unpacking xenophobia or the fear of outsiders


Let’s look into a phobia called Xenophobia. The “x” in xenophobia is pronounced like a “z,” so to pronounce xenophobia correctly, you will say “zee-neophobia.” It is an intense and extra fear of customs cultures and people being strange towards other unknown sources, objects, and people. Most of you might be Xenophobic yet you might be unaware of it. To deal with Xenophobia effectively there are five D’s to follow. To know furthermore about Xenophobia, let’s get into the article.

Xenophobia, what is it?

Xenophobia is a severe, intense fear and dislike of customs, cultures, and people considered strange, unusual, or unknown. The term xenophobia itself comes from Greek, where “Phobos” means fear and “Xenos” can mean stranger, foreigner, or outsider. Yet in Greek, Xenos carries some mysteriousness. It can also mean guest or wanderer.

Ancient Greeks were maintaining a tradition of xenia, or extreme hospitality to strangers, in case an unexpected guest should happen to be a god or goddess, walking around people every day in disguise. This hospitality to strangers was essential, and violation carried serious repercussions, as you’ll learn in the “Illiad,” the “Odyssey,” and other Greek literature. The “x” in xenophobia is pronounced like a “z,” so to pronounce xenophobia correctly, you will say “zee-neophobia.”

Xenophobia, how it shows up?

Xenophobic beliefs and behaviors show up in many contexts across everyday life.
The so-called “melting pot” of America is liberally seasoned with xenophobic attitudes, and it’s possible to express xenophobia without total hatred.
Without even realizing you can be xenophobic. Maybe you’ve thought (or said) something along these lines before:

“Those clothes are so weird. She’d fit in so much better if she’d just dress like an American.”
“No way, I’m not going to your neighborhood after it gets dark. There are way too many strange people roaming around.”
“I don’t trust those weird flavors. Can’t we eat something normal, like a burger?”
These thoughts might not center on any specific person, but they still reflect fear and dislike of things and people you consider strange or different.

Xenophobia and types

You can further divide xenophobia into two main categories:

  • Stranger / immigrant xenophobia
  • Cultural xenophobia

Someone expressing stranger or immigrant xenophobia might:
Avoid and reject anyone they consider outsiders — people who come from other countries, who have a different skin color, who practice other religions, or who speak a different language. Consider the people who belong to their social or cultural group superior to everyone else avoid stores and businesses were “foreigners” or “other outsiders” shop. Avoid neighborhoods mostly populated by immigrants or people of different skin colors, or describe those neighborhoods as “dangerous” or “going downhill”.

Make negative or critical remarks about people of other cultures or countries. Make an effort to keep “outsiders” out of their neighborhood and social circle. Cultural xenophobia extends beyond people rejecting all elements of other cultures or “outsider” groups.

Someone expressing cultural xenophobia might:

Make rude or negative remarks about someone’s traditional clothing refuse to listen to music from other cultures or watch TV shows and movies in other languages reject food from other cultures without trying it believe products or materials manufactured in other countries are inferior make diminishing or negative remarks when people speak a different language.

Is it the same thing as racism?

Racism is the belief that physical characteristics, like skin color and hair type, determine someone’s traits, abilities, and overall worth. People with “desirable” racial traits are considered superior to those who lack those traits.
As a practice, racism also involves systemic oppression of those groups deemed inferior.
In America, racism and white supremacist ideology elevate white Americans to the “superior” position. Members of other groups, including Black and Indigenous Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders, along with people who haven’t yet attained

American citizenship, are automatically considered inferior, even subhuman.
Instead, xenophobic thinking separates people into two groups: “insiders” and “outsiders.”
Insiders fear, avoid, and reject all outsiders because they represent some type of threat, from “taking jobs” to “carrying a deadly virus.” The criteria separating those who belong from those who don’t can vary, depending on the group, and these criteria don’t always center on racial differences. What’s more, racism doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding all elements of a culture. Many racist groups actually benefit from the ideas or contributions of people from other cultures, rather than rejecting them entirely.

Does it only apply to white people?

Xenophobia does often involve racism or cultural discrimination, but anyone can express xenophobic ideas.
For example, a Korean student adopted as a baby by American parents might insist to their classmates, “I was raised here. My parents are white, so I’m American like you. I’m not Korean. I don’t even speak Korean.”
In doing so, they reinforce their sense of themselves as an insider. They belong with “other insiders” — their American peers — rather than “foreign outsiders.”

Real-world examples

Xenophobia exists around the world, though you can find any number of examples of xenophobia in United States history, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to widespread anti-Muslim sentiment following 9/11.
Current events feature plenty of examples of present-day xenophobia in the hate crimes and violent verbal and physical abuse hurled at Asian Americans as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

These examples help illustrate other ways xenophobia might show up in day-to-day life.

Learning a foreign language

During your last weeks of middle school, your homeroom teacher provides a bundle of information on registration for high school classes. Over dinner one night, you tell your parents you’re having a hard time choosing between the six foreign language options.
“We have to take two full years, but I’m not sure what I want to study,” you say. “Most of my friends want to take Spanish or French since they’re ‘easy,’ but I think I want to do something different. Maybe Korean or Chinese.”
“Take French,” your mother recommends. “That, at least, is a language of culture. I don’t understand why they offer those…” she pauses. “Other languages. It’s not like you’ll ever want to go to those countries. Anyway, they all speak English over there anyway.”

Ordering dinner

You and your two roommates used to go out for dinner together every Friday night. During the pandemic, you’ve started getting takeout and eating at home instead. You take turns choosing the restaurant, and when your turn rolls around, you suggest your favorite Taiwanese restaurant.
“Eh, that doesn’t sound good to me,” one roommate says. The other agrees.
“It’s my turn,” you remind them. “Anyway, I know you both like that restaurant. Why not tonight?”
“Well, you know,” your roommate hedges. “What with COVID and all… maybe we should skip Asian food for a while. Just to be safe. I mean, you never know, someone who just came from China could be working there, spreading the virus.”


You’re having lunch with your partner and their parents at an outdoor cafe. As you eat, two women wearing hijabs walk down the street, talking to each other and laughing. You don’t recognize the language they’re speaking, but it isn’t English. Your partner’s father shakes his head. “If they’re not going to dress like normal Americans, they should just stay home where they belong. They should all have to speak English, at the very least. Who knows what they’re secretly plotting, right out in the open?”

What causes it?

In general, a fear of “outsiders” manages to arise from perceived threats to the “in-group.” This group could be small — a family unit moving to a new neighborhood, for example. The group could also be a larger one, such as a town where most adults have lost their jobs and blame “foreign” workers for their unemployment and poverty. Xenophobia is a learned response.

If you grow up immersing xenophobic ideas from parents, friends, and other people you spend a lot of time with, you may be more likely to agree to these beliefs yourself. Xenophobic attitudes can also develop following trauma or a crisis, including burglary, acts of terror or violence, or a global pandemic. Political advertising frequently promotes xenophobia. Some politicians weaponize xenophobia while manipulating emotional tensions within a community to expand their own program.

Xenophobia and personality traits

A study from 2020 suggests a link between xenophobia and certain personality traits.
Researchers gave 422 university students three different tests: the Xenophobia Scale, the Adjectives Based Personality Test, and the Dirty Dozen Scale. According to the results, participants who were scoring high in agreeableness, a Big Five personality trait, tended to display less xenophobia. This makes sense since agreeableness tends to suggest other traits like compassion, cooperation, and kindness.

Participants who were scoring high on measures of psychopathy and narcissism were showing more xenophobic attitudes. Both psychopathy and narcissism typically include low empathy or difficulty in understanding what other people think and feel. It’s not a huge leap to imagine people with these traits might feel threatened by those they deem “outsiders,” if they have a hard time putting themselves in their shoes and considering their experiences.

How can it be addressed?

These strategies can help you respond to xenophobia, whether you witness it in others or feel it yourself.

Stand up instead of standing by

Calling out xenophobic comments lets people know their behaviour is problematic.
It can feel a little scary to call out harassment, even in a public place. Remembering the 5 D’s can help you do it safely.

The 5 D’s

Distract. You don’t feel comfortable calling someone out directly? An indirect approach is just fine — and sometimes comfortable. You might distract the person by asking them an unrelated question, for example, or pretend you know the person they were harassing and strike up a conversation with them instead.
Delegate. Put someone in a position of authority who can back you up. This might be a teacher, the owner of a restaurant, or the library manager.
Delay. If you can’t do anything to stop the harassment, take a moment to make sure the person is alright. You might be asking, for example, if they either need help in contrary to other support.
Direct.  Behaving politely is present before filming in addition to maintaining a safe distance. Avoid posting your footage anywhere without getting permission from the person experiencing the harassment.


Xenophobia often arises from ignorance. Furthermore, educating yourself with facts, instead of simply accepting what you’ve always seen and also hearing from other people, and taking your own time to explore other cultures and traditions, is key in combatting biased beliefs.

Subin Joshua
Author: Hi there, my name is Subin Joshua, and I am a Medical student. I grew up in a family of teachers and know that being a social worker is my calling. My passion for helping others has been evident in my involvement in helping the poor and needy for the last three years. Through those experiences, I have learned to interact with a diverse group of people, which has increased my ability to relate to others.