When people hear the word “xenophobic,” they tend to think of someone with a fear or hatred of foreigners. In fact, xenophobia is the fear of anything strange or foreign, and it’s driving much of what’s happening in society today as the strange and foreign increasingly puncture our comfortable cocoons.
The dictionary’s definition also often specifies it as an “irrational” fear, but it might be rational to fear that which you know little or nothing about.
We see it all around.
Gill Parker Payne, a 37-year-old from Gastonia, yanked a head scarf off a Muslim woman during a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Albuquerque. The woman wore the hijab as part of her religious practice. “Take it off! This is America!” Payne said, according to federal prosecutors. Payne didn’t understand, apparently, that it being America was the single-biggest reason the woman should have the freedom to exercise her religious beliefs peacefully. It was Payne’s actions, not the woman’s, that violated our country’s values.
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Pastor Joey Deese went to Rock Hill’s City Council to ask its members to ban transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. The furor over House Bill 2 appeared to embolden Deese rather than deter him. He wants Rock Hill leaders to take a “biblical stand” on the issue, though we’re not sure what Bible verse requires a transgender man to use the women’s room. Deese even wants it to be a crime for private businesses to allow bathroom use based on gender identity.
In Rowan County, the school board voted to allow high school students to carry pepper spray. Board member Chuck Hughes made reference to House Bill 2 and said the spray might be useful for students who encounter transgender classmates in the bathroom. (He later said he regretted the comment. The school system said the bathroom law did not prompt the pepper spray policy change, and the board will revisit the idea next week.)
A reporter was told he could come to Trump Tower for a story on Donald Trump’s headquarters. After TV Azteca’s Marcos Stupenengo was overheard talking on his phone in Spanish, the Trump campaign abruptly told him they weren’t interested in talking with him and asked him to leave the building, BuzzFeed reported Monday. Drumming up fear of the foreign is a central part of Trump’s campaign.
From hijabs to transgender people, the unknown can be scary. The proper response, though, is not to lash out at the foreign but to constantly seek to understand. That won’t erase all differences of opinion, but it will more frequently lead to acceptance, or at least tolerance.
On Tuesday’s 62nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, we were reminded of the inherently evil nature of discrimination. Given everything happening around us, though, we hardly needed the reminder.