In public discourse, however usually throughout the psychological literature, racism is usually portrayed as a pure tendency rooted in human nature. We usually hear how racism is the pure consequence of our tendency to worry strangers, or the opposite.
However, this assumption is fake as a result of it conflates xenophobia with acts of racism. Xenophobia is the human tendency to be petrified of strangers and appears to be rooted in human nature. However, the query turns into how will we classify individuals as strangers? This is one thing that adjustments over time. Therefore, the classification of individuals as strangers is culturally constructed, with racism being one in all its many types.
To higher perceive the excellence between xenophobia as a pure behavioral expression versus racism as a socially constructed behavioral expression, we should return to when nearly all of humankind lived their lives as hunter-gatherers. In these days, merely being a member of a unique tribe meant that you just had been deemed a stranger. While individuals of one other tribe phenotypically regarded the identical, for instance, based mostly on pores and skin coloration, hair coloration, and facial options, their outfits or language was totally different. Therefore based mostly on these distinctive traits, individuals had been judged as strangers, triggering xenophobia.
Thousands of years later, we developed world religions, similar to Buddhism and Islam, with individuals judging others as strangers based mostly on non secular beliefs.
While very lately, roughly 500 years in the past, racism was invented by European colonists who began classifying individuals with totally different pores and skin colours as totally different from one another. Consequently, as a result of European colonialism had such an amazing impression on a lot of the world, this unscientific classification system based mostly on the thought of “race” globalized, leading to xenophobia expressed via racism that we see worldwide at present.
To perceive why we’re naturally xenophobic, have a look at the animal kingdom. For instance, chimpanzees, our closest relations, turn into extremely alert and nervous after they encounter chimps from one other tribe.
But many different animals additionally present wariness when encountering species members from totally different tribes, similar to wolves and lions. As a end result, these animals’ tribes usually declare and defend their territory towards one another. Therefore, we will confidently say that xenophobia, as a behavioral common, arose very early.
However, this doesn’t imply that xenophobia is affordable or nonetheless adaptive. What could have labored as soon as will be extremely problematic and even harmful now. For instance, contemplating that our advanced societies at the moment are extremely various, we could query if it nonetheless is smart to evaluate individuals as strangers based mostly on tribal options similar to religions. Additionally, as a result of our advanced societies now consist of individuals of all colours, it doesn’t make sense to evaluate individuals as “racially” totally different based mostly on this superficial attribute. And lastly, it’s mindless to interact in territorial disputes whereas we’ve nuclear capabilities and different modes of mass destruction.
I hear you asking, if xenophobia and its many expressions similar to racism don’t make sense anymore, then why is it nonetheless so prevalent?
In psychology, we name this minimal group paradigm (Diehl, 1990), which reveals that it doesn’t matter on what foundation one creates categorical distinctions. Creating classes of individuals leads to ingroup favoritism and outgroup derogation. That is, any categorical distinction will suffice. If, for instance, I stand in entrance of one in all my courses and divide individuals up based mostly on any nonsense attribute, let’s say individuals with a backpack versus individuals with one other kind of bag. Immediately after this separation into two teams, college students will begin to expertise favorable sentiments in the direction of their ingroup and extra ambivalence and weariness in the direction of the outgroup. This is an exceptionally highly effective tendency of human beings that’s common, which implies that you see it amongst human beings worldwide.
However, as talked about earlier than, the explicit distinctions on which xenophobia rests are socially constructed. They are made up by us and altered all through historical past. Race and racism had been non-existent throughout most of human historical past. The Romans and Egyptians had rulers of all pores and skin colours. Race as the explicit distinction that we all know at present didn’t but exist.
Similarly, having freckles or being tall are human options which can be at present not used as categorical distinctions. However, the second we systematically spotlight these arbitrary distinctions, individuals will start to turn into xenophobic based mostly on them. Consistently portraying individuals with freckles as the opposite and totally different would lead to the identical downside as racism in the direction of that group of individuals. Simply lumping individuals into social classes inevitably creates some type of xenophobia.
Hence, the targets of xenophobia are arbitrary and fluid. They can change at any second. We can observe it with geopolitical occasions. The second Muslims had been repeatedly portrayed as the opposite throughout George Bush’s warfare on terror, the stigmatization of Muslims elevated globally. The same impact could possibly be noticed when racism towards Jews in Nazi Germany elevated after the systematic classification of Jews as “The Other.” Societies which have been harmonious for a whole bunch and even hundreds of years can all of the sudden turn into severely divided by specializing in (made up) social classes and portraying them as totally different from one another.
The European colonial powers had been exceptionally environment friendly in utilizing this human tendency. Take Malaysia for instance. The British would pit the Malay, Chinese, and Indian ethnic teams towards one another by assigning totally different societal roles to turn into divided and xenophobic in the direction of one another based mostly on ethnic distinctions similar to faith, pores and skin coloration, and the notorious thought of race. We can observe extreme intergroup discrimination in Malaysia, a society that continues to be divided alongside ethnic strains stemming from colonial instances (Goh, 2008).
That brings us to why xenophobia is so usually used and abused by political rulers. The reply is easy: Xenophobia is likely one of the most effective instruments to maintain individuals divided. The colonial powers knew this early on. By separating individuals based mostly on superficial traits, similar to pores and skin coloration, after which assigning qualities to those options (similar to being civilized vs. barbarian, or clever vs. backward), individuals began to imagine that they had been totally different from one another based mostly on these extremely unscientific classifications. Hence, xenophobia had a number of benefits to these in energy:
(a) Xenophobia ensured that folks within the colonies would keep divided and never be a part of palms to rise towards an elite that tended to oppress them for his or her acquire. Historically, political elites usually enriched themselves whereas the individuals of their societies lived comparatively impoverished lives. By retaining the individuals divided and petrified of one another, they’d not be a part of palms to overthrow their oppressors.
(b) Xenophobia diverts the blame. By blaming individuals of a unique faith, race, or pores and skin coloration for one’s troubles, political elites could make you assume that dangerous conditions usually are not due to the federal government’s mismanagement however due to people who find themselves categorized as totally different. Take Covid-19 for instance. In many nations worldwide, China and Chinese individuals had been blamed for the virus, and other people began to worry those that look Chinese. This was an exceptionally environment friendly method to divert the blame from the, at instances, complete mismanagement of governments to assist their populations take care of Covid-19.
(c) Finally, xenophobia advantages exploitation. To get again to the roots of racism, when colonizers portrayed non-white, non-European individuals as totally different and sometimes sub-human centuries in the past, they created the psychological justification to oppress and exploit the non-European world as a result of one might merely assume that it was pure to rule over individuals who can’t govern themselves. This successfully eradicated any sense of cognitive dissonance throughout the colonists that may in any other case cease them from harming different teams of individuals.
In abstract, to eradicate racism, we should turn into conscious that our ancestors invented the notion of race for self-fulfilling causes rooted in unscientific assumptions. Educating ourselves by understanding our historical past of inventing arbitrary social classifications that end result within the xenophobic rejection of others could also be step one towards a world rooted in egalitarianism as a substitute of social hierarchies.