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Xenophobia and racism are terms that are closely related and sometimes we use them interchangeably. However, they mean different things and can manifest in different ways. Although Canada prides itself on embracing diversity and multiculturalism, many communities are impacted by xenophobia and racism. So, it is important to understand the definition of these terms as well as how they differ. By learning more, recognizing how they appear in our day-to-day lives, and initiating solutions, we can help eradicate xenophobia and racism in our society.
What we’ll be discussing:
Xenophobia derives from the Greek word xeno (pronounced “zee-no”) meaning “stranger” or “outsider”, and phobia meaning “fear”. Put together, it is the fear of the “stranger”. It can also be interpreted as the fear of the “foreigner”. While it can be seen as fear, it manifests as hatred in some cases. The “foreigner” will most likely be outcasted, discriminated against, deemed inferior, and categorized as the “other.”
At the root, racism is an ideology of domination where one racial group is deemed superior whereby justifying the inferior treatment or social position of other racial groups. This belief can lead to prejudice and acts of discrimination against someone who is of a different race. An example of this type of belief is North American white supremacist ideology, which believes that anyone who identifies as Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Asian, or Pacific Islanders — non-white — is inferior or subhuman.
What sets xenophobia apart is that the mindset separates people based on “insider” and “foreigner”. People who display xenophobia don’t always look at physical traits like race as a means of dividing people into these categories. Instead, they look at the place of birth, cultural differences, and religion. On the other hand, racism is based on the belief that one race is superior and the rest are inferior. That’s why people who by definition are not racist can still engage in xenophobia, believing they are superior based solely on differences in culture, religion, or ethnicity.
Xenophobia can happen anywhere. Black, Indigenous, Asian, People of Colour (BIPOC), and those who practice Islam report higher rates of xenophobic treatment. It is typically prevalent in countries where there has been an increase in immigration. We also see it in countries that have a colonialist history.
We do not need to go overseas to witness xenophobia. It presents itself in a variety of ways right here in Canada. Women who wear hijabs face ridicule and discrimination. Many individuals are ostracized for having a different accent. And some are treated differently because they bring cultural cuisine to work. In reality, a woman wearing a hijab, a person whose first language is not English, and cultural food deserve as much respect and dignity as anyone or anything. But the fear and hatred of the “other” cause inequality.
Even though Canada is praised for its multiculturalism, there has been a significant rise of xenophobia and racism towards Asians since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020. Xenophobic notions of Asians coming from China and spreading COVID-19 to the West were a dominant narrative, and fuelled hate, prejudice, and paranoia towards Asians and Asian-Canadians. And the racist idea that all Asian Canadians are unclean grew in popularity. Due to this, hate crimes against Asian Canadians rose 97 percent in Vancouver alone during the early days of the pandemic.
Scientists, researchers, psychologists, social workers, and many others continue to study the causes of xenophobia and racism. While we can’t pin down a concrete, universal list, here are a few ways they can be caused:
Individuals can learn xenophobic and racist behaviours from how their parents and caregivers treat people of different races or who come from different nationalities, cultures, and religions.
It can be a response to a traumatic event like a burglary or violent attack. In which case, the victim vilifies the entire nationality or race of the perpetrator.
Being exposed to political propaganda can also initiate and perpetuate xenophobia and racism.
Sometimes, you might be confused and don’t know if you should confront and address something that appears racist or xenophobic. There may be group situations where you hesitate to help someone, which in turn impacts others from reacting as well. This phenomenon is called the “Bystander Effect” — where everyone assumes someone else will speak up. And the more people are present; the less likely someone will speak up or help. The reasoning behind this phenomenon boils down to responsibility. In a large group, most people don’t feel like it’s their responsibility to speak up. However, we should all play a role in addressing xenophobia and racism.
Becoming an active bystander is one way to prevent or deal with complicity. This is similar to being an ally, which is someone who “does not suffer the same oppressions [but] supports [the] struggle for rights and freedom”. Going one step further, an active bystander is someone who witnesses a concerning situation, in this case, xenophobic or racist, and makes a conscious choice to respond and help.
For example, if your friend “complimented” a black person by saying how articulate they are. You can educate your friend, letting them know that their comment was not complimentary but hurtful because it implied that Black people aren’t typically articulate. Or, if a family member starts saying that immigrants are taking all of the jobs away, you can let them know that their mindset is xenophobic and that immigrants stimulate our economy, making our country better.
By becoming an active bystander, we can hopefully prevent further events in the future and create a more inclusive environment.
Xenophobia and racism should never be tolerated and always addressed. Here are some more ways you can tackle racism and xenophobia.
Learn to spot racism and xenophobia
Before addressing xenophobia and racism, we need to know what it looks like. Xenophobia and racism can be so subtle that you may instinctively diminish their seriousness and impact. However, to the people it targets, it can be detrimental. Getting more informed and familiarizing ourselves with how xenophobia and racism manifest can help us spot and combat them. It can also help us be more self-aware and conscious of our own prejudicial thoughts. With increased knowledge, we can eliminate our racial and xenophobic biases.
Widen your horizon
Even if you think you’re not xenophobic or racist, we can all benefit from being exposed to different people, cultures, and ethnicities. Xenophobia and racism derive from ignorance and fearing or hating what is different or unknown. Exposing ourselves to various ethnicities, religions, races, and languages will widen our horizons and change our perspective for the better.
Don’t stay silent
Ethnic, cultural, and religious jokes are forms of xenophobia and racism. Laughing or staying silent will only perpetuate it. These jokes hurt the people they target and further stigmatize their race, culture, and language. If your friend decides to tell a racist joke, you can open up a discussion instead of laughing by simply asking “what makes this joke funny?” Use this to lead the conversation to a place of understanding, empathy, and respect.
There are many ways to address xenophobia and racism.One way is by supporting organizations that are tackling these issues. At Unite for Change, we have pulled together charities doing groundbreaking work to fight discrimination and create an inclusive, safe space for all. By donating to our funds you can help make sure this critical work continues.
Racist hate crimes nearly doubled in just one year, demonstrating the dire need to raise awareness and support anti-racism work. Our Anti-Racism Fund fights racial injustice and discrimination. It supports organizations focused on advocacy efforts, research, education, intersectionality, healthcare, community building and much more. We also offer other Funds that are more specific to different communities in Canada that face racial and xenophobic discrimination:
You can also support immigrants, refugees, and newcomers to Canada by donating to our Welcoming New Canadians Fund. This Fund supports critical programs like language classes, employment resources, legal support, counselling, and health services. Your donation will help a newcomer find comfort and community in Canada.
There is no excuse for xenophobia and racism. Join us in ending racism and xenophobia once and for all.