Xenophobia (pronounced either as ZEEN-oh-fo-bee-yah or ZEN-oh-fo-bee-yah) is the “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign” (Source).
Xenophobia is an irrational fear (that’s why it’s a phobia) that can have profound consequences if allowed to run rampant. In the U.S., xenophobia related to Middle Easterners and Muslims in particular has led to widespread prejudice and acts of violence. Xenophobia has similar effects with numerous nationalities around the world.
In fantasy, xenophobia is a common theme, even if only a very mild form of it is deployed. When is the last time you read a high fantasy novel in which one or more races–be it elves, orcs, goblins, etc.–was not unilaterally considered “bad” such that every member of that group was “bad” regardless of their actions. The fantasy genre, typically, doesn’t leave much room for character development in these races unless the protagonist is from that race–something I think is a major weakness in the genre.
Anthropologists can’t be xenophobic. We are human and we certainly have at least a few of those learned prejudices nobody seems to escape childhood without, but we can’t be afraid or irrationally dislike the foreign culture we’re studying. First, it inherently clouds the research such that it’s essentially useless due to bias. Second, the whole point of anthropology is the study of humans. Not humans-except-for-this-one-group-I-don’t-like-for-some-reason. Humans. All of us.
That said, anthropology is one of the best cures for xenophobia I know of. When you are studying another culture or nation with the intent to understand how they experience life, you learn to develop empathy for people you don’t and may never know. It’s hard to be so incredibly afraid of other groups when you take away the unknowns and take the time to understand people as human beings.
That’s all for today. Two more posts! Thank goodness, right? See you tomorrow!