Fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the “different.” Fear through misunderstanding. Xenophobia is the fear or dislike of foreign born individuals. The very idea of xenophobia is rooted in fear for oneself and way of life; however this fear and abrasiveness is hurtful and misplaced. At the core of migration issues are people, people looking for a new beginning, or simply safety and survival. Xenophobia plays with the emotion of fear, and shapes that fear through misguided information and statements that create the hate rooted in xenophobia.
Through my work in the UN NGO Migrant Working Group subcommittee on Xenophobia I’ve come to understand just how commonplace and damaging the ideas behind xenophobia can be. In an event planned by the Xenophobia subcommittee we found it was difficult to even find an individual to speak on their experiences regarding the issue because of the political and personal backlash they may potentially endure. Even in a setting looking to end Xenophobia, immigrant and refugee individuals felt uncomfortable sharing their stories for fear of provoking more negative experiences. The misinformation and hate of Xenophobia is strong and far reaching and it is through fact and personal testimony that the subcommittee seeks to enact real change, one of the ways we do so is by the creation of infographics like the one seen below; directly fighting common misconceptions about Xenophobia through facts and figures.
The Vincentian Family has promoted a theme that also has political implications. What is the socio-political meaning of welcoming the stranger in a society in which we are dealing massive migration, increasing numbers of refugees, and discrimination of groups? What is the call for action if we take this invitation seriously? It is not just a spiritual issue, governments and movements have already begun to respond. The trending populist nationalistic politics across the world is an example of the use of fear and misguided action generating Xenophobia. This fiery, misguided rhetoric has become commonplace within international politics and this counter-culture movement is having a very real, damaging effect on the groups it marginalizes. The rhetoric seen today only confirms the presence of xenophobia; today in the United States we have seen an executive branch go to great lengths to enact policy discouraging outside movement into the country. Specifically the administration has gone to great lengths to speak out against Muslim immigrants and refugees, enacting such laws as the travel ban against 6 predominantly Muslim populated countries. Specifically talking about Syrian Refugees President Trump back on the campaign trail in August stated, “We have no idea who they are, where they come from, there’s no documentation, there’s no paperwork. It’s going to end badly, folks, it’s going to end very, very badly.” In reality the Cato Institute analyzed terrorist attacks in the U.S. and not a single time was the attack perpetrated by a refugee. It is easy to see the disinformation at work; the then candidate Trump delegitimized the refugee process, and pointedly took the electorate fear and direct it towards a group of people.
Within one quote fear was heightened through undermining the safety of the refugee vetting, and then taking that heightened fear and very bluntly aiming at Syrian refugees. Statements and attitudes like this only further normalize xenophobia, and more so ingrain it into our society. To combat this fear and misguided thought we have to look at facts and the real faces that are affected by this hate. We have to understand that Xenophobia is not rooted in fact and reason but instead built on misplaced fear.
We see this further with the idea of building a wall upon the Mexican-American border. The wall is seen as a saving force for unemployment for marginalized lower class Americans, that the wall will stop these “undesired” people from being strains on the government and take jobs away from Americans. In his original campaign announcement speech Donald Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He plays directly into the fears mentioned before, speaking of problems and violence then directing it entirely at a group of people. Here more blatantly we can see this development of an “us versus them” mentality that is cultivated within xenophobia and how it affects how people see and view the issues surrounding immigrants and refugees. To talk about groups of people within such context creates a negative stigma that carries real weight within xenophobia and frames how we talk, see, and interact with each other.
It is up to us to combat this mentality with fact and personal action. We as human beings must treat our fellow person with respect and the human dignity they deserve. We cannot have any tolerance for creating this “othercide” and instead come together to recognize humanity as just people with diverse backgrounds and experiences “otherness.” We cannot let these backgrounds define our humanity like Xenophobia does, we must instead attack these fears head on with facts and recognize the real issues hidden behind this fear. From this window I would like all of the members of the Vincentian family to review their own fears before human diversity, to be aware of them, and to make a conscious effort to see in every human person their dignity first, despite any circumstances. Vincent De Paul was a prophet through his sight into that human dignity and inviting his followers to see the other side of the coin as he used to say when working with those living in poverty. We need to look critically at the ways we discuss and recognize these issues and people; we must renounce any signs of Xenophobia in our environments, discussions, and our communities.
Dominic Gierber is a St. John’s University Intern with the Congregation of the Mission