Xenophobia has a way of becoming respectable when fear rules. When hate masquerades under the guise of patriotism, xenophobia becomes justified and takes on the status of sacred among those who traffic in fear. Our emotional reactions to situations cause us to adopt measures that bring quick and temporary relief from immediate pressures, but do not have much effect on the long-term brokenness found in human relations (Thurman 1984). Our fear of the “other” is based in our own broken sense of self, for if we truly loved ourselves we would see our humanity reflected in all and neither fear nor hate could take root in our hearts. When we consider as Terence expressed “nothing human is alien to me”; we realize that we carry within ourselves all of humanity; that, in spite of the fact that there are no two individuals who are the same, we all carry the same substance. Nothing exist in any human being that does not exist within the potential of my self (Fromm 2005). All forms and manifestations of xenophobia are ultimately rejections of the self.
When a nation begins to create laws targeted at a people group based on the creation of a radical “other”, it speaks volumes about how that nation sees itself in the master narrative of humanity. Historically people of power and privilege demonize anyone who they deem a threat to the maintenance of their power and privilege. Imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, those interlocking systems of power and domination which serve the ruling class in American culture, are built in response to the fragile smallness of the people who constructed them and those who work to maintain them. The rise in rudeness, open prejudice, and all out bands and restrictions on free travel, we see evident in abundance, show that our current national culture is steeped in fear in ways that give hate formal dignity and respectability. There is underneath the surface of nationalism fragility and lack of interior security that no Supreme Court decision can settle.
The first immigration and naturalization act, in 1790, allowed only “white persons” to attain citizenship, and that radical understanding of citizenship persisted until 1954 (Jr. 2016). It seemed that by 1954 our nation was ready to face its own impoverished sense of self; however, history reveals that the bruised hearts of the dominant culture are still crafting the same narrative of xenophobia and hate, in order to protect power and privilege. This self-preservation of the ruling class comes at the expense of dehumanizing anyone who’s presence shows the foolishness and folly of the power structure. Our democratic experience is in a radical conundrum in that we believe in democracy and we are simultaneously committed to imperialist white supremacy. The national fear is a political fear which reaches beyond fright or anxiety experienced by an individual. Its fervor and frenzy is a deeply felt, collectively held fear shared by people who together believe that something threatens them and their way of life (Jr. 2016). This fear we traffic in is the fear that we are not the greatest or most powerful; in fact, it is the fear that everyone is stronger than us. Unfortunately, many in our nation who share this fear are not even of the dominant culture, nor are they at the center of power. Oppression sickness has so infected the hearts of both the oppressor and the oppressed that the oppressed believe what is good for the oppressor is also good for them.
Our nation is currently seeing the manifestation of fear that becomes rage. The trigger for rage in the dominant culture is the advancement of marginalized people. Advancements such as Black president always cause backlash from the center of power and privilege. It is not the presence of minoritized people that triggers fear or rage, it is the audacity of those marginalized people to show up with ambition and drive. For those people, not of the dominate culture to show aspirations and demand full and equal citizenship and to refuse to accept subjugation is more than those in power can bear (Carol Anderson 2016). A formidable array of policy assaults and legal contortions has always been the answer of the powerful to the brazen audacity of hope.
Hatred often begins in a situation in which there is contact without fellowship, contact that is devoid of any of the primary overtures of warmth and genuineness (Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited 1976). The task of the liturgist is to respond to the brokenness of our lack of self-love in ways that foster life giving fellowship. Moral people everywhere must call for the death of xenophobia, beginning in our religious institution and spreading to the larger culture. This week ask yourself if your religious community markets hate speech under the guise of orthodoxy? Do you promote xenophobia in the name of being faithful? Is there a largess to your liturgy that speaks to the full range of humanity? How does your community gathering decenter cultural norms and make room for the “other”? These questions are the beginning of reclaiming our nations wounded heart.
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Peace is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Carol Anderson, Ph.D. 2016. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. New York: Bloomsbury.
Fromm, Erich. 2005. On Being Human. New York: Continuum .
Jr., Eddie S. Glaude. 2016. Democracy in Black. New York: Crown Publishers.
Thurman, Howard. 1984. For The Inward Journy: The Writings of Howard Thurman Selected by Anne Spencer Thurman. Richmond: Friends United Meeting.
—. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.