On Tuesday, March 16th, a 21-year-old man, went on a shooting spree, stopping at three different Asian-owned spas/massage parlours in Acworth and Atlanta, Georgia. There were eight victims in total. Among them were six Asian women and two white victims. This has caused an outcry among the masses with many people sharing their concern over the xenophobic attitude towards Asians. As a result of this hashtags like #stopasianhate have become trending. This article will be entailing the exact definition of the term Xenophobia, its meaning, various instances of xenophobic crimes throughout history, and the implications of such sentiments.
Meaning and Types
Xenophobia, or fear of strangers, is a broad term that may be applied to any fear of someone who is different from us. Hostility towards outsiders is normally a reaction to fear. It generally involves the belief that there is a conflict between an individual's ingroup and an outgroup.
Xenophobia often overlaps with other forms of prejudice like racism and homophobia, but there are significant differences as well. Racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination are based on individual characteristics. In contrast, xenophobic individuals have a fear of people who are not in their “ingroup”. An ingroup is essentially a social community that a person feels he belongs to. Thus, xenophobia is based on a feeling of unfamiliarity with individuals who are not in a person’s ingroup.
There are two kinds of xenophobia. One is cultural xenophobia, which involves spurning objects, traditions, or symbols that are related to a different social group or another country. This type of xenophobia can include having a bias against various components of other cultures including language, clothing, and music. The second type is immigrant xenophobia, which involves rejecting people who do not belong to a person’s ingroup (according to that person). This can result in being biased against people of other religions or nationalities and can lead to hostility, violence, hate crimes, and even genocide which has been the current case with the Asian community in the United States.
Xenophobia has far greater impacts than the adverse effects it has on the individual who faces such treatment and hostility. Hostility towards and a crime against one person of a certain community corresponds to a feeling of bitterness and anger towards all the members of that community. Consequently, xenophobic attitudes affect the entire society, while influencing culture, and economics, and politics between various communities as well. In the United States, past examples of xenophobia include discrimination and violent acts against immigrants from Latin, Mexican, and Middle Eastern areas. Such acts can result in reduced employment opportunities, housing, education, and healthcare for the community facing discrimination; the violence further begets feelings of resentment on both sides that typically worsen situations further.
Now that the definition and implications of xenophobia have been discussed, let’s look at the cases of xenophobia throughout history.
World War II: The Holocaust
One of the fairly obvious and prominent cases of xenophobia that comes to mind is the Holocaust. From very early in the war, part of Nazi policy was to mass murder civilians while specifically targeting Jews. Later in the war, this policy grew into Hitler's "final solution", the complete extermination of the Jews. It began with Einsatzgruppen death squads in the East, which killed some 1,000,000 people in numerous massacres, and continued in concentration camps where prisoners were purposedly denied proper food and health care. It culminated in the construction of extermination camps. These were government facilities that had the sole purpose of systematically murdering and disposing of a massive number of civilians. In 1945, as advancing Allied troops began discovering these camps, they found the results of these policies: hundreds of thousands of starving and sick prisoners locked in with thousands of dead bodies. They encountered evidence of gas chambers and high-volume crematoriums, as well as thousands of mass graves, documentation of awful medical experimentation, and much more. The Nazis killed more than 10 million people in this manner, including 6 million Jews. This is one of the most horrific and vile acts of xenophobia.
Internment of Japanese Americans
The internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II involved the forced relocation and imprisonment in concentration camps of approximately 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast. Sixty-two percent of the internees were United States citizens. These xenophobic actions were ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt shortly after Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
Holodomor was a man-made famine that engulfed the Soviet Republic of Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 It was part of a broader Soviet famine (1931–34) that also caused mass starvation in the farming regions of Soviet Russia as well as Kazakhstan. The Ukrainian famine, however, was even more severe due to several political decisions that were made only for Ukraine. This famine is often called the Holodomor because of its huge scale. The term comes from the Ukrainian words for hunger (holod) and extermination (mor).
The famine occurred principally because of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s decision to collectivize agriculture in 1929. Essentially, this meant that all the farmers would not be allowed to hold private land and would have to run their farms as a joint venture under the government. The decision was consistent with communism which would later completely engulf the Soviet Union.
Groups of agitators from the Communist Party began to force the farmers to give up their land and personal property to form the collective farms. The Communist Party also began to deport any peasants who tried to resist the collectivization process.
Collectivization led to substantial drops in production, shortage of food, and disorder in the economy as the collective farms were simply not as productive and effective as the previous system. As a result, Stalin had to face a large number of armed rebellions led by farmers in parts of Ukraine.
While the decision taken by Stalin was economic, it was rooted in xenophobic principles. None of these steps were taken for other parts of the USSR but were uniquely applied to Ukraine. This suggests that Ukraine was treated like an outsider and had harsher economic regulations implemented when compared to the mainland of the USSR.
Xenophobic instincts are extremely dangerous and can have huge implications on the lives of millions of people. We should make a conscious effort to suppress and eradicate such instincts in order to maintain peace and harmony in society. Though xenophobic instincts may have several external factors related to them, broadening one’s experience, fighting the fear of the unknown and paying attention can instrumentally aid in promoting an equal society where everyone is treated fairly.