By Kaylen Blanchier
I recently witnessed a rather unsettling scene in the streets of Galway where a middle – aged man of African descent verbally attacked an Asian student out of nowhere calling out the “(Expletive) Chinese” and how they didn’t belong in this country. The student chose not to retort, however comments from affected bystanders rang out, one person bursting out; “It’s not your country either!”
That the one I remember most vividly. This person could have criticised the man’s racism, ignorance, or simply his lack of respect, but instead returned a racist remark. This is precisely where the problem lies: xenophobia is the new ordinary.
In the case of Ireland, it may be explained – but not in any way justified – by the quite recent immigration wave. Up to modern times, certain parts of Ireland had never encountered people of a different skin colour for example. This reminds me of a child years ago, who saw a black man for the first time and simply thought that his hands were very dirty. This anecdote speaks very loudly of where Ireland was still at a couple of years ago.
A substantial part of this issue is that xenophobic comments used to be shouted in the schoolyard or even heard across different social classes but now they come from the mouths of our very own political representatives. ‘Keep diversity in but foreigners out’: the new ironic motto of our globalised world. Xenophobia is nesting in our every day lives, it starts with a joke between friends and suddenly it’s an anti – immigration policy.
We are all helpless spectators of tragic xenophobia in the US but there is no need to look further than Ireland to experience it. The cases of pupils Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue and Nonso Muojeke shed light on the xenophobic law that was passed in 2004 that suppressed the right for Irish – born babies to get the Irish nationality if their parents weren’t born in Ireland. The issue is that state xenophobia is subtler because it is not shouted across the street; rather it eases its way quietly into our official books.
Dr Eilis Ward, lecturer for the School of Sociology and Political Science here in NUI Galway suggests a psychological approach to xenophobia. She mentions the attachment theory, which refers to the sense of belonging and this idea of a safety net that has been created with the maternal figure in infancy and how it applies to politics.
Neo – liberalism has removed that safety net by promoting the idea of competition, and striving for oneself, which creates a “new subjectivity”. Politicians then abuse that vulnerability that we all have in the face of politics. So they appear as ‘speaking the truth, saying what every one is afraid to say’, for example not to let immigrants ‘steal our jobs’. All in all, the argument is that it begins with our human nature.
What it comes down to is a very primitive fear of the unknown. Like bungee jumping or sky diving, you never know what might happen when you’re in the air but you brace yourself and you know that there’s a high chance that you’ll touch ground. Apply this to meeting a stranger or a foreigner.
The fear of the foreigner is foreign to me. It should be foreign to you because you’re a foreigner and I am too. We only need to climb back up a few branches of our family trees to realise that. Ask yourself what exactly you are afraid of. Take a minute, then brace yourself and open your mind.
Photo by Bob M~ on Flickr