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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

April A-Z: Xenophobia

Tough one today! When I plumped for 'xenophobia', I was thinking of exploring how traditional legends, particularly of human and near-human creatures like vampires, werewolves and so on can sometimes be seen as an expression of xenophobia via fear of 'the other'. I was thinking also of how these (and other) 'races' of creatures from fantasy novels - trolls, dwarves etc - have been used by Sir Terry Pratchett in some of his Discworld novels to represent human races and to therefore play out issues of racism and xenophobia. I am sure this device has been used in other books also, but Pratchett's is the example I am familiar with.
Racism was not a problem on the Discworld, because -- what with trolls and dwarfs and so on -- speciesism was more interesting. Black and white lived in perfect harmony and ganged up on green.-- (Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad)
It occurred to me in preparing for this post, though, the xenophobia is perhaps more of a problem in the modern world, as we recognise diversity more and more, and live in increasingly mixed communities. This is perhaps why traditional beliefs and folklore show less obvious strands of xenophobia than more recently-occurring urban legends. In many developed countries, beliefs emerge about immigrants from poorer areas, often including some or all of the following:

  • they eat inappropriate animals (often pets)
  • they are unable to cope with technology
  • they refuse to learn the language or customs of the land they are in
  • they are incapable of appreciating the gifts of their host country, e.g. they are housed in a comfortable house but live only in one room, or wreck the house
  • they are unable to adopt manners seen as basic in their new country, such as eating with cutlery
  • they have poor hygiene
This xenophobia is also seen in national and racial stereotypes played out in jokes, and the use of a particular race in urban legends demonstrating extreme stupidity or incompetence - such as the one where someone assumes "cruise control" in their vehicle means they don't have to steer*.

*Of course, legends such as this might also feature other muted groups like a woman, a homosexual, an old person, a teenager, a transgendered person or someone in a job stereotypically believed to indicate low intelligence like a fast food worker or model.

1 comment:

  1. And some of the assumptions/stereotypes are true. It's a cultural thing. Understanding can fix that, but we have to have a common language. Nice post.

    Visiting via A to Z


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