Today’s strange thing is xenophobia.
Let me start off by explaining which definition I’m using for the purposes of my post today.
Wikipedia defines it thus, “Xenophobia is the fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.”
According to FreeDictionary.com, the psychological definition of xenophobia is “hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture.”
If you’ve watched the news much in the past year, you’ve seen a lot of coverage of US politicians being xenophobic. There have been calls to not accept Syrian refugees, calls to ban all Muslims from entering the country, and calls to expel illegal immigrants of all descriptions. I find all these calls to be strange and confusing because the US was founded on principals of religious freedom and has grown to become the great nation it is on the backs of wave after wave after wave of immigrants.
Immigration was the cornerstone of the rise of our country. Granted, it also led to some terrible things over the years like the persecution of Native Americans and the forced immigration and enslavement of Africans, but no country is perfect. We’ve fought hard to undo at least some of the damage caused by our mistakes over the years. We have a lot of room for improvement still, but that’s another topic entirely.
I can understand the inclination to fear the other, the unknown, and the strange. It’s a natural human impulse to some extent. What I don’t understand in this day and age when information is more available than it ever has been before, is being afraid and translating that fear into anger, harassment, and even legal impediments, without making some effort to learn about the group you’re fearful of.
This irrational fear rising from ignorance is not a forgone conclusion. There are plenty of people out there who would be more than happy to educate you and help you to understand their group (or a group they advocate for) so that you will no longer be ignorant, which in most cases can alleviate the fear which was based on misinformation or lack of information.
My state has offered up an excellent example of how irrational fear leads to xenophobia and is then used as an excuse (because there are no good reasons) to pass a bill that strips away protections from discrimination and persecutes a group that is feared because it is so misunderstood.
I’m speaking of House Bill 2, or HB2, which was passed during a special session in North Carolina by the General Assembly on March 23, 2016 in approximately 12 hours. The bill, which was touted as a means of protecting women and children from abuse in restrooms, not only restricted public bathroom facility use to only those whose birth certificate gender matched that of the multi-stall restroom they were trying to use, it also stripped away local governments’ rights to pass any law about discrimination that would broaden the state definitions, or any minimum wage laws.
If the drive to pass this bill wasn’t fueled by xenophobia largely directed at transgender persons, I’m not sure what it was. I find this behavior on the part of my legislature (but thankfully not my actual representatives who respectively voted against it or walked out in protest) to be troubling and strange. If I succumbed to xenophobia I might be frightened, because they most certainly fall into the category of strange and foreign for me right now.
If you happen to live in NC, I encourage you to do everything you can to raise your own voice in protest against HB2. If you live in the US but don’t live in NC, there’s about a 1 in 3 chance that you live in a state with a similar law on the books or before the legislature. Fight against it wherever you are. I take comfort in knowing that businesses are making their opinions known by pulling back on job expansion to pressure legislatures to repeal the bill (I’m saddened for the loss of jobs but I hope they will return once the law is gone). It’s also good to know that there are actual US Supreme Court precedents for challenging laws similar to this as unconstitutional, and that there are legal challenges being prepared.
This is just one example among many of local laws fueled by xenophobia. Arizona has gotten a lot of press about their laws that target illegal Hispanic immigrants that also get a lot of legal Hispanic immigrants and Hispanic citizens caught up in the process. And in a state like Arizona there are probably a lot of Hispanic families that have been legal US citizens longer than my family. And yet somehow I’m seen as more American by the xenophobes trying to white-wash their state.
I’m sure I could find dozens of other examples across the US as well as other countries. European countries are freaking out about the influx of Syrian refugees as much or more than the US. And it’s all fueled by xenophobia when you boil it all down. If all the refugees were non-Arab Christians would the Europeans and Americans be calling for them to be abandoned like they are now? And what does that say about our countries?
I apologize for this post getting so political. I normally devote this space to talk about my craft, but this is a subject I’m passionate about. I’m trying harder to include more diversity in my own writing not only because #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but also because it’s a more accurate reflection of the world I live in, and I want my work to mirror the real world so that I can help others better understand some aspect or another of it while enjoying a good story.
If at any point in this post I’ve offended someone, I don’t mean to. If something bothered you in my post, let me know, I’d be happy to talk with you about it or clarify what I meant.
If you share my opinion that xenophobia is a strange thing that is to be fought, especially in political decision making, one of the most important things you can do is vote in every single local election. These elections are far more important that those on the national level because currently our national legislature is too deadlocked to legislate. This is not the case in state legislatures who collectively pass thousands of bills each year.
Whether you agree with me or not, get out and vote so your voice is heard, and if you disagree with what your legislature is doing, make sure you put forth the effort to let them know. Without people working for change, change will not come.