We’ve probably not discussed this in depth. That’s the reason I felt it was vital for me to bring up this topic in this series of letters. Today, I wish to discuss something that you could encounter at some point in your journey ahead. Xenophobia is a dislike of or prejudices against people from other countries. While it does not necessarily mean the same thing as racism, it does have a tinge of racism to it.
Xenophobia refers to dislike or fearing unknown or something that is different from you. Racism, on the other hand, relates that any race determines the traits of humans and their capacity making them more superior than any other race. Across the world, there is racial discrimination present between people belonging to different groups. They are discriminated against based on their cultural or ethnic beliefs.
Since you might be living amidst people who belong to various cultural backgrounds, you might come across individuals or groups who are xenophobes. Unless you are not a direct victim of their discrimination I suggest that you do not get dragged into such controversial matters. A person of color does have some challenges on this front as they seem to become soft targets in such matters. Only and only if you see some kind of harm or disturbance is being caused to you directly is when you could gently bring it up with the person causing it. This should ideally be done when you’re with a group of mixed people of different ethnicities who can have a neutral stand on the issue to back you up. However, since this is a sensitive topic one needs to be extra cautious while talking to the person concerned with the words you choose and the implication of those words. Try to explain to them that their behavior towards you is upsetting you. Also make them understand that although you come from a different background, nationality, and culture it does not mean that you’re any different from them in the way you think. At all costs avoid any kind of flare ups. Do not get provoked by their aggressiveness if it comes to that point. And avoid being alone with them after this.
Beyond that make a conscious attempt to ignore their behavior if it continues. Understand that these are deep-rooted prejudices that have been ingrained in them by the society. It has nothing to do with you personally. Be proud of what you are no matter what the person has made you feel about yourself. Be the bigger person by letting it go. Be thankful for the fact that you have been raised to be accepting of others no matter where they come from or what their beliefs are.
I was once stuck in a tricky conversation with two colleagues who belong to two completely different nationalities. The conversation veered towards the hygiene standards of people in this country. One of them asked me why most people in this country did not use deodorants since they sweat so much. The other one went on about why we slapped our hair with such strongly smelling oils that stank in the elevators. While it was all in good humor, I smiled at them and gently reminded them that it was they who had chosen to come to this country for better prospects. They always had the choice of going back to their own fragrant countries if the stink was getting too much for them to handle. That shut them up. But not before they laughed it off. So, sometimes humor and tact can be blended effectively to achieve the desired results. Thankfully, I never had to hear from them again on the topic.
Now imagine the same conversation happening with them if at all I was a foreigner in their country. What would I do? If you ask me I’d tell them about the benefits of applying hair oil and how it has helped some local baldies in their own country sprout new hair when I’d got some as gifts for them on my trip home. And if that doesn’t break the ice, I’d simply shut up and pretend to get busy with something suddenly.
However, one needs to weigh the pros and cons of such conversations before indulging in them. If you’re unsure of how your words would be received leave it at that. If you sense xenophobic behavior in public places with strangers, do not give it any importance. Avoid any kind of eye-contact or encourage conversations with the person if you sense their hostility. It would be best to move away from the scenario as soon as you can.
I sincerely hope that you do not have to ever face any of this. I wonder why people try to compartmentalize each other into slots. It is rather unfortunate that we live in a world that is divided by race, color, and creed. Try your best to bridge the gaps in interactions with people from other cultures. Understand the virtues of their culture and beliefs. This will, in turn, help you see various perspectives and accept them for what they are. It will also broaden your belief system and help you grow as an empathetic individual. That according to me will be the highest level of education that you will ever receive.