Xenophobia is an Illness

 Elizabeth Eckford, Little Rock HS

Xenophobia is a mental illness, most precisely, a psychological disorder. It is listed as such in The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (“DSM-V”).

Xenophobia consists of an Irrational Fear of persons or cultural characteristics that one perceives to be different than one’s own, that is, strange, foreign, or abnormal. Most fundamentally, Xenophobia is Fear of the Other.

Racism, sexism, and homophobia are forms of xenophobia.

The xenophobe is uncomfortable in the presence of the object of fear, and because the xenophobe wants to eliminate their discomfort by making the object of their irrational fear go away, that discomfort can be expressed as resentment, hatred, violence, and even genocide. Remember, however, that the fear is irrational. It is not caused by what the xenophobe is afraid of, but by the xenophobe’s own irrational reaction.   Accordingly, the xenophobe can trigger the discomfort, and violence, simply by thinking of the object of their fear. Furthermore, the xenophobe can be easily manipulated by lies and propaganda about the Other.

Xenophobia is treated with Exposure Conditioning, which consists of becoming engaged with the object of fear until the irrational fear is replaced by realistic understanding.   Usually,  xenophobes just need to spend some time with whatever it is they are irrational about, and they will get over it.  The exposure conditioning can happen in the natural order of things too, outside of a clinical setting. Therefore a diverse environment will have fewer instances of xenophobia than an homogeneous one, because any xenophobia that arises will more likely naturally dissipate.

This is a companion piece to The Little Boy Raised by Gay People.