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Fear of the Other: An anti-American position

Rosemary Joyce, professor of anthropology | August 23, 2010

Xenophobia: “an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange.”


That is the key word here: not “that which is foreign or strange”, particularly at a time when the fear being stoked is of things that are not really foreign or strange.

Immigrants to the US from Spanish-speaking countries are not in fact foreign in a country where large areas of the west and southwest were populated by Spanish speakers long before that territory was integrated into the US. Their culture is not in fact strange in a country where fast food includes not only burgers and fries, but tacos and burritos.

Followers of Islam may seem easier to exoticize: assumed not to have been part of the original waves of occupation of the North American territory that wrested control from Native Americans, and suspect for following a religion outside a claimed Judeo-Christian core of values.

Yet this is simply historical ignorance: as The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States indicates, Muslims immigrated to the country between 1880 and 1914 in considerable numbers. Historical records show that the initial Dutch settlement of what today is New York included a prominent landowner, Anthony Janszoon van Salee, who was a practicing Muslim. Enslaved or formerly enslaved Africans who came to the Americas under the Spanish empire, or through the slave trade, also included numbers of practicing Muslims, perhaps as many as 10% of the enslaved population.

It bears repeating: this country was religiously and culturally pluralistic from the beginning.

And regrettably, this country has a history of fear of that very diversity. In 1999, the Houston Catholic Worker published an article by Brian Frazelle documenting the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in the US as early as the 1840s, noting that “Chances are, what is said today about Hispanic immigrants was once said about your own ancestors.”

Don’t believe it? consider this case that Frazelle describes where immigration from a foreign country to a specific state reaches the point that:

the immigrant population becomes so great that the public school system institutes bilingual education in many areas. … One disgruntled state legislator declares, “If these people are Americans, let them speak our language.” Does this story describe California or Texas in the 1990s? No, it describes Nebraska in the early part of this century. The immigrants in question are German immigrants.

Millions of Germans and Irish, including some of my ancestors, composed the first unwelcome wave of immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s. Many fled the certainty of starvation. Many practiced an exotic and suspect religion: Roman Catholicism.

Frazelle again:

in 1834 a Catholic convent near Boston was burned by a mob, followed by subsequent attacks on Catholic schools and churches. … Violence against Catholics on the East coast was so common that insurance companies practically refused to insure them.

What the Irish and the Germans experienced in the mid-19th century– including suspicion of loyalties based on religion– was echoed yet again in the next wave of immigration, in the late 19th and early 20th century. This time, the targets were people from southern Europe: “Italians, Poles, East European Jews, Hungarians, Albanians, Romanians, Russians, and Lithuanians”.

Immigration to the US has always stirred up beliefs in innate inferiority of the new populations.

Frazelle quotes a 1751 essay Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind by, of all people, Benjamin Franklin, animated by fear of German immigration in the 1700s, to illustrate how profoundly deep are the roots of racialist arguments converting human difference into inequality:

“The number of purely white People in the World is proportionally very small . . . in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are Germans also, the Saxons only accepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth.”

All that has changed, really, is the definition of who is white.

In the 19th century, the arguments of nativists gained support, regrettably, from the nascent discipline of anthropology. Historian of anthropology George Stocking writes about this episode:

“”Human history came thus to be viewed as a single evolutionary development through a series of stages which were often loosely referred to as savagery, barbarism, and civilization.”

“In turn of the century evolutionary thinking, savagery, dark skin, and a small brain and incoherent mind were, for many, all part of the single evolutionary picture of ‘primitive’ man, who even yet walked the earth.”

While in the late 19th century, these arguments were rooted in a misreading of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, the thinking they advanced long predated Darwin. Stocking quotes Scotland’s Lord Kames in 1775 arguing that God created

“many pairs of the human race, differing from each other both externally and internally; that he fitted these pairs for different climates, and placed each pair in its proper climate; [and] that the peculiarities of the original pairs were preserved…in their descendants”.

It follows from this erroneous argument that human groups that move from one “climate” to another cannot change, giving a basis for the anxiety caused by large-scale movements of populations from different parts of the world to North America.

Most significant for understanding the infernal mixture underlying the current surge of xenophobia, Stocking shows that in 19th century social thought, the concept of social “assimilation” was related to the biological concepts of racial “mixture”.

Defined as “a growing alike in character, thoughts and institutions” social assimilation would be psychological, achieved through imitation, and was impeded by “race consciousness”.

