Is Tribalism on the Increase?

03/01/2011 03:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When I was a college student, I worked at the student newspaper. I was a longhaired, hard-drinking journalist -- a Woodward and/or Bernstein in training -- who would someday expose wrongdoers and bring down corrupt powerbrokers.

Well, at least that's how I saw myself back then. It didn't quite work out that way. And it's not just because my chosen field, print journalism, soon became as relevant as the telegraph.

In truth, I got soured on the crusading-reporter thing pretty quickly. One of my first interview subjects was an intense man who proudly called himself a black separatist. He gave lectures around the country that outlined how African Americans needed to reject integration and establish their own nation.

He was quite serious when he told me that black people could, if they got organized, take over a couple of states and create a walled-off homeland. As I recall, he was gunning for North and South Carolina. The black separatist was polite enough to avoid pointing out that people like me (Latinos) would not be first in line for citizenship of his fledgling country.

Needless to say, it doesn't appear that his dream has come to fruition. But many people share his principles, if not his constituency.

For example, I recently ran into the website for Northwest Front. This organization has a very simple goal: The establishment of a white nation in the Pacific Northwest. That's right, their little slice of America would be 100 percent white people, with no ethnic minorities allowed.

As their website makes clear, Northwest Front doesn't "stand for hating people, we stand for freeing people." Well, that's a relief, as is their insistence that the image of a "shaven-headed, tattooed punk in a compound screaming 'White Power' and giving a Hitler salute" is "mostly false."

For now, we should ignore the ominous implications of that word "mostly."

Instead, let's admit that the organization has created a pretty slick presentation. The couple on the splash page looks very cute and perky. They're downright wholesome, in fact ... well, except for that whole Nazi white-supremacist thing, complete with creepy militaristic flag fluttering on the porch.

So are these racial purists dangerous? Well, for the second year in a row, hate groups are on the rise in America. And much of their rage is directed toward ethnic minorities. Still, the real nutjobs -- guys with guns and the inclination to use them -- are unlikely to put up spiffy websites announcing their agenda. They just load up the truck with explosives and try to take out an MLK parade.

Regardless of how worried we should be about these overt racists, it is undeniable that, at the very least, the urge to keep the ethnicities separate is alive and well, even in this so-called post-racial society in which we live. A century after Plessy vs. Ferguson, many Americans want to formalize what millions more already achieve through de facto methods: segregation.

From the whitest suburb to the brownest barrio, lots of us live only among people who share our skin hue. And a great many of us like it that way.

Of course, it is not socially acceptable to be as upfront about it as the Northwest Front or my old friend the black separatist are. And let's be clear. These guys are loons.

But tribalism remains buried deep within our psyche. Perhaps one of the few things that people in every ethnic group have in common is the drive to dislike everybody else. It's a truly heartwarming comment on humanity.

Many social theorists insist that tribalism cannot be erased, due to our Darwinian urge to keep the group safe from outsiders. As such, it's worth asking if this drive can ever truly be eliminated, whether in the individual or in the culture.

And even if we somehow achieved that perfect, racially integrated society, would we then start separating ourselves based on height or girth or some other arbitrary identifier? Should the small-nostril people begin oppressing the large-nostril citizens now, just to get a headstart?

You'll have to figure that out for yourselves. Right now, I've got to pack. Apparently, we Hispanics are taking over California and the Southwest.

I hear that once we clear out the whites and blacks and Asians and Middle Easterners and biracials and everybody else, the living will be easy.