Monday, April 28, 2014

Xenophobia - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

Xenophobia is the fear of strangers or foreigners.  It might be fear/hatred directed by one subset of a population against another subset (I am a Northern Martian, and I hate Southern Martians because they are violent and stupid), or it could be a cultural fear/hatred aimed at another culture and its influences (we Earthlings hate Glespian music and fashion). 

Xenophobia can be a result of upbringing, negative experiences, cultural norms or peer pressure/fear tactics.  Some have argued that we have an instinctual fear of anything or anyone markedly different from us, especially in speech or appearance.  In the distant past, this may have helped us to avoid conflict with other groups perceived as threatening in some manner.

So what's the different between racism and xenophobia?

The two are distinct but can overlap. Racism usually entails fear/hatred based on physical differences and/or ethnicity, such as skin color, hair type, and facial features.  Xenophobia is based on "foreignness".  For example, a member of a certain race may emigrate for a period of time;  when he returns, having picked up different speech patterns or habits, he may be targeted by a member of his own race for being "different". It can also be a matter of regional accents, customs, religion and/or perceived social class. ("Okies" and "Carpetbaggers" immediately come to mind as examples of xenophobic labels in US history.)

Xenophobia pops up in crime fiction and science fiction quite a bit. But it can be useful in any genre, either to give us insight into characters and their behavior, or to plunge the reader more deeply into a particular setting. It can form a subplot or help to create tension.  A female investigator may walk alone into a bar/tavern in a country where that is considered socially unacceptable.  A student may return from a university overseas and be ostracized by old friends because he has acquired different clothing or an accent. And what if your character decides to date someone from a different country or culture?  How does that play out among family and friends?
Are your characters xenophobic in any respect?  Are they worldly and well-traveled, or have they been sheltered and never exposed to different cultures?  What about members of their family? How would your character react to a situation where someone was being taunted or discriminated against? Have you ever been in a situation where you felt uncomfortable or threatened because you were considered a "foreigner"?

Now, just for fun take the...

OKCupid Xenophobia Test


  1. Fun test, but still skewed too much. Too many variables go on.

    Only two more days to go!!!

  2. And here I thought everyone hated Southern Martians...

    (On an unrelated side note, my April has been so busy I have no idea how I used to manage the A to Z. I have a lot of letters to go back and read...)

    1. Aha. I thought I detected a bias on your part. :-)
      The A to Z definitely sucks up a lot of time. Thanks for reading, Nate!

  3. Actually I feel that way when I'm with my husband's aunt's, who do not understand why anyone would wood waste time writing, other than maybe to get out of getting a real job. :-) Often they talk around me as though I'm not there, so I do know what it feels like in a small way. I've also learned to ignore them. Either that or my characters are louder than they are in demand my attention. :-)

    1. I hear that! When I bring up writing, family conversation grinds to an uncomfortable halt.

  4. I found another post about xenophobia. :)

    Xenophobia is an interesting fear to give a character. I've never done it before, but maybe someday.

  5. Fear of the unknown or misunderstood is common. Consideration for the level of understanding and predisposition for fearful reaction is something I could spend more time on when describing my characters and their behaviors.

    Great word for the day.

  6. My case it's interesting, because I write historical fiction, and my main character is Greek in the Roman Empire. She snarks a lot at the Romans, but respects them for their inventions (she hates Latin, though). I took most of her opinions from Greek sources in the 2nd century. It was a fun trip.

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Tales of colors
    MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...

  7. There are also stripes of bigotry among the allegedly cultured and world-traveled. Christopher Hitchens would object to being called xenophobic, even though he routinely crapped on other cultures for fun and profit. It can be hard to abide bigots of all sorts.