This biologically based (yet biologically inaccurate) understanding of human physical differences as signs of populations that can be ranked on a scale of more and less advanced and that resist cultural change still lurks under the surface of anti-immigrant arguments.

All that has changed is who the targets are.

Linked to racialist fear of others assumed to be physically inferior is a parallel anxiety about cultural inferiority: a fear that the supposedly inferior people will not be able to maintain the supposedly advanced cultural developments of those who adopt these xenophobic, racialist, views.

Frazelle quotes Prescott F. Hall, one of the founders of the Immigration Restriction League in the late 19th century, asking if the US was

“to be peopled by British, German and Scandinavian stock, historically free, energetic, progressive, or by Slav, Latin and Asiatic [meaning Jewish] races, historically down-trodden, atavistic and stagnant.”

The mix of culture, “race”, and religion in xenophobic episodes is clear in the historical record.

Earlier this year, the University of North Carolina Press published Religious Intolerance in America: A Documentary History. It amply documents the many historical incidents in which the promise of religious freedom embodied in Article 6 of the US Constitution has been violated, and the changing nature of the targets: Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and as we see today, Muslims, have all suffered from a failure of the majority and its representatives in government to adhere to the aspirations of the US constitution.

Politically, what is at stake in current debates about depriving some of those born in the US of citizenship, or limiting the freedom of others to practice their religion in proximity to specific places, is a fundamental yet little-understood principle of democracy: the need to protect the rights of minorities against the “tyranny of majority rule”:

“If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach? Men do not change their characters by uniting with one another; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with their strength. For my own part, I cannot believe it; the power to do everything, which I should refuse to one of my equals, I will never grant to any number of them.

Alexis de Tocqueville, “Tyranny of the Majority,” Chapter XV, Book 1, Democracy in America

The danger that de Tocqueville saw facing the new United States of America in 1835 was anticipated by the founding fathers:

the founders worried that the majority could abuse its powers to oppress a minority just as easily as a king. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison both warn in their letters about the dangers of the tyranny of the legislature and of the executive.

Madison, alluding to slavery, went further, writing, “It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part.”

We are at a historic moment when the challenge to meet this ideal is at real risk. Will we rise to the occasion, as citizens, and demand that the government that represents us protect those who are minorities– new immigrants, practitioners of religions less common than others– from discrimination? will we fulfill the vision of Madison and Jefferson?

Can we be reasonable about difference at last?

Comments to “Fear of the Other: An anti-American position

  1. A while ago, the LA Times published an article about the misery uncontrolled immigration has brought California. You should read it.

    The title was “6 + 4 = 1 Tenuous Existence” (,0,4751217.story?). Read the article by all means. However, the family tragedy isn’t the real story. Take a look at the quotes about how Open Borders has wrecked California and why even illegal aliens are getting out and (in this case) moving to Kentucky.

    “What we weren’t able to do in many years in California,” Alejandra said, “we’ve done quickly here”. That includes having a place to live.

    “We’re in a state where there’s nothing but Americans. The police control the streets. It’s clean, no gangs. California now resembles Mexico — everyone thinks like in Mexico. California’s broken.”

    “Her sister Alejandra was the first to leave. In Los Angeles, she and her husband were barely able to make ends meet. As in Mexico, “there was little work and it’s poorly paid,” she said.”

    “Eight years ago, she and her family moved to Kentucky, where a friend said there was more work and were fewer Mexican immigrants bidding down the wages for unskilled jobs.”

    “at the school there are just people who speak English. It’s helped my children a lot.”

    If poor illegal aliens working in California can recognize the horrific consequence of mass migration, why are so many of our elites blind to the nightmare staring at them? Could greed have something to do with it? Mind numbing political correctness? Could crass “I see the world through brown eyes” racism be responsible?”

  2. Let’s try a factual analysis of “fear of the other” and other fantasies. California is ground-zero for legal and illegal immigration. If immigration was good for America, California should be thriving. Is it? Well California is certainly doing well for the “Let Me Eat Cake” crowd. How about everyone else? Not so good. Americans are fleeing California in huge numbers. That should tell you something.

    California is the apogee of the alliance of identity politics and neoliberalism. Of course, the Bizerkly crowd loves it. Infinite greed and infinite virtue signaling combined into one state. Cheap labor and cheap identity politics in one package.

