X is for xenophobia

William Stoughton was a colonial magistrate and administrator in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. He was in charge of what have come to be known as the Salem Witch Trials.

The word xenophobia is actually relatively new, and only entered English in the late 1800s. It’s rooted in two Greek words, xénos meaning “stranger, guest,” and phóbos meaning “fear, panic.”

Dictionary.com defines xenophobia as “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers.” It can also refer to fear or dislike of customs, dress, and cultures of people with backgrounds different from our own.

Although the word, xenophobia, is fairly new, the attitude it refers to is ancient.

Here in America, our founding fathers — the men who settled 17th century Massachusetts — spoke the first dark words about those who were different, not like themselves. No matter that they sailed to these shores in search of religious freedom. Once established, they pulled up the gangplank behind them. The city on a hill was an exclusively Puritan sanctuary. The sense of exceptionalism — “we are surely the Lord’s firstborn in this wilderness,” the Massachusetts minister William Stoughton observed in an influential 1668 address — bound itself up from the start with prejudice. If you are the pure, someone else needs to be impure.

Quakers fared badly. In Boston, Cotton Mather compared them not only to dogs, but to serpents, dragons and vipers. The great young hope of the New England ministry, he sounds as if he would have started a Quaker database if he could have. Banned, exiled, imprisoned, whipped, Quakers were a “leprous” people, their teachings as wholesome as the “juice of toads.”

Baptists and Anglicans fared little better. In 1689, Boston’s Anglicans discovered the windows of their church smashed, “the doors and walls daubed and defiled with dung, and other filth, in the rudest and basest manner imaginable.”

And Catholics? Even the most moderate of Massachusetts men believed in Papist cabals; priests were viewed much as the most radical Muslim clerics of  today. From Protestant pulpits came regular warnings that boatloads of nefarious Irishmen were set to disembark in Boston harbor, to establish Roman Catholicism in New England.

Xenophobia is an excellent word for the hardest letter of the April A to Z blogging challenge.

Even so, I wish it was a word we didn’t need here in America.


This entry was posted in A to Z April Challenge, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to X is for xenophobia

  1. Anne says:

    It would be lovely if we had no need for the word and it became archaic.
    Visiting from A to Z

  2. Linda Curry says:

    As you said it has always been around. In Australia it was applied to the Aborigines, the Chinese in the Gold Rushes, the Europeans after WW2, the Vietnanese Boat People and now any boat people who are refugees. Each wave of migration was eventually accepted and admired and Australia had a reputation as being one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world. However the rise of extremism in politics has fuelled a new, disturbing element who target those who are different. It is a worldwide phenomena growing in strength but we will fight it at the polling booth and if that fails, then in any other way we can.

    • carolynbranch says:

      I’m sorry to hear that Australia is also having those ugly feelings coming up. I knew it was in Europe, and I see it getting stronger here, but I have always pictured Australia as a more relaxed and tolerant sort of place.

  3. Shari says:

    X really is the hardest letter in the challenge. You wrote a great X post though. Thanks for sharing

    Thanks for stopping by X for X words

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