Diversity makes strange bedfellows – From Xenophobia to Xenophilia
A new international student had joined Julia’s class. The new girl said she was from Pakistan and that her name was Charlotte. Julia recalls, with some guilt, how her first reaction was that Charlotte could be an imposter or an undercover terrorist. In her very narrow mind then she knew there could be no Christian person in Pakistan, only Muslims. She was uneasy around the new girl although Charlotte was friendly. Julia and Charlotte went on to be good friends but to this day Julia still harbors some guilt when she recalls her first encounter with Charlotte.
The very evening Julia bumped into Charlotte, she happened to watch a South Park episode (The Snuke) where a Muslim student joins the school and one student (Cartman) has the same hunch Julia had. Julia could not believe how what she thought was exactly what a character in South Park would think. However, at the same time, the episode also made her realize that she was not alone in such thinking, that there could be more people thinking like her. Unknowingly, even if it was for a passing moment, she was prejudiced in stereotyping a person of color. She was ashamed of her initial reaction to Charlotte and appalled at her own reaction.
What is xenophobia?
Let’s face it. Xenophobia, be it media influenced or state influenced, along with the underlying racism is real. (The word “xénos” in Greek means “Foreigner” or “Stranger” and “phóbos” fear).
American Psychological Association (APA) defines xenophobia as
“1. a strong and irrational, sometimes pathological, fear of strangers.
2. hostile attitudes or aggressive behavior toward people of other nationalities, ethnic groups, regions, or neighborhoods. In nonhuman animals, xenophobia is manifested by territorial behavior (see territoriality) and is also seen in social groups where intruders are typically attacked and repelled.”
Human beings are social animals. However, when we admit to being social animals, we are less social and more animals and xenophobia is proof of this. Animals live in a herd/group and hardly ever socialize with other animals, unless it’s an animation movie. During our hunting and gathering days, xenophobia helped us to keep our herd safe from “the outsiders”. It was a survival strategy then. But in today’s world, if we still fear the “outsiders”, then should we all not go back in time to hunting-gathering days and devolve into xenophobic hunter-gatherers?
Consequences of xenophobia
Now, going back to Julia’s case, her inherent xenophobia first made her suspicious of Charlotte followed by shame and guilt. Although she found later albeit, through a fictional character that there could be more who would think like her, there are still many who would not behave like her. She kept her initial impression of Charlotte to herself and realized quickly how ridiculous her thought was. She was embarrassed and ashamed of her immediate reaction which she overcame all on her own, and went on to become good friends with Charlotte.
Charlotte was unaware of the silent prejudice she had faced on her first day at college. However, not all Charlotte’s share such a similar fate. Who here may not have heard of hate crimes – the ultimate consequence of xenophobia? Research data show that victims of hate crimes are more likely to experience severe psychological distress than victims of other crimes. Besides, the hate crimes not only affect its immediate victims but also other members who belong to the victims’ group (in terms of religion, race, ethnicity, gender identity, etc). Other research journals have concluded that victims of hate crimes experience other mental health issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, psychological distress and also lower self-esteem.
Xenophilia and Diversity
We may all be xenophobic deep inside, perhaps it is genetic, as we all have evolved from the hunter-gatherers at one point. But let us remind ourselves every day that we have evolved, we have evolved into not just social but global beings. Our ancestors may have found a way out of xenophobia to accept and welcome the “outsiders”. They must have learned from each other’s differences and respected the diversity. They must have given up xenophobia for xenophilia to survive in this global community, to become a global citizen, and so must we.
Every being, every soul, brings in the diversity that enhances and elevates the global world that we live in. So let us respect our differences, our uniqueness because in diversity there is unity and in diversity there is beauty.
Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day.– Unknown
We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.– Maya Angelou