    The truth about California is grim, for all but the Bizerkly class.

    1. Poverty – California has the highest poverty rate in the nation according to the Census. See “TRUE: California has the nation’s highest poverty rate, when factoring in cost-of-living” (…. For another source, see “California Or Texas, Which State Has A Lower Poverty Rate?”. The numbers are easy. The poverty rate in California is 20.4%. Texas 14.7%.

    2. Schools – California schools are rock-bottom. The only state California consistently betters is Mississippi (“Thank God for Mississippi”). See also “California’s decade of gains on this test just ended”. Actually, California looks up to Mississippi on some standardized tests.

    3. Inequality – Overall, California is consistently, the 5th or 6th least equal state in the nation. See “List of U.S. states by Gini coefficient” and “The Increasingly Unequal States of America”. Of course, California makes up for high inequality with low incomes. See “New State-Level Price Data Shows Smaller State Real Income Differences”. California actually ranks below Mississippi in real income per person (but at least the schools are better than Mississippi).

    4. Housing Affordability – California compensates for low incomes with unaffordable housing. California ranks 49th in nation (in this case it is “Thank God for Hawaii”). Mississippi ranks 13th in housing affordability.

    5.Welfare – California is the welfare capital of America (34% of welfare recipients, 12% of U.S. population). See “Is California the welfare capital?” for the details.

    The reality is that California is a failed state. If America goes the way of California, America will be a failed nation (which it already is in some respects.

    Of course, California is a paradise for left-wing billionaries. Unlimited riches (and unlimited preening) for the elite. Misery for everyone else. Of course, Bizerkly loves it.
    “Let Me Eat Cake” is the campus motto.

    • That’s right, Peter — you’d best stay away from dis here briar patch and leave a wide berth for us Bizerkly alliance-makers. We’ve got a case of the miserables and you don’t want to catch it.

  3. Anthony Van Sales was my ancestor. He was raised Muslim in Morocco, but he wasn’t Muslim after he came here. He raised his 4 daughters Christian and they all married Christian men. New Netherlands was under Dutch control. The people here went to Dutch Reformed Church and that was the law. Muslims were not running around practicing Islam here. Both free and black slaves were baptised and married n the DRC churches as well. Later on their descendaants were free to be other denominations but none became Muslims. You can read my story on the internet “My Dutch Black Colonial Relatives” by Vicky Moon.Also read the truth about Jackie Kennedy in my story on the internet, “How I’m Related to Jackie Kennedy ” by Vicky Moon. She is NOT a Van Sales descendant. She is only related by marriage.

  4. At the outset you identify the key word in the opening definition as “reasonable” but fail to evaluate in your argument what is reasonable.

    You argue that people who, having taken note of the strife, persecution, and horror, taking place in many parts of the world; horrors which, by the account of the perpetrators are rooted in a certain religious worldview; that these people who are anxious about those sharing that religious worldview becoming a substantial segment of the population are unreasonably fearful and warrant the stigma of a psychiatric label?

    The problem of induction: you can enumerate instances which support your belief but this does not prove that all instances will support your belief. Without looking at instances where immigration has led to problems and the destruction of the host society’s culture you are failing to provide a balanced evaluation of the matter. Also, even if every instance of immigration was a success story this would not indicate that immigration will always work out well. This is a limitation of inductive reasoning.

    How successful, from an American Indian point of view was the immigration of the Pilgrim Fathers? They did not come as an army of conquerors but as peaceful settlers. They proved to be a trickle that turned into a flood. How successful was the immigration of Protestants to Northern Ireland in the 17th century – where it has led to centuries of conflict?

    On what do you base your confidence that Islam will coexist with other religions? Have you any evidence that Islam is inherently pluralistic? Have you studied the core tenets of the religion or its history? If not, you are simply making assumptions about Islam based on your knowledge of other religions which is foolish to say the least.

    If you are an admirer of Alexis de Tocqueville, you might like to find out what he concluded about Islam after a long period of careful study, as opposed to guesswork.

    The notion that diversity is an alloyed good derives from ecology where biological diversity is an indicator of a healthy system. This is because different species provide all kinds of functions such as distribution of seeds; a diverse mixture of prey for predators etc.

    Societies can benefit from diversity which is mutually enriching and civilizations have often reached new heights with the introduction of new ideas and influences. But it does not follow that this will always be the case. As Max Weber pointed out, “historical events are unique”.

