it really digs deep into the reason why racism, prejudice, and ethnic feuds exist in the modern day.