Xenophobia: What It is, Brief History, Cause, and Signs

Xenophobia The Fear of Foreigners

One of man’s greatest enemy is fear, and that explains why we have different phobias for different things. There’s the fear of closed spaces known as claustrophobia, the fear of water known as aquaphobia and many more popular phobias.

But what about xenophobia? Let’s find out what it is, what it’s effects are, a brief history of xenophobia, and why it is different from other kinds of phobia. Xenophobia is known as the hatred or fear of that which is perceived to be strange or from a foreign place.

Xenophobia can manifest itself in different ways, it may involve some negative perceptions of a specific ingroup toward an outgroup leading to strange behavior like suspicion of the activities of others, and a burning desire to get rid of their presence with the aim to maintain a presumed purity and may be connected to a fear of losing ethnic, national, or racial identity.

Xenophobia can also rise as an “uncritical exaltation of a culture different from one’s own” in which that foreign culture is ascribed “a stereotyped, unreal, and exotic quality.”

Per definition by the UNESCO, the concepts of xenophobia and racism most times overlap, with the only difference being in how the latter is characterized by prejudice based on a people’s physical characteristics, while the former is focused primarily on behavior based on the belief that a specific people’s presence is adverse to a culture or nation.

Why is xenophobia different from other phobias?

While other phobias may be the fear of an animal, something inanimate, imaginary, or unknown, Xenophobia is the fear of foreigners and all that they represent.

This makes it dangerous to other humans, and it has led to the loss of several lives and properties, displacement of people, and political battles between nations around the world.

While one person out of a thought people may have a specific phobia, xenophobia eats deep into a large population of people, making it easy to destroy an even broader demographic of foreigners.

While other phobias may be mental health related, personal problems, or even a family problem, Xenophobia is a socio-cultural problem.

History of xenophobia

A lot of people think about South Africa whenever the subject of xenophobia arises, but thanks to documented history, we know for sure that xenophobia didn’t even begin in the African continent.

One of the earliest recorded forms of xenophobia in the western world is the denigration of foreigners as barbarians by the Ancient Greek.

They had the belief that the Greek culture and people were superior to all other learning and people, and the mindset that foreigners (who were called barbarians) were created to work as slaves.

People in ancient Rome also had a belief that they were superior to other humans. This was displayed in a speech believe in having been made by Manius Acilius. In his remarks, Acilius said,

“There, as you know, there were Macedonians and Thracians and Illyrians, all most warlike nations, here Syrians and Asiatic Greeks, the most worthless peoples among mankind and born for slavery.”

In Brazil, despite the majority of the population being of African, mixed (Pardo), or indigenous heritage, representation of non-European Brazilians on the shows or programming of the majority of Brazilian national television networks are rare and usually relegated for musicians/their shows.

Even in the case of telenovelas (which the rest of the world gets to watch), Brazilians with darker skin tone are often depicted as gardeners, housekeepers or in other positions of low socioeconomic standing.

There are recorded cases of xenophobia in the United States of America, Brunei, Egypt, Russia, Netherlands, Mauritania, Sudan Niger, Australia, Uganda, Germany, France, Belgium, and South Africa to mention just a few.

History of xenophobia in South Africa

Xenophobia in South Africa didn’t begin with the 2019 attacks against Nigerian immigrants. Xenophobia has been a South African problem both during the apartheid and post-apartheid periods.

Hostility between Boers and the British in South Africa aggravated by the Second Boer War gave rise to a rebellion by the poor Afrikaners who took the opportunity to loot British-owned shops.

Indians have also been in South Africa for several decades, thus the country also passed quite a number of acts intended to keep the Indians away, an example of such law is the Immigrants Regulation Act of 1913, that provided for the separation of “undesirables”, which referred to a group of individuals that included Indians.

Very active this act was, as it halted Indian immigration to South Africa. There was also the Township Franchise Ordinance of 1924, which was created with the intention to “deprive Indians of the municipal franchise.”

In 1994 and 1995, some gangs of armed South African youth invaded and destroyed the homes of foreign nationals resident in Johannesburg, requesting that the South African police do everything possible to repatriate the foreigners to their home countries.