    It depends critically upon the nature of the diversity concerned. Do you think that all diversity is good, as you appear to suggest, or do you admit that the introduction into our society of a culture that endorses slavery and the subjugation of non-believers and is doctrinally committed to resist integration might present some serious and potentially insurmountable challenges?

    Returning to my first point: Do you not think it reasonable to be cautious about such a culture entering the country and establishing a power base?

    • I think you missed the forest and focused on the trees. The forest here is that religious freedom based on the constitutional RIGHT as a CITIZEN is still only afforded if you happen to assimilate or ascribe to a Christian based religion. The author of this blog was really talking about religious freedom, not whether or not we should accept their culture. Even Christianity says to stone people, etc.

  5. Dr. Joyce:

    I want to applaud your patience, integrity and grit. Your responses to the new Know-Nothings have been well thought out, clear, sincere, not patronizing not angry. Your parents should be very proud of you. I am proud to be Cal alum because of teachers like you.

    Got get ’em!

  6. We should not ever have borders,just lose confederation of places,like the old west before the Texas Rangers.Everyone carries Guns after all crime has proven to go down were people are packing.Or hows this make anthropologist and sociologist the new makers of policies religious equality,emigration,from my point of view anthro’s and sociosio’s should
    have a chance at running things,look at all the other attempts at civilized culture what a bust, I’m not kidding what a great chance to prove your theories of human behavioral conformities based on environment.NO joke give us and outline of changes that need to be made,if they sound good I will volunteer.

  7. post 911 we should let all who want for whatever reason to come here to pick fruit,sell drugs,launder money,be part of the American dream,but not interdict at the border their ambitions,anchor babies,Latino lobbies with ACLU agendas against anything that might seen anti to be anything American,
    How raciest.

  8. Rosemary:
    My main remark was America is full,I stand by that.The second remark our economy can’t carry the load of endless migrants forever.Third why should we have to spend gargantuan amounts of money policing our borders.In 1840 the land beyond the Mississippi River was occupied by Native Americans for most part,and considered to be manifest destiny but the land now is not empty.Diversity in America is huge!the migrants that come here still feel a National pride that is vertical,this compression keeps them from assimilating [one of root causes of Xenophobia]

    • We would be better off not policing the borders at as great expense as we are presently; research shows that when we did not do so, migrants from Mexico came to the US in response to labor demand (when there were not enough US workers willing or able to do the jobs) and returned home when the demand was lower. This is why researchers on immigration call for comprehensive immigration reform to include an acknowledgment that our current agricultural and food processing industries are dependent on low paid labor. An alternative would be to pay so well for the back-breaking, unpleasant work we currently ask undocumented workers to do while reviling them. But that would increase food costs, and no politician wants to go there.

      Your assertion that the US is “full” is unsupported. I am not sure if you are arguing that we cannot employ more people (which is surely dependent on investment in new industries, rather than some arbitrary level of population) or that the land actually cannot support more people. Either way, you should be arguing against any population growth, by immigration or simply families of citizens having more than two children.

      Because you do not make that argument, I have to conclude you are scapegoating immigrants– and you do not in your comments seem to make distinctions between legal immigrants or undocumented migrants. That is reinforced by your insistence that recent immigrants are not “assimilating”. We can argue about what assimilation might mean and weather it would even be a desirable thing. I see the US as offering the promise of pluralism, of being able to have and celebrate cultural, religious, ethnic, racial, and historical differences. The research that has been done about immigrants who come to the US with the intention of staying does not support the claim– advanced by politicians and media voices that cynically manipulate people’s fears of otherness– that some migrants retain a primary loyalty to their country of origin in a way that is detrimental to their sense of belonging to the US. Nor is this a very new claim. Again, I direct you to the history of discrimination against the Irish, the Germans, the Japanese, the Chinese…. these kinds of xenophobic attitudes are not based in reality. They are based in a fear of difference. The root cause of xenophobia is not the actions of those who suffer from the actions of xenophobes. The root causes are in the xenophobes themselves: blaming others for problems they face; discomfort with people whose lifeways and thoughts are different from yours. We overcome those things only by recognizing that they come from within us.

  9. JO: your aug 30 post
    You Rock,that is what anthropologist get paid for.Were on earth is the example for ethical behavior toward diversity.How bout here ?

