An Alphabet Of My Life: X

X=Xenophobia

xenophobia
/zɛnəˈfəʊbɪə/
noun
dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries.
“the resurgence of racism and xenophobia”

I was introduced to this from a very early age. I didn’t know the word until I was in my teens though.

The area I was brought up in was predominantly a white working-class part of London. In my youth, many of the local older men had travelled abroad during the war, but few of the women had ventured outside of Britain. Attitudes to foreigners were ingrained. Almost everyone hated the French, dating back to the Napoleonic Wars. That had been updated by the French surrender at the start of WW2, and the Vichy collaboration with the Nazis.

The Japanese were detested because of atrocities in WW2, and their treatment of allied prisoners. (My uncle had been a POW captured by the Japanese.) Italians were considered to be cowardly, and not worth thinking about. As for the Germans, well they had started the war and bombed London and other cities, so were still hated with a vengeance in the 1950s.

Nobody I knew spoke a foreign language, and the only black or oriental people I ever saw were sailors from ships in the nearby docks. Foreigners were described as ‘Wogs’, Wops’, ‘Darkies’, ‘Chinks’, ‘Yellow Men’, even ‘Cannibals’. Much of this was purely descriptive, and rarely spoken with any outright malice. It mostly derived from ignorance, lack of interaction with outsiders, and the old jingoistic love of ‘Empire’.

At junior school, there were no foreign-born pupils, and no black or mixed race ones either. The only Jewish boy was the son of the barber in the local High Street. We were sometimes jealous of him, as he was excused morning assembly on religious grounds.

But Jewish people were also unpopular. They were considered to be money-grabbing, unfair businessmen, and not really welcome in that part of London. They were routinely referred to as ‘Kikes’, or ‘Yids’, and I knew some older men who would not use Mr Cohen’s Barber Shop because he was Jewish. Catholics were rare, and almost all from Irish families. Though there was a famous Catholic school nearby that many girls went to, where they were taught by nuns. The attitude to Catholics was that they were all Irish, the men were drunks who did menial labour, and that they had too many children.

Once there was an influx of West Indian immigrants in the late 1950s and 1960s, there were still very few living in our area. I went to a senior school with 1,500 pupils, and we had two West Indian pupils and one African pupil. As I grew into my teens, I still had little or no contact with anyone who was not white and working class, though I had been on trips to France by then. Once we moved away to the suburbs, the only foreigners in that affluent area were the Indian family who owned a local Indian restaurant.

Times changed, and not for the better. Race riots in West London, the rise of neo-Nazi political groups like the National Front, and overt racism reared its ugly head in many parts of Britain. I was working by then, and married not long after. We were not racist. We embraced the new cultures, the tasty food, the shops that stayed open late. We developed an interest in foreign countries, and travelled to them. We worked alongside collagues from many countries, of many races, and didn’t think twice about it.

Xenophobia has not gone away, far from it. But most of us did not inherit the attitudes of our parents, I am happy to say.

