X is for Xenophobia

So I was looking up xenophobia in the Wikipedia, which lists this definition:
Xenophobia is the uncontrollable fear of foreigners. It comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning “stranger,” “foreigner” and φόβος (phobos), meaning “fear.” Xenophobia can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an ingroup towards an outgroup, including a fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity. Xenophobia can also be exhibited in the form of an “uncritical exaltation of another culture” in which a culture is ascribed “an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality”…

A xenophobic person has to genuinely think or believe at some level that the target is in fact a foreigner. This arguably separates xenophobia from racism and ordinary prejudice in that someone of a different race does not necessarily have to be of a different nationality. In various contexts, the terms “xenophobia” and “racism” seem to be used interchangeably, though they can have wholly different meanings (xenophobia can be based on various aspects, racism being based solely on race ethnicity and ancestry). Xenophobia can also be directed simply to anyone outside of a culture, not necessarily one particular race or people.

Well, OK. I’m not sure if it is xenophobia or racism (or both) which led to offensive characterizations against the Republican candidate for governor in South Carolina. Or the renaming of food so as not to invoke people we don’t like. Or the absurd truthiness of this Comedy Central bit about Obama and his emotions.

At some level, I suppose I had gotten to a point where I had hoped xenophobia and racism was some thing of the past, such as one segment in this TV show from 1964, which like the Daily Show segment, is parody. But I realized I was being silly. Xenphobia has lasted for millennia; why should modernism destroy it?

I’m reminded of the story of the good Samaritan. It’s significant because the injured Jewish traveler, passed by two of his “own people”, was helped by a member of group poorly regarded, thus radically expanding the geography of “Love thy neighbor.”

At your leisure, check out If Gandhi was Palestinian. I don’t necessarily agree with every word, but the notion of trying to be in another’s shoes is appealing.

How do you feel about your own racism and xenophobia? Are you confident enough, as Greg Burgas is, to declare I’m not racist. Not even a little bit. I reject Avenue Q’s song ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’ completely.

But you really must read Roger Ebert’s take on the topic especially as it relates to his own personal evolution and development. A brief quote: “How do they get to be that way? I read this observation by Clint Eastwood: ‘The less secure a man is, the more likely he is to have extreme prejudice.'”

Interestingly, a couple of the comments to the Ebert piece mention a play and a musical I have seen in the last year. The play is To Kill A Mockingbird, based on the Harper Lee novel, where the slow breakdown in the racist society is embodied by vigorous defense of the black defendant by Atticus Finch.

The musical is Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, specifically the song You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught. (Sidebar: Mixed race marriages are on the rise in the United States.)

Ultimately, as Leadbelly (d. 1949) wrote and sang, We’re in the same boat, brother.

The Lord looked down from his holy place
Said the Lord to me, what a sea of space
What a spot to launch the human race
So he built him a boat for a mixed-up crew,
With eyes of Black and Brown and Blue.
So that’s how’s come that you and I
Got just one world and just one sky.

Through storm and grief,
Hit many a rock and many a reef,
What keep them going was a great belief.
That the human race was a special freight
So they had to learn to navigate.
If they didn’t want to be in Jonah’s shoes,
Better be mated on this here cruise.—Why—

We’re in the same boat brother,
We’re in the same boat brother,
And if you shake one end,
You gonna rock the other
It’s the same boat brother

Our last song – for I believe in the power of music – is Everyday People by Sly & the Family Stone, lyrics by Sylvester Stewart, a/k/a, Sly Stone.

There is a blue one who can’t accept the green one
For living with a fat one trying to be a skinny one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee
Oh sha sha – we got to live together
I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do
You love me you hate me you know me and then
You can’t figure out the bag I’m in
I am everyday people, yeah yeah

ABC Wednesday

0 thoughts on “X is for Xenophobia”

  1. A thought provoking post for the day as always, Roger. Having been raised in the south and having married a black man in the 60s, I do understand the word. Hope the rest of your week goes well!



  2. Whew, outstanding post Roger. Lots to ponder. I guess prejudice pops up all the time. It doesn’t have to be about people with different skin. It can be anyone different from us and how we think the right way is. I really like Clint Eastwoods quote. Makes a lot of sense.


  3. An important subject. As I see it there are two types – societal and intellectual. The latter is arguably the worse kind, the former a product of fear, poverty, or believing the intellectual’s rants. Always it seems to place on the subject a society’s own deficiencies.


  4. What a great post, Roger. There’s a lot of xenophobia in our country too. Actually not against all foreigners. THere are two or three groups of young people in our big cities who operate in gangs. Their parents hardly speak Dutch and they can’t control their children. They brutalize our Dutch Jews, who always were here before they came. They throw stones at homosexuals and smash windows of anybody they don’t approve of. By doing this they spoil things for their fellow country man, who do their utmost to integrate in our sociaty. How do we solve this problem??