  10. Fourteen comments “WOW” many of the posts only have two,Rosemary this is a hot topic, and I agree with everything you say if it were 1840.America is full of to many people,this economy can’t carry the weight of the number of people who want to come here because,the grass looks greener here,back off people of opportunity,or face something very ugly the wrath of the people who need the jobs you want to take.Why should we have to spend vast amounts of money dealing with your lack of respect of our borders.

    • Carl, my post is about xenophobia. It is about being biased against people who seem foreign, not just those who are immigrants. Now or in 1840, freedom of religion and freedom of expression need to be vigorously defended.

      Blaming immigrants for the employment crisis we are experiencing makes no sense. The problems of our economy are not caused by immigration. The kind of jobs that undocumented immigrants and legal immigrants from Mexico do are literally jobs that others do not want to do, because they are hard, low paying, and at times dangerous. The United Farm Workers union recently ran a challenge offering to give up a union job for any citizen who wanted it. Only seven people took this route to employment.

  11. I have two main distinctions for this article. First, xenophobia must not be confused with precaution. Second, foreigners are more accountable for their own assimilation and integration because nobody force them to come; if you do not like it, leave.

    Evidence of Muslim immigrants at the early ages of our country proves nothing to minimize our fears against radical Muslims in the technological age where Bin Laden can jet setting networks around the world, rich Saudi financiers of anti-western cultural war [who by the way we are to blame for our oil appetite.] The issue here is not religion but radicalism. And many people from those regions are indoctrinated at early age regardless; I have the right to be suspicious. When you have a religion like Islam that is very intolerant trying to co-exist in a secular liberal society; we have to ask who has to put up with whom? I will not change my opinion until gay marriage is allowed in Saudi Arabia.

    Second, I am a naturalize American citizen who came speaking no English but who was able to graduate from Berkeley. America opened a door for a better future; I am grateful and I did my best to accommodate myself to my host country that now is my home. Foreigners are guests so behave like one and blend it.

    My advice, If you find offensive a prohibition to wear your Burka in France because the French do not like; SORTIE LA FRANCE. And if the Americans are so fashionable impaired that they allow you to wear one, so respect in the same cheerful way their clothing attire at Folsom Street this Sunday.

    • This nation guarantees the rights of minorities to be treated equitably. We do not have a national religion or language. So you are starting from a false premise: this nation is not supposed to discriminate against any of its people because of their language or culture. It is supposed to protect us from such discrimination.

      This is especially important because it is easy to do what you did here: equate difference with “foreignness”. But American Muslims are not “foreign”. They are citizens as much as you are, or I am. And like all citizens they have freedom of expression and religion. Trying to bar specific customs because they make you uncomfortable, or are uncommon or unfamiliar, is a violation of those freedoms.

      Similarly, unwarranted suspicion in the wake of hysteria over immigration across the Mexican border affects citizens and legal immigrants, not just those who might be in violation of immigration law. Speaking a different language is a right in this country.

      This country never said, change to be like us or leave. That is xenophobia in action. My ancestors were unwelcome: “No Irish need apply” was the sign posted, in fear of our unusual religion– Roman Catholicism.

      The point is that everybody is at risk for this kind of discrimination. The only way to ensure that we do not commit it is to accept religious freedom and freedom of expression mean we cannot insist on uniformity.

      Finally, you mix so many prejudicial and uninformed arguments about Islam here that it would take a much longer reply to deal with them. And it would not be worth my time, because your mind is clearly closed. You deny the reality that American Muslims are citizens with a right to practice their religion because you want gay marriage in Saudi Arabia? or because you blame America’s consumption of oil on oil suppliers (give me a break. It was US oil and auto companies who fostered the elimination of local transit with the collaboration of the government)?

      Radicals can twist any ideology to suit their purposes. Think of bombing of churches in the South in fear of integration; think of bombs aimed at civilians by the Irish Republican Army. We don’t treat all white Southern Christians or Irish Catholics as suspect as a result. We owe the same to groups that may seem more exotic.

      Anything else is xenophobia– unreasonable fear and hatred.

      That should never be the product of a Berkeley education.

  12. “And regrettably, this country has a history of fear of that very diversity.”

    So which country has the model the world should look toward in regards to no historical fear of diversity? Please teach us instead of citing the plethora of bad examples? Just point out the country so we can use it as a model. Please provide plenty of dacs, facts, truths, etc…. that’s what you get paid for to do.

