|Primer desembarco de Cristóbal Colón en América obra de Dióscoro Teófilo Puebla Tolín. (Source)|
As Little Bird watched, that which had drawn his attention resolved itself into a group of strange looking beings. While they looked similar to his own clan, the way they dressed had subtle differences, also their hair was bound up in odd ways. Little Bird had no idea who these strangers were, but they had crossed the river into clan hunting territory and they might be a threat.
This was not the first time members of Little Bird's clan had encountered strangers. In the earlier encounters they had managed to avoid them, thinking that perhaps the strangers had gotten lost while out hunting. It happened often enough when the game moved on, sometimes following new paths as forage grew scarce from overgrazing. But now these encounters were becoming more frequent.
Since the last moon, blood had been shed when a party of strangers had been startled by two members of the clan, paying less attention than they should have, coming up on the strangers unexpectedly. One of the strangers had been slain when he made a sudden move, no doubt in panic, one of the clan had also died. Now hunting parties were always led by an older man. Better safe than sorry.
But what to do about these strangers? Game was becoming scarcer and scarcer, there was barely enough meat for the clan to live on, having to share hunting lands with these strangers would be impossible. Either the clan must move on, or the strangers must be driven out. There seemed to be no alternative.
For now, Little Bird was determined to kill this small party of strangers. The clan was hungry, there was no time to wait for the strangers to move on. It was kill, or starve.
xenophobia: fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign
If you look back to the ancient Greek terms that underlie the word xenophobia, you'll discover that xenophobic individuals are literally "stranger fearing." Xenophobia, that elegant-sounding name for an aversion to persons unfamiliar, ultimately derives from two Greek terms: xenos, which can be translated as either "stranger" or "guest," and phobos, which means either "fear" or "flight." Phobos is the ultimate source of all English -phobia terms, but many of those were actually coined in English or New Latin using the combining form -phobia (which traces back to phobos). Xenophobia itself came to us by way of New Latin and first appeared in print in English in 1903. (Source)The fear or distrust of those "not like us" is deeply rooted in the human psyche. In the earliest days of our species, humankind was spread across the planet, our numbers were small, the land available was vast. As time went by, different cultures found their niche in the environment and prospered as well as could be expected given the difficulties of survival in those days.
Imagine, if you will, that your quiet little town stands alone, there are no other people, no other settlements, in any direction for a hundred miles. Your town is self-sufficient, raising enough crops and having enough game to feed the entire town with a bit left over to tide you over in case of a failed crop, or a harder than normal winter.
Away to the north there is another small settlement, once self-sufficient but now the soil is devoid of nutrients, the crops have failed for a second season. The game has migrated to greener pastures, perhaps the nearby river has been fished out. This settlement has two choices, stay where they are and die, or move on, like the game, to greener pastures.
So you're out in your fields one day, tending your crop. As you move further out you discover that something has been in your fields, eating the food meant for your people. Now wary, you move on, discovering a small band of people, who perhaps dress differently, maybe they even look different. But there they are, harvesting your crop. What do you do?
Fear of the unknown is something built into us, when confronted with the unknown we have one of three reactions: we prepare to flee, we prepare to fight, or (consumed by indecision perhaps) we freeze, maybe hoping that the threat will go away. It's a survival instinct, unless completely isolated from other humans, those groups who neither fled nor fought would certainly be destroyed. (Those who froze were nearly always destroyed. The deer in the headlights reaction is not always a viable survival strategy.)
Now as our species thrived and spread across the planet we came into contact more and more with other members of humankind. Usually the more advanced group would drive out (or kill) the less advanced. This can be seen in any place where a more advanced culture has collided with the lesser advanced. Ask the First Peoples in this hemisphere, ask the Aborigines in Australia.
In modern times many people still atavistically fear that which is different. Especially those from cultures which are somewhat isolated, with no experience with cultures different from their own. A denizen of New York City would probably not even spare a glance at a family of hasidim walking down the street.
|Hasidic family in Borough Park, Brooklyn. (Source)|
The gawking (and rude comments no doubt) in small town northern New England when I was a youth would (no doubt) be rampant. Of course, seeing a black family in the days of my youth was also extremely rare. And would have drawn the same gawking and rudeness, perhaps not overtly, but it would be there.
My point being is that cultural diversity is nothing to fear just for the sake of something being "different." While an extreme example, fear of other cultures is no more logical in modern times than a blue-eyed fellow like myself being mistrustful of someone with brown eyes. (Which would make me most unpopular with the bulk of my tribe. Most of whom have brown eyes. We blue-eyed types are most certainly in the majority in Clan Sarge.)
Xenophobia as a survival instinct is no longer useful. At some point in our history as a species it did make sense. Nowadays, not so much.
Don't fear that which is different, learn about it, discover its origins, its goals, don't fear and hate that which is different. Only fear that which is malevolent. There are plenty of examples of things to fear and hate in this world.
And some of them look just like us.