What's the difference between racism and xenophobia
So, I already took a swing at "tolerance" in another post. Let's make way for my next target.
This article recognizes the concept of "races" applied to humans. The reason it does so is that the word "racism" has "race" as a root. If you believe we are one race under the sun with minor cosmetic variations, read "cosmetic variation" every time you see the word "race". You're also about to find out that everyone in the world, everyone, is racist, except you.
Definition of racism
So, you got people all around the world, and they're of different races, and some individuals around the world believe that some human races are superior to others, and that's what "racism" is all about. Right? Well, in part.
In fact, the first definition of "racism" is "believes in races". Or, as put in the Wiktionary: The belief that each race has distinct and intrinsic attributes. It does take a lot of edge out of the word, right? I mean, look at it! It doesn't even have a negative connotation. With that definition, I'm just as racist as Hitler! And if you recognize that Obama has a naturally-occurring darker skin tone than that of Julian Assange, you're a racist too!
Now, if you've followed the Wiktionary link, you'll have found that there's a secondary definition that reads: The belief that one race or group of races is superior or inferior to another race or group of races. Now that's where me and Hitler, and hopefully you, would disagree. This is the meaning most people refer to when using the word "racism", so I'll be using it this way in the rest of the article. However, let us not forget that it's the secondary definition. And I'm glad. Just look at the word "racism". It clearly means "believes in race", or at least "believes that race matters". You know, like buddhism, or capitalism. Unlike it's favorite fake-synonym "xenophobia", that clearly means "I don't like what is not like me".
Definition of enophobia
If racism is just a word to use when generally talking about human races, then xenophobia would be the one describing discourse that talks about inferior races then. And... say "xenophilia" about superior ones. And xenophilia and xenophobia, put together, would snuggly occupy the entire semantic space of "racism". Wouldn't that be neat? Yeah, right, keep dreaming.
In fact, xenophobia and racism don't even share semantic space. They are un-freaking-related concepts. Let's take the Slavs as an example. Slavs are not even a race. They're totally White/Caucasian. Hell, the Caucasus is in Russia. But let's be perfectionist and consider them to be a sub-tribe of the White folk. So, you got the Poles, the Russians, the Czech... and they totally can't be racist against one another, given that they are the same race. Serbs and Croats are totally slavic too. And they are known to be pretty xenophobic of each other. See? Racism totally not equals xenophobia.
Check this other one out: We've all heard a right-wing uncle loudly claim that he has nothing against well-integrated people of color that are born in our country, but we have to stop letting in immigrants from the middle east! They'll rape our daughters! This guy is clearly not racist (thinking bad of other races), but definitely xenophobic (afraid of foreignness).
Are we still racist?
Racism is actually a thing of the past. At least in the West.
Note how "the West" is just a PC way of saying "White-people-land minus the slavs". So the statement above is inherently racist. Enjoying some paradoxical recursivity? I am.
Xenophobia, however, still has it going strong. We aren't suspicious of a Black person in a suit, but even a White guy in a foreign-looking frock will get harassed by the police. Let us remember for a sec what actual racism used to be all about: There used to be a time when anthropologist were measuring skulls in order to try to explain scientifically why the White race was so superior to others. The superiority of the White race was not really open for discussion in those times, that outlasted the abolition of slavery by many decades. To the point where one whole chapter of the 1905 A Modern Utopia book by H.G. Wells (← recommend) is focused on trying to convince the reader to assume that, just maybe, non-Whites aren't inferior, before going, quote "There is only one sane and logical thing to be done with a really inferior race, and that is to exterminate it."
The people of that time could be found philosophizing on whether abducting a new-born from a tribe of dark-skinned savages, and giving it a proper Christian education would result in an articulate adult. A line of thought followed through by the Australian government until not so long ago. Now that's racism.
Fortunately, as I claimed in the title, it's dead or dying. We keep using and abusing the word. In most cases, it is used to characterize "xenophobia".
While people seem to have come to terms with the fact that every race has the same potential for individual greatness and villainy, there is still much passionate talks about superior and inferior religions, customs, dress code and cooking styles. Those are all cultural items. It all boils down to "this culture is superior to that". Generally ours, generally theirs.
We need a new word for xenophobia.
While is is quite OK to abuse the generally neutral term "racism" from its original sense of "race matters" to it's more specific common usage of "some races are better/worse", the opposite cannot happen to "xenophobia". I mean, with the "phobia" suffix, it can't ever broaden into meaning "cultures are different". When my colleague Mohamed invites me for dinner and I bring a bottle of soda instead of my usual wine, because I assume he's not into alcohol, I'm no xenophobic, but I'm definitely something along the same lines. When I'm very conscious about keeping my left hand in my pocket while in India, isn't it the hand you're supposed to wipe yourself with? I'm not "afraid" of their weirdness. I'm definitely preempting it though. Here's a new word for you to use:
xenism: The position that other cultures are doing things differently
Next time someone makes a point about some foreign culture having some weird custom, without picturing it as inferior or superior, call them a xenist instead of a racist, and you'll have avoided yourself yet another pointless argument.
Enough already with blog articles?