    • If you had read the post, through to the end, you would have discovered the answer to your question: the rhetoric of the founders of the United States shows that their vision for this country was one that would not allow the majority to oppress the minority. The religious freedom and freedom of thought fundamental to our constitution makes it our goal to achieve. These are what make xenophobia anti-American.

  13. Rosemary I applaud your connection with diversity,those that are here and those that come here should assimilate not continue to bunch up, and cling to the culture left behind. Many of the existing problems are a result of polarizing their own ethnic group by not assimilating. Nationalism is the villain world wide, and many are seduced by the weight of their cultural compression, and lack of true perceptions that America offers them.

    • I don’t think she is arguing for assimilation. Rather, she is arguing for diversity. I find it odd that you could read her entire post and “applaud” her only to go on and make the same xenophobic arguments her post was fighting against in the first place!

      Looks like Rosemary has her work cut out for her, indeed.

  14. First Rosemary I want to apologize. On second thought the way I started my post was very inappropriate. I hope that does not lead to my permanent detriment. Honestly, stupid choice of words by me.

    You do have very good points, and as I’m sure you are probably more informed on these issues since you spend your whole life on them (I mean that sincerely). I will be the FIRST to admit that Fox News and other conservatives are irrational blowhards sometimes who are all about ratings. HOWEVER, I guess my major point is the whole narrative is that those who are against ILLEGAL immigration and QUESTIONING the mosque are “feaful” people who (and i quote) “push to blame others for somehow taking things away from you” who are xenophobic and that is the only reason to hold those positions. (I apologize I couldn’t word that statement better).

    I do KNOW some people are drumming u xenophobic rhetoric, however I am not that and by you essentially calling me or similar people that way for having legitimate questions you YOURSELF make it hard for honest debate and create HUGE amounts of contempt.

    I very sincerely believe that you mean well and I appreciate your blog, and in all honesty, I randomly gotted kicked to your blog from one of my normal financial blogs, but it was a thought-provoking article so I’ll add you to my required reading list!

    Final point, and please let me know if I’m making sense (if you have time, I realize a random poster is not that important) is I FEEL you think I’m a middle class, possibly blue collar worker who is as Obama would say “clinging to my guns and religion”. In fact, I was valedictorian of my high school, interned at an I-Bank, VC firm, start-up and currently trying to start my own company. In addition I’m heading out to SF next week to get exposed to the start-up world more so I can see what my options are when I graduate next year. This whole post may have been unproductive, but my major point is that I feel (maybe wrongly) that you and other “liberal elites” (I know, stereotypes are not great.. just trying to use common lingo) think you know more or are smarter than us who AREN’T xenophobic or rich.

    P.S.S. The wealthy elite are the problem. NOT capitalism, but CRONY CAPITALISM. Both parties are responsible, and I am still trying to figure out how MY generation can change that. Keep up the good work

    • Let’s start with what I think is the main thing that is worth underlining here: I did not accuse you (you, personally) of anything. What my original post said– and what my reply to you reiterated– is that there are politicians and demagogues who are encouraging people– people like the ones I grew up among– to fear others and blame them for the economic suffering affecting most of the people in this country.

      Now let’s deal with stereotypes. You wrote as someone from “the Midwest”. In the current political climate, situating yourself in the middle of the country, especially when writing to a faculty member whose political positions you assume you know, is in fact stereotyping. Sorry if that led me to infer you identified with the working class. I do. That’s what my parents were; that what I grew up as: a steel-worker’s daughter.

      Who, because I also was class valedictorian at a time when the US briefly made access to higher education available for a wider range of people than the small elite traditionally privileged with that access, ended up being able to earn a BA; to study and earn a PhD; and to work hard as a teacher and scholar and end up here.

      Calling me a “liberal elite” is thus a gross oversimplification. But I do not blame you for it because these are the gross oversimplifications of all the media available to us– Fox News is just particularly clear about reducing the real complexity of our multi-lingual, racially, ethnically, and experientially diverse country into stereotypes.

      I don’t identify as a “liberal”, by the way. I identify as a progressive: which is a political movement deeply rooted in the Midwest, rooted not in fear of others but in belief in the ability of a group to band together to demand what is better for all of us.

      I stand by the basic point of this post and my reply to your previous comment. The fact that you take it personally is something for you to think about. The fact that your arguments are somewhat incoherent– confused, not really clear, linking issues that don’t really go together– is something to think about. Not because you are stupid, and not because humans are inherently fearful of others. Far from it. That fear has to be raised by fear mongers.

