Dictionary.com announced its “Word of the Year” for 2016 – Xenophobia. Xenophobia is defined as the “dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries”. The prestigious Word of the Year award is given to a word that embodies and defines the cultural climate over the span of the year and so in 2016, it’s no surprise that xenophobia won the award!
The daily headlines from every paper across the world this year seemed centered on the fear of the ‘other.’ The worsening situation in the Middle East, widespread ethnic conflicts, and strained transatlantic relations have fueled fear and panic in people, leading to an alarming increase in Xenophobia.
What Is Xenophobia & Why Is It Rising?
“Xenophobia is an irrational and extreme fear of people or groups of people from other cultural, religious, national, ethnic, and social groups”
Like all phobias, Xenophobia is an irrational and extreme fear and it doesn’t have a universal cause. It is generally a combination of several factors and experiences that results in a person becoming xenophobic. In many cases, the lessons learned in childhood carry on into adulthood and while it can remain dormant for years, a bad experience as a grown-up could trigger those memories and change a person’s outlook. Parents pass on their prejudices to their children often without even realizing it, and when these children grown up, they do the same with their children and so these negative sentiments get carried from one generation to the next.
War is also one of the main causes of Xenophobia. American veterans from the Vietnam War witnessed their fellow Americans being killed in action and these veterans later developed a hatred towards all Asians. Fast forward 40 years and we see the same problem with American veterans of the Afghanistan war! And obviously, the xenophobia is not limited to one “side”, which means that the prejudice and Xenophobia just continues.
Xenophobia In India
“Xenophobia is not alien to India, as we have witnessed firsthand how hatred for different caste and religious groups or for Pakistanis, is passed down through parents, sometimes even leading to acts of violence”
We don’t have to look very far to find examples of Xenophobia; in 2014, the Uttar Pradesh government slapped sedition charges on a group of 60 Kashmiri university students simply for cheering for Pakistan over India during a cricket match! Not 6 months ago, there were a series of violent attacks (including a murder) on Africans living in New Delhi.
While our first instinct is to be shocked, we should ask ourselves if we are so very different. Yes, we do not resort to violence, but how often do we judge people based on which part of the country they hail from – while we maintain the appearance of being fair and unbiased, we are often cautious of people who belong to communities that we think are “just out to take advantage of everyone”! It is these fears and prejudices that pave the way for paranoia and Xenophobia.
Freedom From Fear: Tackling Xenophobia
The key to tackling Xenophobia is to recognize the problem and accept that it exists and that you are not immune to it; introspect, find out which beliefs and ideas are shaped by prejudice and try to overcome them”
The first and most important step in dealing with Xenophobia is being aware of the problem and being willing to address and discuss it. This does not mean merely pointing it out in others, but it also requires an open mind and a willingness to accept that we have similar prejudices that we need to overcome.
While there are many examples of Xenophobia, there are also many who speak out against it. For instance, in June 2016, during the spate of attacks on Africans, many leaders from around the country expressed their outrage at the xenophobic attacks. When a few pubs in Karnataka denied entry to all African nationals, the Chief Minister, B S Yeddyurappa threatened severe action against pub owners and said, “I am against racism. Nobody should indulge in it. I have already instructed police to investigate and take stringent action.”
Xenophobia is not a word we should celebrate, but we celebrate that it has been chosen as Dictionary.com’s ‘Word of the Year’, because this means that people are aware of the problem and looking to understand it, and as we’ve been told before, “knowing is half the battle”!
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