“Xenophobia is the unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. 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”. Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action urges all governments to take immediate measures and to develop strong policies to prevent and combat all forms and manifestations of racism, xenophobia or related intolerance, where necessary by enactment of appropriate legislation including penal measure” definition complements of Wikipedia.
This is probably a greater quote: “Getting a job as a greeter with the United Nations is probably not the best career option for someone who suffers from xenophobia, a fear of foreigners or strangers.” Vocabulary.com
I know you are wondering what does this have to do with family? You hear it all the time today when people talk about not being prejudiced and being color blind etc. Over time I have thought a lot about that. I walk into a room and I notice all kinds of things about the people in the room, if I were the only white person I would see that, if I were the only woman or older person I would also be aware of that. When I walk down a dark street I want to know who is coming towards me, what they look like, do they look safe? Am I the only white person there? Do I know anyone here? What does that mean?
I don’t believe for a moment that anyone is color blind in society today. A young Black man walking into a room is going to check out who is there. Are these going to be accepting individuals? Are they going to judge me by my skin color? Do I know anyone here? After all these folks don’t know this young man and he may have reason to be apprehensive.
Growing up our parents were pretty adamant that we were not to judge people by their color, race, language etc. Just because we did not know someone we were not to judge them. But what had they heard at home growing up that was underneath all those messages. I really think on my Dad’s side that his father was very socialist and religious and believed in openness to everyone. My mom grew up in a small city and from the things we have seen and heard over the years I believe there was not quite as much training in not saying things about folks of other colors, races and people of other countries.
My Aunt Mary was a great example of xenophobia. She had some pretty harsh attitudes about people from the middle east. Not recent post 911 but going way back to her days of traveling around the world with her government. She was not nice when she talked about the countries she visited and not too happy when members of the family became involved with non-white anglo saxon types. She judged everyone from those nations under one category and did not seem open to judging them as individuals.
In Aunt Pat’s letters which I will get back to in May, she refers to black persons she meets in not great terms although that was the 1940’s. She did not have trouble using those terms in letters. I was a bit shocked to read them but then remember some comments my grandfather made from time to time. I would like to think it was the lack of exposure to minorities in their small city. Having friends of various racial and ethnic groups helps one to see people all as people and not as separate groups. I think about that when I hear about the police problems this nation is having and why community policing is such a good thing. The cop on the beat gets to know everyone who lives in an area and they get to know him/her. Then when there are problems those community police officers know who are the bad apples and who are the good people who are just getting by and need to be treated well and not all put in one grouping.
My Dad’s side was different. He would not tolerate any disparaging comments about minorities or ethnic groups. In the 1940’s he and my mom lost friends after he got to be buddies with one of the young interns or residents at a Buffalo hospital. They invited the young man and his wife to our house for a party. The fellow asked if it would be a problem and Dad said not for him. If people could not accept his friendship with this young black doctor then he did not want them for friends. That was a strong message to give us kids. And they did lose friends over that friendship but my mom said she was proud that Dad stood up for what was right.
And then in the 1960’s my dad really did something that made me very proud to be his daughter. And for those of you who know me you know my relationship with my dad was usually pretty contentious. The plague of being just like your dad. We knocked heads on everything and I growing up was pretty mad at him most of the time. He worked in pharmaceutical sales for Burroughs Wellcome Inc. and in the 60’s he was stationed in NY. NY City area being so diverse he decided the time was right and he hired the first woman, the first hispanic and the first black sales persons in the company. It was a pretty out there thing for him to do but he did it and stood up to some obstructionists, including wives of salesmen who did not want their husbands supervising young women. That was the funny one. One wife insisted on driving around in the back seat while her husband was supervising this young woman. Dad asked her how would she feel when her husband no longer has a job because of her. She stopped.
So today when I see reps in doctors offices and they come in every variety of human beings I think proudly back on my dad who taught us that xenophobia was not to be accepted in our family.
But then do I still have some fear of the unknown persons? I have to admit yes. Am I color blind? No. Do I think twice when I see a stranger walking down my little isolated street? Yes. Do I prefer to take vacations in places I know with people I know? Yes. Am I adventuresome? Not really. But I think I am in a better place that some and probably not as open as some others. I have come to the conclusion long ago that we are better off if we live in diverse communities where children are exposed to all kinds of people and not just “their” kind of people. My grandchildren have friends of all varieties of ethnic and racial backgrounds. Their neighbors are the same variety. My hope would be that as they grow they do not segregate themselves from people different than themselves.
Go into a school one of these days and look at who sits with whom in the cafeteria. I was always shocked when we did event by how the kids split themselves up. Makes you wonder why?