“The etymological meaning of the term “xenophobia” is “fear of the strange” and also “fear of the unusual”, deriving from the Greek ξενοφοβία, xenophobia, and composed of ξένος, xenos, ‘stranger, unusual’ and eφόβος, phobos, ‘fear’”1 . Xenophobia is characterized by the irrational and irregular fear of foreigners or strangers3. It encompasses being repulsed by unfamiliar cultures, politics and religious practices5. This phobia or “fear” associated with xenophobia is more accurately described as ignorance, contempt or negative attitudes towards unfamiliar persons5. This hatred frequently manifests itself in modern society as hostility directed towards immigrants and immigration5.
Immigrants have gained a negative association with “declining economies, overpopulation, pollution, increased violence, depleted social resources, erosion of cultural values, and terrorism” 5. This irrational fear and prejudice towards foreigners has been closely linked to ethnocentrism5. Ethnocentrism is the view that one’s personal culture is superior to others, breeding antagonism towards the perceived threat of the imposition of a different culture5. Nativism is another term often used in conjunction with xenophobia. Nativism is characterized by the dislike of immigrants or minority groups within societies5. Nativists feel threatened by an immigrant’s connection to foreign customs and traditions, associating them with the destruction of the local way of life5.
The causes of xenophobia originate in a distaste of the foreign and unknown2, and are therefore clearly rooted in both ethnocentrism and nationalism, which are both defined by a sense of superiority and subsequent resentment towards strangers and their respective cultures 5. Xenophobia is often exhibited when ethnocentrism and nationalism are triggered by a predicted threat 5. These tendencies, rooted in fear of the unknown, emerge when familiar structures within a society begin to break down 5. This can occur with the migration of large groups into a country within a short time span. Mass migration may take place due to economic imbalances, which can attract immigrants to a country with improved economic opportunities5. Conflicts or political and cultural unrest can cause people from a certain area to leave, resulting in migration from a troubled country or region to a more prosperous and stable one 5. The incumbents of countries or regions which then host these new migrants may feel threatened, and immigrants frequently become scapegoats during times of economic instability5.
Xenophobia and racism are inevitably interrelated as one often accompanies the other. Despite this association they are in fact distinct phenomena5. Racism is highly dependent on outward appearance and characteristics, whereas xenophobia is focused around foreigners, irrespective of race, generally within their geographic areas. It is a cultural phenomenon as opposed to a physical one5. Racism depends on the concept of racial superiority, regardless of location, whereas xenophobia is usually related to land boundaries, scarce resources and local lifestyles. Where racism looks to impose the dominance of one race over another, xenophobia is centered around fear and discomfort towards strangers, which ultimately leads to unpleasant encounters and attitudes involving immigrants 4,5. This hierarchical attitude of superiority results in the host citizens imposing their culture onto people entering the country, expecting them to completely assimilate, ignoring their previous traditions and cultures, ultimately forcing them to abandon their heritages 5.
Whether it is competition for access to limited resources, the threat of the loss of local culture, negative stereotyping or a false sense of hierarchical superiority, Xenophobia is an evident and persistent issue in contemporary society.
2. "xenophobia." In Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, Oxford University Press. (,n.d.). Retrieved 21 Oct. 2012, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/ 9780195389777.001.0001/acref-9780195389777-e-2631
3. "xenophobia." In Concise Medical Dictionary, Oxford University Press. (, n.d.). Retrieved 20 Oct. 2012, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/ acref/9780199557141.001.0001/acref-9780199557141-e-10946
4. "xenophobia." In The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics, Oxford University Press. (,n.d.). Retrieved 20 Oct. 2012, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/ 9780199207800.001.0001/acref-9780199207800-e-1487
5. Yakushko, Oksana . "Xenophobia: Understanding the Roots and Consequences of Negative Attitudes toward Immigrants." University of Nebraska - Lincoln. digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1089&context=edpsychpapers (accessed October 20, 2012).