Coining xenophobia.
October 9, 2021 7:55 PM   Subscribe

"Only by remembering xenophobia’s first instantiation do we bring these broader battles into focus." Uncovering the origins of a word: stenography, kooky linguistic debates, Romanian ultra-nationalism, the Boxer rebellion, and the stranger-as-enemy relationship. (SLARB)
posted by doctornemo (8 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
That was fascinating. I never thought the word was actually ancient greek, but this history is one I never considered for the word. I really don't think much about the history of words unless prompted somehow. Thanks for posting!
posted by hippybear at 8:22 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


Interesting! But “judéophobe” was a word already in the air from the 1880s, so “xenophobic” as a term for political antipathy was built on an existing model.
posted by homerica at 8:57 PM on October 9


But “judéophobe” was a word already in the air from the 1880s, so “xenophobic” as a term for political antipathy was built on an existing model.

Addressed (indirectly) in the article:
“Anglophobia,” for example, served to unite disparate members of a rival nation, but it might also provoke constant bloodshed. The worst form of this trouble, an expert advised, occurred in wobbly places like Romania, where a fear and hatred of all nations — xenophobia — might take root. This extravagant claim — really, all nations? — found few defenders.
I suspect it is rare for it to encompass literally all nations in practice. There's usually a "these guys are OK" clause.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:09 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


I liked this part:
Xenophobia answered the plaintive colonizer’s question: why do they hate us? The response had nothing to do with land grabs, theft, indentured servitude, or occupation. Nor was this an exercise in Romanian-style ultra-nationalism. This xenophobia was due to an in-born condition, a reflexive fear and hatred of all strangers that, anthropologists duly explained, stemmed from the racial inferiority of these primitives. Race-based xenophobia became the missing piece of the colonists’ puzzle.
Indeed.
posted by kmt at 12:12 AM on October 10 [8 favorites]


This was really interesting. I've thought about the roots of the word before because although the Swedish language is full of -phobias (-fobi) the concept is expressed with a germanic equivalent (främlingsfientlighet) related to the term in the article, which suggests the subject's more active engagement. Phobias are typically seen as afflictions in which the subject has a more passive relationship to the concept, almost as victims themselves. I've wondered if this has made it harder for folks to recognize their own xenophobic behaviors or tendencies.
posted by St. Oops at 6:24 AM on October 10


The article's an excerpt from a book I haven't read yet, so I may be missing some subtleties, but I think construing the concept of xenophobia as an artifact of anti-anti-colonialism lands one in some fairly distasteful company-- and Saintours, as a Frenchman writing in 1900, must have meant to point in that direction by coining "xénophobe" on the model of "judéophobe." There were, starting in the 1870s, actual political parties and newspapers dedicated to expelling the Jews from France; they proudly wore the label "judéophobe." And if you read the primary sources, rather than the Maoist legend about them, the Boxers are not all that different in their ideology from certain people in my country who fantasize about Building The Wall and have a story going on in their heads about a vast cannibal pedophilic network.
posted by homerica at 6:41 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


And if you read the primary sources, rather than the Maoist legend about them, the Boxers are not all that different in their ideology from certain people in my country who fantasize about Building The Wall and have a story going on in their heads about a vast cannibal pedophilic network.

I had an entirely different reading about the Boxers based on what was in the article:

As the disparate national identities of the victims made clear, the Boxers were not specifically Anglophobic, Francophobic, or Germanophobic. Their country was occupied by many foreign powers, and they declared war on all of them. Over the next months, as tension built, more skirmishes were reported, and then, almost overnight, thousands of Boxers swarmed the streets, eager to burn down Western churches and chase down immigrants. In the rioting, nearly 200 non-Chinese were murdered.

Sounds to me more like native people who wanted to drive out occupying colonialists. That's very different from occupying colonialists who have claimed land that wasn't theirs and now fear for their colony's social purity.

I mean, Native Americans spent centuries trying to defend their right to continue to exist in their way on the land they lived on. They were killing the intruders, just as the Boxers were.

I think if anyone has a right to exhibit xenophobic traits, it's people who have been invaded and are not wanting to be overrun. That's different from what you're talking about with your comparison.
posted by hippybear at 6:27 AM on October 13 [1 favorite]


Yes, the Boxers may have been religious nuts, but they were reacting to a genuine international conspiracy to divide and exploit China. I can't even call their strategy of using terror to eliminate all foreign outposts irrational, given that they were too weak for direct confrontation, and that the colonial powers had previously exploited every such outpost as a base for further access.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:35 PM on October 13


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