X is for Xenophobia

How do you feel about your own racism and xenophobia? Are you confident enough to declare “I’m not racist”?

So I was looking up xenophobia in 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 were something of the past, such as one segment in this TV show from 1964, which like the Daily Show segment, is a parody. But I realized I was being silly. Xenophobia 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 a 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 a 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

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