50 thoughts on “An Alphabet Of My Life: X

  1. What an interesting presentation, Pete! Looking on social behaviour in a country also is showing how resilient it is. In Germany we never had so many different cultures and recent discussions about refugees are showing how difficult it is to bring Germans in contact with people from other countries. There must be a big change. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I grew up with similar racist attitudes. It took me until college to see people through a true lens. Hating all Japanese because of WWII is not even sane. I could go on. It is still terrible today, which I find surprising and disheartening.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Like you, Pete, “What shocked me as I grew older was that it was all based on ignorance, not from any experience of meeting or communicating with foreigners.” I get very concerned that old habits are still very evident in some areas….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. (1) Homer is known to have used the word xénos in his writings. “If they aren’t from my home country,” said Homer, “then they are despicable foreigners!”
    (2) Xena, warrior princess, and Xeno, warrior prince, both suffered from pedophobia, which I find very strange.
    (3) Jeanne d’Arc was not fond of the Brits. Because of them, her future life was at stake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My parents both had an outspoken aversion to black people, chuq. Ironically, it was a West Indian carer who became my mum’s greatest friend and confidante, not long before her death.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The newer definition as pushed foward by our ever more PC position of everything is racist is actually, well, “newer.” As I was taught from literature Xenophobia’s original and broader meaning was an irrational fear of the unknown or unfamiliar. The Scots are even now attempting to move mazeophobia, the fear of being lost, into the role originally occupied by xenophobia. One can only presume the reasoning for the current, narrow definition is that those involved in the racism discussion may adopt a New Latin term lending some credence to more scientific sounding sound bites. Like a female British accent voice over on Jaguar ads. I look forward to the academic treatise on culturally embedded xenophobia to accompany the myriad of others looking to place blame and create divisiveness. As for me, color, religion etc. is far less a determining factor than behavior. I hear what you’re saying, and it is good that bridges have been crossed, but my father, a WWII vet, refused to watch television like All in the Family that reveled in racist one liners. His reasoning? “Ignorance isn’t funny.” He was right.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My parents gave me the impression that anyone who was not British was not as good. Then also there was great prejudice against anyone who had the wrong accent. I had heard my parents use the word “Jew” but did not know what that was till I came to the USA (aged 16!) My mum was always polite and usually very kind to anyone, whoever they were but I do recall when we went to Munich in about 1960 that she was uncomfortable. I don’t know why my dad wanted to go there. Curiosity, I suppose. Myself, I have always been fascinated by people who are different and I was never badly treated anywhere during my travels. It disturbs me terribly to see so much animosity but the main problem in my opinion is over-crowding, the fear that someone will take away what I need and make me do as they do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When neo-Nazi racism surfaced in Britain with the National Front and the British Movement, it was all about taking jobs, taking homes, and changing society. But nobody wanted the jobs done by the immigrants, and nobody wanted to live in the sub-standard housing they accepted either.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  7. Sounds like the hate atmosphere I grew up in. There was no hatred of Catholics, French, or Native Americans because everyone was Catholic, and were at least part French, and were related to Native Americans. Everybody else was fair game to hate.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. HI Pete, an interesting post. My mom grew up in the country, but she did see people from other countries and culture during the war as there was a US Army base at Flixton which camped on Bungay Common. There was also an Italian Prisoner of War camp nearby to which her father delivered milk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My mum met many Americans and Canadians in London during the war, and loved to go dancing with them, telling me they were all good dancers. But anyone she danced with would have been white, so ‘acceptable’.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. My mum was 17 when the Americans arrived in England, and she had been working full-time since 1938. 17 was considered to be sufficiently old enough to go dancing with anyone, so she made the most of it. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  9. My step-dad was quite racist ‘put ’em up against a wall and shoot ’em’ was one of his sayings regarding our colonial brethren. Luckily my Mum was not in the slightest, she worked with a lot of middle eastern and Indian people and found them lovely, as did I.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is still prevalent in some areas here, Beth. In the small part of England where I live now, I have seen examples of overt racism and hostility to foreigners. Mostly from the older generation, who should know better.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I remember as a kid my dads attitude to the native maori & Catholics. Both had separate sports teams & schools here in NZ.
    When I arrived in the UK, on a British passport (thanks to dad being born there) I was not prepared for the backlash. The Brits don’t know the difference between Aussies & Kiwis so I was “Aussie ponce” at work. I was taking an Englishmans job. God knows how many English work down under (& run all our soccer clubs). So outside my station I kept very quiet and usually denied it, There was also a Welshman & Scotsman working with me who also got roasted, so much so, they left. That was the 80s.
    The older guys & bosses were the opposite. They remembered what NZ did for Britain during the war plus being her food source. From them I often got apologies for Britain joining the EEC and shafting the NZ economy.
    But that forced NZ to become multicultural as we had to find new markets, allowing Asian investors to live here & today one of the most diverse. My neighbours are Chinese who speak no English & Filipinos. My GP is Chinese. My corner dairy is Indian, I won’t count the gays.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I confess that I have always found it difficult to differentiate between Australians and New Zealanders, though I have never knowingly had any issues with either. Like those older bosses, I had great respect for the servicemen of both countries, from the time of the Boer War, through both world wars.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

      1. Mum used to complain about holes in the bread, but unfortunately I just could not resist. I used to stand there in the shop kicking the sawdust around and breathing in the smell of baking bread. I can still smell it 55 years later…

        Liked by 1 person

  11. All the shops in the part of East London where I lived were owned by Jews. My best friend was Jewish, and I practically lived in her house as a kid. They moved away and we unfortunately lost touch. Another of my good friends was from St. Lucia. Her parents had emigrated to Britain in the 1950s, and at the time they were the only black family for miles around. We stayed in touch for many years after my parents moved across the Thames to Kidbrooke.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I was aware that large parts of the East End were settled by jewish immigrants. We used to go to Brick Lane to buy salt beef sandwiches. (That shop is stil trading, and open 24 hours.)
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Coming from Canada, where everyone comes from immigrants (My grandparents were German immigrants) this attitude was not as prevalent. I was shocked to hear the racist remarks from my in-laws. Fortunately, their son is not like that at all.

    Liked by 1 person

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