We like to think that, as modern Americans, we have passed the social-evolutionary stage of tribalism. But we have not. We still respond to other people, and potentially threatening situations, the way our tribal ancestors did.
On August 9, a white man walked into a Wal-Mart in Springfield, Missouri, openlycarrying an assault weapon and dressed in a bulletproof vest. People, their memories fresh of the mass shootings that occurred in Texas and Ohio just days before, fled the building, as did the armed man. He surrendered peacefully when authorities arrived.
The man claimed that he was performing an experiment. He had the legal right to openly carry arms. He wanted to find out if places such as Wal-Mart would respect that right. The authorities informed him that his right to carry weapons did not give him the right to act in a way that alarmed the public.
My point about tribalism is this. The man was arrested and treated respectfully because he was white. If he had been black, I have no doubt that he would have been shot—if not by the police, then by the private citizen who kept him at gunpoint while awaiting the police. The white majority in America view other white people as being part of their tribe, and black people as part of a separate tribe. Tribal identity—us vs. them—overwhelmingly determines how we act toward other people, especially in a threatening situation.
This man acted calmly, never pointing his weapon at anyone. But the news is full of white men who have, very recently, committed acts of mass terrorism. Among white conservative males, pent-up resentment brews to a white-hot intensity, in some cases erupting into open anger.
But resentment against what? What immense burden of injustice have white males experienced—from any level of government, or from the economic system, or society in general—that would justify such extreme anger? The idea that white males have been victims of oppression or prejudice, as a group, is ludicrous.
But suppose a black man loses his cool and gets angry. This happened recently in Tulsa, where I live. A black man parked his car in the fire zone at a library. When an armed security guard told him to move his car, he started screaming at her, accusing her of racism and threatening to get her fired. She did not fire at him, and the situation ended without further incident. Obviously, this black man displayed as much crazy anger as do many white men.
The difference is that black people have, in fact, suffered nearly unending oppression in America. Their anger, though inappropriate, is understandable. They were brought here as slaves; they suffered decades of lynching and over a century of racist laws; and, today, the number of black men (even unarmed black men, even uniformed black security guards) get shot by white police far in excess of black police shooting white people. Understandably, black people are afraid of white police, even the majority of police who would not shoot them, and afraid of white men, any of whom might be carrying a concealed weapon and be willing to use it without thinking.
It is equally wrong for whites and blacks to freak out. But blacks, at least, have a reason to feel that way. White supremacist groups far outnumber black supremacist groups. The black groups possess far fewer firearms, and when they do, they get raided. This is what happened to the Nuwabian Nation of Moors. Meanwhile, white supremacist cults continue to proliferate and to accumulate their weapons. White reaction to real or possible threats is strongly controlled by their tribal identity as whites.
Black people will not continue to put up with this. And when a seemingly minor event ignites their wrath, what the black extremists will do will not be reasonable, pretty, or legal. But whites have been asking for it for a long time. I remain astonished that most black people still like most white people.