A little over a decade after, In the year 2008, another widely documented series of xenophobic attacks took place in Johannesburg.

During that attack, it is estimated that tens of thousands of foreigners were displaced; homes, property, and businesses were widely looted. After the attack, the death toll stood at 56.

In 2015, another bloody series of xenophobic attacks were documented after it occurred in South Africa, with migrant Zimbabweans as the target.

This attack followed the hateful remarks by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu saying that the Zimbabwean migrants must “pack their bags and leave.” By the 20th day of the fourth month of 2015, 7 people had been recorded dead, and well over 2000 foreigners had been displaced.

The most recent xenophobic attack in South Africa took place in the first week of September 2019, with Nigerian migrants at the receiving end.

The bone of connection was that Nigerian immigrants were taking all the available jobs in South Africa, and taking their women as well.

As a reaction to the attacks, the Nigerian government placed some political sanctions on South Africa, as other African countries took a stand against the repeated attacks.

Causes of xenophobia

Different factors may give rise to xenophobia and xenophobic attacks. Here are some of the most likely reasons:

1. Fear of domination

A group of people may fear that foreigners will grow in strength and population if allowed to remain in their land for too long.

An increase in the population of the foreigners could have some negative effect on their culture, and they may even be displaced. This fear of domination and possible internal displacement may lead to xenophobia and xenophobic attacks.

2. Fear of infiltration

A group of people may have a constant fear that foreigners may gain access to their leadership or even sacred of secret places without their knowledge. Such an occurrence may expose them to danger and make them more vulnerable to others.

3. Feeling of superiority

When there is a mindset that people from a specific nationality are less important or valuable, there is a considerable chance that xenophobic attacks will be recorded if these foreigners attempt to do more than if expected of them by their host.

4. Stereotype

The mindset that some people act some type of way, or they are certain things, simply because one or two people from said ethnicity or race have exhibited such behavior is considered stereotype.

Such beliefs and assumptions give rise for hatred and attacks that not only affect immigrants but citizens of stereotyped nations who are back home.

5. Fear of hunger and joblessness

The South African situation is an example of the manifestation of xenophobia out of fear of hunger and unemployment.

With Nigerian immigrants working in almost every company in South Africa, the South Africans fear that they’ll be jobless in the long run and die of hunger.

Signs of xenophobia

Just like other conditions have signs and symptoms, xenophobia has its early warnings, and they are often overlooked. Here are some of the most common signs of xenophobia:

1. Hate speech

When people of a specific nationality begin to make hate speeches against immigrants in general or of a particular nationality, it is a sign of xenophobia.

2. Stereotype

It is not rare to hear people say a thing like people from such and such country are dirty or people from so and so place have a specific disease.

Such assumptions lead to avoidance of the stereotyped people and even attacks on them when they try to prove themselves to be contractors to popular beliefs.

3. Segregation

If people of a particular nationality are not allowed in some public places, are restricted access to jobs and other basics of living in a foreign land, then it is a sign of hatred and xenophobia

4. Superiority complex

Feeling like your country is better than another, and treating citizens of the other country like inferior people is a sign of hate and xenophobia.

Seeing one’s self as overling is the background on which social evils such as slavery, savagery, and even xenophobia are built.

Until we recognize ourselves as equals in mental capacity, physical attributes, and understand that the only separation is skin color and the ability to harness our potential both physically and mentally, the death of phenomena like racism and xenophobia may never be a reality.

The takeaway

A phobia is a fear. It could be the fear of anything from the dark to animals, water, a number, and even other humans. Xenophobia is a socio-cultural problem that is not specific to any nationality as it has been recorded in every continent on the planet.

While there may be no medical cure for xenophobia, seeing as it isn’t even a medical problem, there is so much we can do as people to eliminate such destructive behavior.

The first step to the restoration of equality and oneness in a world where everyone battles to preserve themselves and what they believe in is the elimination of dividing identities such as religion, race, and the separation of one’s own from another.

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