8 ways to overcome xenophobia

Xenophobia is the fear and stigmatization of foreigners. People who look different, speak a different language, or have different customs can appear threatening to those who are used to only one particular ethnic group, lifestyle or set of behaviors.[1] But xenophobia can be overcome, and you can take it on either directly or through community engagement and political action.

1.Celebrate local communities

Show your support for diverse ethnic groups in your community by attending, promoting or helping fund events run by local organizations and houses of worship that bring people together: festivals, film series, guest lectures, language classes and celebrations. Bring your children. 

2. Call out hate speech and prejudice

Reports in Europe and the U.S. indicate a significant increase in the use of hate speech, often blaming immigrants and minorities for the difficulties of their own countries. If you hear someone tell a racist joke, tell them stereotyping isn’t harmless. Let your children know they can do the same. Using “humor” to normalize dangerous ideas and perpetuate ugly stereotypes isn’t funny. It’s hateful. If you read something in the newspaper that appalls you, write a letter to the editor. Talk to friends and family, sharing your concerns. 

3. Confront xenophobes in your own life. 

You may have a relative or friend who has nationalist or racist ideals. Spend time talking to them about their point of view. When in conversation with a racist, nationalist, or xenophobe, avoid attacking them directly. Instead, emphasize that it is their ideas which are misguided, and remind them that they are a good person who can and should let go of their intolerance. Use calm, reasoned arguments to illustrate that they don’t need to fear a group just because they are different. Surprise them with new information that could change their perspective. For instance, if a Catholic is afraid of Muslims, you might mention that Muslims really revere Mary, or that they recognize Jesus as a great teacher.

4. Teach children kindness and how to talk about differences

Set a good example for the children in your life. Prejudice and hate are learned and can be unlearned. Children absorb biases from the adults around them, and from the media, books and their peers. The process of countering negatives with positives begins at an early age. Talking about differences does not increase prejudice in children. Make sure children understand we are all human and we all share one planet. All people deserve respect. Name-calling will not be permitted. 

5. Report attacks — intervene if it’s safe to do so

If you see someone being harassed or attacked, it is important to help if you can do so safely. The public needs to stand in solidarity with immigrants and marginalized groups. Verbal and physical abuse is wrong and should not be tolerated.  All people should be treated with dignity and humanity.  

6. Make fun of xenophobia. 

Comedy can reveal the absurdity underlying xenophobic rhetoric.[3] Use jokes and satire to illustrate how silly it is to disrespect and deny aid to others just because they are different. For instance, a popular parody group in Hungary criticized their government’s proposal to build a long wall along the border to keep immigrants out by expressing excitement for the return of the Iron Curtain.

You could also draw a cartoon lambasting xenophobic policies and demagogues.

Even though xenophobia is a serious issue, comedy is a good tool to express disagreement with xenophobic notions and challenge xenophobic beliefs.

7. Live your ideals. 

Be an example to others of how to forge a more united, accepting world. Build coalitions with marginalized groups on social and political issues. Alternately, join a sports team, club, or hobby group that has an ethnically diverse membership. Foreign language study groups are a good choice, as are cooking classes which promote global cuisine. Standing in visible solidarity with the “other” in daily life is a simple but important way to defeat xenophobia.

Celebrate diversity. If you live in a big city like New York or San Francisco, visit foreign enclaves like Chinatown or Little Italy. Talk to the people in these neighborhoods and patronize their businesses.

8. Support human rights organizations

Human rights are a collective promise made by all countries of the world, including those in distress. Children uprooted by violence, war and poverty need our support, wherever they are. All children deserve to grow up in a safe and healthy environment.

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