      Both the hysteria whipped up about a moderate American Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, and the horrific moves to change our constitutional history of counting everyone born on our soil as citizens, go far beyond taking a stance on immigration, or “questioning” (in what sense, again, I beg you to think; I beg you to read the facts!) a mosque.

      These are issues at present because of deliberate demagoguery, deliberate fear mongering. Deliberate incitement to xenophobia.

      Take a few points on the immigration debate: all economic studies show that undocumented immigrants do not cost communities more than they contribute, when services are compared to taxes paid. Crime statistics in the border states show that crime attributable to undocumented immigrants is down, not up. Arizona’s governor repeats stories of decapitations in the Arizona desert, except no law enforcement agencies support this. A Texas congressman claims that secret Muslim terrorists are slipping across the border disguised as Latin American immigrants, and despite the lack of a shred of evidence, he gets attention and good people believe him.

      Now on the Cordoba House project. First the claim was that it was “at Ground Zero”; this is a lie. Then the equation was made that all Muslims are responsible for, guilty of, the terrorist attacks. This ignores the sharp differences among the world’s Muslim population, and the fact– it is a fact– that Al Qaeda is an extremist organization.

      Maybe part of the reason I feel this tarring of an entire religion is so deeply wrong is because it is what happened as well in Northern Ireland, when all Catholics became viewed as potential IRA terrorists.

      Again, as others have said more eloquently than I: how far away would satisfy critics of the Cordoba House project? How can you not see that this is a betrayal of freedom of religion, a fundamental part of our Constitution?

      If you have opinions about these two issues without knowing the facts; and if those opinions are based on the idea that undocumented immigrants are taking away jobs and are “hugely detrimental to state budgets” (your words); and if those opinions are based on believing that the financing of a religious project is automatically suspect because some followers of the religion (albeit from other sects) engaged in terrorism; then yes, that is classic xenophobia, because it is unreasonable fear of that which is foreign.

      I could say, if the shoe fits, wear it. I prefer to say: rise above this. Reconsider. Analyze. If you are concerned about undocumented immigration, identify specific concerns– read the actual current reports (not hard to do now that academics are taking to the internet like fish to water). You may be surprised about what you learn. Did you know, for example, that parents of a US citizen child do not automatically gain the right to remain in the country? Such a child must be 21 years old before petitioning to reunify his or her family, and has to have a household income at the time of 125% of the minimum poverty income. So much for the demagogues who want you and others to fear immigrants.

      And yes, the immigrants they want you to fear are not all immigrants. They are Spanish-speaking immigrants who come here because there are jobs that are so unpleasant or ill paid that US citizens are not willing to take them, or that have conditions of labor so dangerous that US citizens are not willing to risk them. They are portrayed as different, primitive, violent, other: and all these same stereotypes reappear numerous times in our history. Only the target group changes.

  15. Thank you for reminding us of our past. Has human nature changed in the last 400 years or 4000 years? As new students arrive I hope they take the opportunity to appreciate the diversity that is Berkeley. Perhaps some will rise above the crowd and lead in a bold new direction, away from the “isms,” to the reality that that we need to unite, not divide, if the human race is to survive the next millennium.

    • I believe that Berkeley students know that the world is strengthened by its diversity. But we have to help them see the irrationality in the arguments being offered that encourage them to blame others and to fear others.

  16. This really pisses me off. The vast majority of people I know do not have problems with Mexicans (or any Hispanics), but SIMPLY with ILLEGALS who VIOLATED the law to be here. They are hugely detrimental to state budgets and DO take SOME jobs away from americans. If that makes us xenophobic, then so be it, but this is simply tantamount to race-baiting and calling us racists for not supporting affirmative action or other policies because they are on their FACE discriminatory. Finally, on the issue of Muslims, I am NOT religious and could not care less if mosques were opened around the country. However, when it is radical MUSLIMS who attacked us, I think it is prudent/understandable for us to ask who is funding a $100 milliion cultural center near the site of the most traumatic event for millions of americans. I doubt you will respond to this post of a conservative, but very rational, 22 year old from the Midwest, but how you could be at one of the most respected institutions in the world and not address these simplistic points is very concerning to me.

    Concerned for rationality!

