Thursday, April 26, 2012

A to Z: Xenophobia

intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries.
~ Mac dictionary

fear of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange

unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange

Irrational. Unreasonable.

And yet... So prevalent.

It's not a modern thing, a product of our globalized era. Xenophobia has been around from the beginning of time, so much so that I'm beginning to think it's a key ingredient of the human psyche. Us And Them. Insiders vs. Outsiders. Black vs. White. Old vs. Young. Me vs. You.

We agree it's wrong, right? It's irrational and unreasonable. We understand that. And yet... It's still here, everywhere, inside you. Inside me. In our gut reactions to things on the news, scenes on the street. Anything that is different (if you read my first A-Z post, Allure of the Different, this will sound familiar) equally beckons and repels, sometimes for the very same reason.

Xenophobia may be an intrinsic element in our psyche--a defense mechanism, perhaps, or a way to create a group identity--but I still think it's wrong. Very wrong. And dangerous.

There's no easy fix, certainly. This "irrational fear or hatred" has many root causes, some maybe even reasonable. But here's the thing: it snowballs.

Holland is a magnificent example (and one I'm familiar enough with, but still objective about). The nation world-famous for tolerance has swung its pendulum to the other end of the spectrum. Tolerance is very hard to come by anywhere in Europe nowadays, and my crystal ball tells me it's going to get worse before it gets better.

What can we do, you ask? Us, the little people? It's the governments that make policy, that have the reins of the country. We can't do anything.

But we can. I insist.

Xenophobia is a mindset. Aside from the very freaky extremists (religious, political, whatever), the large majority of the population suffers from xenophobia in subconscious, automatic, ways. Most xenophobic reactions stem from ignorance--not just of the "foreigners" we fear, but of the fear itself. We don't see it, we don't recognize it.

What if we did? What if we began to check our attitudes, take the pulse on our reactions, and watch for signs of prejudicial (negative or positive) behavior? What if, before taking a stand on something, or agreeing with someone, we thought about it for a minute--or two? Just to see if we really understand what's being argued, what's being decided.

Maybe it doesn't sound like much, but I believe it can make a difference. If xenophobia is a key element of our humanity, we're not going to make it disappear. But we can understand it, see it for what it is--and stop being led like lambs to the slaughter by a fear we don't even know we have.

It is slaughter. Maybe not for you, not right now. But, eventually, if "irrational fear or hatred" is allowed to flourish, it will be.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
~ Tolstoy, War and Peace

Today, there's no greater evil than xenophobia. Will you do nothing?


  1. Great post and definitely worth a Retweet!

  2. Xenophobia is indeed deeply instinctual, and like you said, initially meant to help keep communities together (preserve the herd). But humans tend to take everything to extremes in cyclic rhythms throughout history, and ignorance and intolerance (xenophobia) is unfortunately one of these things. The only weapon against it is education and exposure, IMO.

    Great post, Guilie! Very thoughtful and thought-provoking.

    1. Glad you liked it, Vero, and thanks for the promotion :D Agreed--only education & exposure will do the trick. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Americans don't have xenophobia. That's just something people in weird foreign countries are brainwashed to believe. :)

    1. LOL--I love witty visitors :) Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Xenophobia, like casual racism, is one of those things that most if not all people possess, at least a tiny bit. It's very easy to ignore, especially where it is deeply institutionalized and never questioned by the people in power (either in political power or in "power" by virtue of belonging to a privileged class/race/etc.). However, I think it's a basic human duty to try to educate oneself so as not to continue living in ignorance, and if you realize you are doing or thinking something xenophobic or racist, to examine where those thoughts and actions are coming from and try to amend them.

    Of course, even if we could eliminate these things, we would find other things by which to divide ourselves. We all want to belong to the group. But we can't define a group's membership without defining who doesn't belong, either. It's a human failure.

    1. Love it, Kristin--"we can't define a group's membership without defining who doesn't belong". That's *exactly* it, the root of it all. I wish we could find the reason why this is so--the world would be a better place.

      Thanks for the visit!

  5. Yes, great post. It's true, xenophobia is the root of lots of evils. And I like the phrase, "casual racism." I think that's right on--I've seen a lot of that.

    I grew up with a sort of reverse xenophobia--my father was extremely intolerant of people he perceived as intolerant. Once when we watched a baseball game between a United States team and a team from Taiwan, he got offended that our fellow citizens were cheering on the U.S. team. He kept muttering that the americans were being "jingoistic." I wondered how you're supposed to watch a ball game if you don't cheer for somebody. Anyway, no wars were fought that day.

    1. Helen, glad you joined in the conversation. I've seen a lot of "positive" xenophobia, or xenophilia, I guess, and in all honesty, although it may seem positive, I think the intolerance factor is as present in one as in the other. Knee-jerk reactions either way are still knee-jerk, and potentially damaging.

  6. I spent a quiet day with women quilting to discover very gradually the woman next to me, a sweet granny-type of German-Swiss descent, wanted a fence built along the Mexican/U.S. border to keep our American culture "pure". I blurted out, "It's too late. We're already multicultural. We are a country of people who came from somewhere else." We tried to be reasonable with each other, but I do not understand her position. And she does not understand mine.

  7. Great post, Guilie!

    I'm a huge fan of martial arts and combat sports, so I attend a lot of live MMA events. It's almost a foregone conclusion at many of these shows that at some point there will be an American competing against someone who hails from another country. Like clockwork, a segment of the crowd will usually start chanting "USA! USA! USA!" even if they nothing about the two fighters. Sometimes it will be two fighters who both live and train in the United States. Sometimes the "foreigner" is even a U.S. citizen! It makes me roll my eyes, but it is what it is.

    It's an unfortunate part of the human experience that I hope we can all outgrow one day.

  8. Wow Guilie! You sure took that one and ran with it. Excellent and extremely relevant post.

  9. I loved your take on Xenophobia, so much better written than mine!
    Our fears are our masters, and they bend our actions in ways we may not even recognize. Its quite scary!

  10. Very well said, Guilie. It honestly breaks my heart to hear the xenophobic stories that appear in my country's news reports, all under the guise of "illegal immigration." It sickens me how illogical their arguments are at heart.

    -Barb the French Bean


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