Friday, September 30, 2011

X is for Xenophilia

X is for Xenophilia

Spell-check doesn't believe that word exists.

But says it does, so I didn't have to make it up.

Because I so would have.

Because for every phobia there should be a philia. A love to counter the fear, the hate.

Xenophobia is all around us, it seems, built into our psyches, a part of the genome, holdover from our collective ancestral heritage, our hunter gatherer days when strangers brought danger and death with them more often than not, competitors for scarce resources.

Behaviors are somehow adaptive, help the survival of a species or they die out.  (Yes, I'm an evolutionist. Because I am not crazy.) So once it served a purpose.

But we live in another world, now, where our tribe is actually the entirety of the human race. And we may find ourselves to have more commonality with someone from across the globe than across the street.

But it doesn't always come naturally, this comfort with the strange and different, it often has to be taught. And so I am trying to teach my sons through word and deed. Although Jacob, in his own way is also my teacher in this, being essentially colorblind and delighted by all that is new.

And while the official definition of xenophobia cites: "a fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange," how it manifests here in melting pot America, often cuts around the lines of race, as much as culture, and where and how we cross them. Or not.

So, yes, I guess I'm talking about race again. And racism, of course. I think about it a lot. And since Mocha Momma asked us to stop being silent, I've been talking about it, here, too. Just the tip of the iceberg, but you have to start somewhere.

And I know a white girl talking about race is not always welcome, sometimes suspect. But that's OK, I'm willing to take whatever comes out of opening up the dialogue here. Because to remain silent is to collude with the forces of fear and ignorance.

I have a friend who has raised four children in this city, mostly because it is the best place for them to be exposed to the full panoply of humanity and cultures. She has given me wise counsel on how to counter the fear kids often have of difference, how to cajole them out of their nascent xenophobia.

Her friends and acquaintances are black white Asian mixed-race gay straight Jewish Christian Muslim abled and differently-abled. As are mine. As are her children's. As are my chidren's.

Especially because I have a child who is different, other, often seen as strange? Working hard to create an environment of tolerance and acceptance, a community that crosses lines, is not only a nice ideal; it is vital. And it's personal.

Xenophilia: [zee-nuh-fil-ee-uh]  — noun 
an attraction to foreign peoples, cultures, or customs.
— antonym: xenophobia

Just think for a moment about what our world would look like if I could be granted my wish: a magic wand that turns phobia into philia.


A small alphabetic and phonemic transformation, 2 letters in all.

But a universe of difference in meaning and manifestation. With the potential to transform the world.

Because at the core of war sits xenophobia, working its poison, seeking destruction of the different, the "other."

Because me, I'll take love over hate any day.

And the world that I want to live in, the world that I want for my children?

Chooses love, too.

This post has been inspired by and linked up to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday writing meme. And X? Hardest damn letter in the English language to come up with a good word to riff off of. Xylophone? Xanthosis? Xiphoid? Give me a break.

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