There are consequences, it seems, for not paying attention in school. I have no way of knowing, of course, but I suspect most of us are taught that basic fairness is the social ideal. Xenophobia is deeply embedded in the primate psyche, but to those who claim we haven’t evolved, there seems to be no way to convince them that “racial” differences are merely a matter of differing collectives separated by natural borders. Over time traits favorable to the region predominate, and humans therefore have what seems to be a very wide array of potential appearances. There should be nothing in all of this that suggests one group is superior to another. Primate evolution, however, helps to explain but not to excuse. Xenophobia is something from which we can evolve.
Fear is at the heart of any phobia. In a society that measures the worth of individuals by their wealth, fear that another will take it is constant. Perhaps, in a part of our souls we’d rather not acknowledge, we know it’s wrong to have too much while others don’t have enough. It’s very cold this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In Manhattan on Saturday I saw many people on the street, those who’d met the wrong end of capitalism. I’ve seen human beings shivering in Dickensian conditions in the twenty-first century. I’ve known capable adults who couldn’t find work, even when they’ve tried. We fear the street person. We know that, but for slight shifts in capitalism, that could be us.
Xenophobia has come under threat with globalization. We’ve made travel to remote locations affordable in order to spread capitalism to regions ready to be exploited. And we see nothing wrong with taking from those who can’t prevent us from doing so. Then we wonder why people just like us turn out to march in the cold. Civil rights marches took place half a century ago. Crowds thronged the nation’s capital seeking basic human treatment. Fifty years later over a million women and supporters had to show up to make the same point again. Fair treatment should not be a commodity. Those who have fear the stranger. Those who have don’t wish to share. They claim the name of “Christian” and mock the very tenets upon which that belief system was founded. It’s cold outside today. As we huddle inside, we should have time to think. It is a waste of a national holiday if we don’t at least ponder for a few moments what it is we celebrate. And the real costs of xenophobia.