Archive for August, 2010

Xenophobia

When I was a bit younger we would read a portion of our prayer book that highlights a slug of things for which we asked forgiveness.  One no-no had something to do with xenophobia.  Since I was not as smart as my buddy Russell Klem and had not, like him, read the dictionary cover-to-cover during my summer vacation, xenophobia was not at the top of my most-used-words list.

Every time I saw the prayer and stumbled over the word, I had visions of people with a  horrible disease like leprosy.  Charlton Heston’s mother and sister in Ben Hur floated through my head and I assumed that I was to feel ashamed for avoiding people like that.  I usually promised myself that I would look for some lepers in the coming year and share good times with them.

Only later did I find the true meaning of xenophobia and found that there were lots of people that the word applied to.  From my perspective, black people, people who wore funny hats, spoke a different language or ate without switching their fork and knife after every bite fell into the fear category that xenophobia encompassed.  Even Republicans.  I have since tried to shed those people from my irrational behavior, but a few still pop into my head from time to time.

But I’m an amateur xenophobe in comparison to some other people.  It appears that the fear of those unlike ourselves has been taken to a new level.  People who think Muslims shouldn’t be able to build a house of worship two blocks from ground zero.  Folks who think gays and lesbians are second (or worse) class citizens not deserving of the right to be miserable in marriage.  And those who think we should amend the Constitution to cleanse the country of those who were born here without reminding their folks to get their citizenship papers before jumping into the hay.

Now you would think that different xenophobes would focus on particular categories of folks who don’t deserve to be treated like us.  For example, specialists in Muslim xenophobia would be different from folks who specialize in gay/lesbian xenophobia.  If that were the case, it would be very difficult to identify the true xenophobe.  He or she couldn’t always be relied on to demonstrate that irrational fear.

But god works in wondrous ways.  She, in her infinite wisdom, made xenophobes generalists.  No trouble identifying one.  They can always be relied upon to rant, mis-state facts, threaten, and occasionally pass laws that single out those different from them.  They occasionally wear ID cards, carry placards and appear on certain networks proudly strutting their xenophobic tendencies.  Thank you, god.

I was particularly impressed today with Jay Ambrose’s column  in the Ventura Star.  Jay reviewed Judge Vaughn Walker’s overturning of Prop 8.  A lot of nerve acting like a king, Jay said, overruling the will of the people.  After all, 52% of Californians had passed a law that returned homosexuals to second class status.  That should be enough reason to leave things be.  Jay went on to say that gays and lesbians had enough rights already.  They could pretend to be married and get most, but not all, the same entitlements as real married folk.  They were not being treated unfairly, just differently. There is no inequality here, and to assert the opposite is equivalent to saying it’s discrimination to deny Social Security to young, able-bodied working people. Or to deny food stamps to the rich. Or to tell octogenarian men they cannot join the Boy Scouts.

Separate and unequal is the watchword of their faith.  Even the Boy Scouts don’t offer a merit badge for that.


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