  5. Another great post Roger – I especially like the lyrics to the boat song – so true! I think the rise of anti-semitism should be a concern to all.


  6. I almost wish that I had chosen xenophopia, but I had no time to even open a dictionary. I took what first came to mind.
    If I had, I would probably not have put the two words xenophobia and racism together. I ask myself why. Well, I have met people who are really afraid of strangers, but these individuals are afraid of people in general, whom they do not know. The ‘strangers’ don’t have to belong to another race. They can come from another part of town…
    It all depends uåpon your point of view…
    Great post!
    Best wishes,

    Anna’s X-words


  7. Wonderfully constructed post. When I look back hundreds of years or even last century and see what happened due to Xenophobia of ethnicity or religion and then see what is still happening in the world today it is as though nothing changes. I guess will just have to hope that sense prevails and Leadbelly’s words come true.


  8. I saw xenophobia on my unusual word site and am now glad I didn’t use it! I could never have come close to doing it justice like you did today. A very thought-provoking post with some great links. The food propoganda one was just a bit silly in content!


  9. An outstanding entry of yours. Living as a foreigner in Athens, Greece am gladly able to say, that not many times I found meself in front of either comments or things done.
    One can only wish that the right people will read this and that things might change, if only a bit. A wonderful Wednesday for you.


  10. Unfortunatley, during most of human history, it has been a common evil to blame those who are “foreign” or “different” to cover up failings of those in power. Freedom Fry anyone?


  11. As time passes and the global village encourages more intimacy between races and their cultures I do think that racism will cure itself, although it may take a number of generations. Xenophobia appears to be more of an individual weakness, where a lack of confidence raises fears of anything or anybody we do not feel comfortable with. And perhaps that will be cured too as our circle of familiarity grows. A thinking post Roger, – thank you for it.


  12. I have a huge prejudice for prejudice itself. I simlpy can’t swallow it, no matter the kind. People are people in my humble opinion, plain as it is.

    Great thought-provoking post, Roger.

    Kisses from Nydia.


  13. Excellent informative post as usual – and a very important one. Racism seems to be on the rise in many places around the globe!


  14. Definitely a thought-provoking post there. I have to be honest and say I disagree with the ‘You’ve got to be carefully taught’ notion, because it is inbuilt in babies to be frightened by human faces which are not as they expect. If you show a newborn a picture of a slightly distorted face, they will stare solemnly at it, and then they’ll often cry. It is natural for human beings to be suspicious of the different and the unexpected – it’s a survival trait.

    What is very, very wrong, is to make value judgements of people based on that natural suspicion, and this is what children are often taught, sadly. We need to teach our children that it doesn’t matter how a person looks or speaks, or what he wears or where he comes from, they must be treated with the same respect as members of their own culture/family, and they must be open-minded. If people prove to be dangerous or untrustworth as individuals, then fair enough, it doesn’t matter what their origins are (ethnic or otherwise), then it’s reasonable not to like them, and every race/culture has its bad eggs. If they don’t prove to be a ‘bad egg’, then they are just another member of the human race. You may like them, or you may not, just as with anyone.

    I like Clint Eastwood’s quote though. That is VERY true.


  15. Excellent piece of commentary. While mankind has made tremendous progress, it is scary that xenophobia is still prevalent in many parts of the world. Is it truly inherent in our nature to fear the “unknown” and the “unfamiliar”?


  16. …Lots to think about! Interesting how so many aspects are affected…even food!
    Even during the time when my hubby was a teenager, it was expected by the previous generation in their family, that they were marrying Portuguese, since they were Portuguese. Well… my hubby married me (Filipino/Spanish/Chinese), his brother’s wife is Chinese/Hawaiian/English, one sister’s husband is Japanese, and the other sister’s husband is Filipino/Hawaiian… Although, when it actually came down to it, all of us, spouses, were welcomed and loved. :o)

    Blessings & Aloha!
    (thankyou also for stopping by and for your kind comment…I am glad that you and the team do not close the link too soon, & that I was able to join in with ABC Wednesday :o)


  17. I guess there are phobias for everything… but foreigners? Almost sounds like a joke. You bring some interesting points to the table and open up a great topic for conversation.


  18. “You Must Be Carefully Taught” is one of my favorite songs from South Pacific. A poem that I’ve tried to live since I first discovered it as a teenager is Outwitted by Edwin Markham:

    He drew a circle that shut me out–
    Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
    But Love and I had the wit to win:
    We drew a circle that took him in!

    Some days I’m better at living it than others, but I think it is an ideal worth working towards.

    ❤ you!


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