    • Let me start by making a plea for civility. When you begin your comment in aggressive terms what it guarantees is that we are unlikely to have a real exchange of views, which is what rationality should imply. As readers of the Berkeley Blog know, I will respond to sensible comments, even those with which I disagree. That’s what it means to be a scholar and teacher at the greatest public university in the world. So next time, try to lose the hostility and attacks and use of vulgar language, OK?

      Second, I find it interesting that you drag into your reply something entirely absent from my post: affirmative action. This suggests that you are not in fact responding to my post, or even to the present issues that it concerns, but to what you think is a general set of related themes. As many others have noted, in times of economic distress, it is often expedient for politicians to distract the people most affected by offering them a target for anger, when the real blame should go to policies that continue to favor a small, wealthy elite– a trend growing, not declining, in our current lives, as Robert Reich has explored in these pages. So you have been encouraged to blame those who have been helped by policies designed to correct decades of discrimination instead of blaming those who are profiting from the widening wealth gap.

      Xenophobia– my topic here– is the unreasonable fear of of foreigners or strangers. I was inspired not just by the anti-immigrant legislation on the southern US border which clearly DOES build on irrational fears of people who speak a different language (Spanish), but also by the deliberately encouraged hysteria about the proposal by a moderate Islamic leader to create an Islamic center in Manhattan– NOT on the site of the World Trade Center, but in a former Burlington Coat Factory outlet.

      Other commentators have noted that the argument about traumatization of survivors of the attack on September 11 does not survive scrutiny, for a number of reasons: first, among the victims that day there were numbers of Muslims; second, there already are religious establishments, including a Mosque, in the neighborhood (and how far away would satisfy you?); third, as political scientist Steven Taylor notes, polling data show that the CLOSER one gets to the site of the attack, the less opposition there is to the Islamic Center. You chose to capitalize Muslim in your attribution of responsibility for the Sept. 11 attack; but it was the radicalism of Al Qaeda, which is like fringe religious radicalism of all types, that led to that attack– not the practice of Islam. The leader of Cordoba House is a Sufi, who would be considered a heretic by the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attack.

      Typical of the hysteria around this project, which comes from an Islamic moderate, is that whenever one claim is met by logic and facts, a new claim looms. If the entire idea of having a mosque near the World Trade Center site is offensive, then why is there not a clamor to move the two existing mosques located nearby? Typical of the ever-shifting ground that shows this argument is unreasonable— and thus xenophobic– is the baseless claims that the center is funded by terrorist organizations. As far as I can discern, this comes from unsupported allegations, many made on Fox News where the “possible” links were all followed by question marks. Part of the funding for the project that Fox News tried to raise fear about actually comes from an investor in Fox News, as Jon Stewart perceptively demonstrated– does that make Fox News a terrorist organization?

      The points you are making are in no way simplistic. But I must say that they show that you have been betrayed by the media that provide you information. You have been encouraged by media and demagogic politicians to lump people whose practices and backgrounds are different than your own into scary categories, and then to fear them. That is xenophobia. My purpose in tracing the history of xenophobia in this nation and showing how unlikely the targets were in the past is to remind us that it is unreasonable.

      And, as the title I chose for my post says, it is anti-American. As someone who also has roots in the Midwest– although obviously, not what you would recognize as conservative– I urge you to reject the fear that has been encouraged, reject the push to blame others for somehow taking things away from you, understand that the roots of the economic collapse of the working class in this country– my class, and I suspect your class– is decades of political cultivation of a wealthy elite. Not Latin American immigrants; not American Muslims; these are not your enemies.

  17. The very thing that has made this country strong (different thoughts, different talents, different genes, different languages…diversity) has inevitable conflict with our instinctive tribal roots of safety measured by what we are familiar with.

    All peoples in all countries have this genetic survival programing it seems.

    The “cure” seems to be an elevated consciousness which is often not part of the perception of the masses.

    Leaders can help elevate us. Spiritual practices can help elevate us. Love can Unify us.

    Hard times (war, financial, disease, etc.) bring us closer to our genetic survival roots where sameness is preferred over differences.

    Rosemary, your visit through time of changes of perception of the masses is very good reading and hopefully helps elevate our consciousness.


    • As an anthropologist, I would suggest that the push to fear difference is not genetic, but rather cultural and historical. It is something we can combat, if we do not forget history; if we remain committed to building a more just society; and above all, if we learn to value human diversity as a positive resource.

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