On Xenophobia and Racism
If you follow this blog you might find me screaming often that “xenophobia is not racism”. Because I wanted to explain this for once in a big post I can always use for reference, and any of my followers too, I made this post.
As a Dutch citizen with a black mother and a white father I have experienced anti-blackness in both seeing my mother experience it and experiencing it myself. Hereby I declare myself a mixed black European. So this is all coming from a PoC in Europe, you know, someone who’d know whether or not there’s racism here, and how it’s handled.
So often I see posts about the status of race in European countries and how it’s different from America and how Americans should just shut up about the global nature of racism because it’s not all the same. While you’re definitely right in stating different countries, parts of the world have different ways of handling ethnicities and discrimination, when talking about racism you should realise the background the concept of race and racial discrimination have, as well as its links and differences with xenophobia.
First off all, definitions. Xenophobia is related to nationalities and often ethnicities. An ethnicity is just any kind of group of people sharing cultural, biological, genealogical and physical similarities. As for racism, I’ll re-use the bits of my thesis to explain it.*
First and foremost race is a social construct. Through a racial constructivist lens the historical definition of the construct of race can be explained. Racial constructivism is an instance of social constructivism, how interactions between individuals ‘construct’ society by creating concepts applicable to them. (1) Racial constructivism “refers to the argument that, even if biological race is false, races have come into existence and continue to exist through “human culture and human decisions” … Race constructivists … argue that the term still meaningfully refers to the widespread grouping of individuals into certain categories by society, indeed often by the very members of such racial ascriptions.” (2) Racism is the continuous systematic execution of racialization and discrimination of non-white groups of people, both institutionalized and on smaller scales. Race and racism are global occurrences due to colonization, imperialism and globalization, yet the Western definition of race is not applicable to all people in the world. … While racial relations and conceptual ideas of race existed before, racial structures were created during the Enlightenment, as was the name. … After the middle ages through trade and eventual colonization of territories with ethnic groups who had previously not encountered Western ethnic groups, phenotypical differences were quickly established, but not designated. During the Enlightenment classification and structuralisation of nature became the scientific norm, leading to the classification and denomination of different ethnic groups. … While these classifications did include cultural, religious and ethnic markers, the biological markers were most important for classification, leaving a majority of European citizens with the attribute ‘white’. (3, p. 58) This historical analysis of the construction of race serves as backing for the way racial relations worked both during the Enlightenment and today.
—–(From my BA thesis, pages 7 to 9)
In other words, the current concept of race was constructed by thinkers of the Enlightenment in order to classify others by ways of biological and cultural markers. However, these thinkers were all white European men. They established a hierarchy in their creation of race as we know today, placing whiteness at the top, and any non-white categories at the bottom. This is also dubbed white supremacy. Due to colonization and the imperialistic efforts of European countries all over the world the concept of race and its effects (racism) became global. Meaning the kind of racism you see in the USA is just the same racism you’d find in European countries, just in a different jacket.
Another important conclusion you can draw from this hierarchal structure of race is that as white people are placed at the top of the structure, they cannot experience racism. That’s the deal of white supremacy. In a world dominated by this racial structure (aka our world) white people cannot experience racism as they lack the racial position to experience racial discrimination. Sure, prejudice is a thing, but prejudice is not racism. Prejudice does form an important part in the execution of racism against non-white individuals, however.
You need to understand that racism is not based on skin colour alone. It’s a myriad of both phenotypical (appearance) and cultural discrimination. It’s an all-encompassing experience which draws on appearances, culture, ethnicity and historical connections between groups of people. Xenophobia is very much rooted in territorial differences, such as nationalities. Racism draws on racial issues. The two do overlap a lot of times, as xenophobia can be strengthened by racism if the ethnicity they’re discriminating against is not white (see: the Roma people, most of the north-African, Middle-Eastern and Arab population).
So any of your accusations about how Polish people are experiencing racial discrimination are utter crap. Polish people are white. They cannot, by nature of being white, experience racism. (4) And no, I’m not talking about Polish Roma people, or Polish Jewish people, or Polish black people, because you and I both know those are not the groups you refer to when it comes to this argument. I’m talking about the white Polish ethnic group which dominates Poland that has that “darker” skin colour you claim they suffer racism for.
So one more time, quoted from another time I talked about the differences of xenophobia and racism: “WHITE Eastern Europeans experience discrimination on basis of XENOPHOBIA, not RACISM. Discrimination they face is tied to xenophobic sentiments within Western/Northern Europe, and is also implicitly linked to an association with NON-WHITE individuals (Eastern Europe is ‘too close to’ the “East”, while Southern Europe has been non-white territory for centuries). ” (See links below)
So let’s say this one more time. Xenophobia is not racism.
* Meaning if you copy-paste the following
argument for your own academic work you’ll be plagiarizing and any consequences
it might have on your career are not my problem. This has been literally copy-pasted
from my own thesis.
- “Social constructivism.” Wikipedia:
The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 12th August 2016. Web. 14th
- “Race." The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, Accessed 22June 2016, plato.stanford.edu.
- Baum, Bruce David. “Enlightenment, Science and the
Invention of the Caucasian Race, 1684-1795”. The Rise and Fall of the
Caucasian Race: A Political History of Racial Identity. New York: New York
University Press, 2006. 58-94. PDF.
- As someone who’s one-eighth Polish,
I’m going to claim knowledge on this feat.# In fact, both my mother and I have
expressed fear about going to other countries we know little about how to
handle their racial climate. As Poland has many extremist white supremacist
right-wing parties. In the Netherlands we have those too, can’t escape them,
but at least we know the ways to go about in this country.
#: (For people who have trouble understanding sarcasm, I’m joking.)
Other links on the topic: