An Alphabet Of My Life: X


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.

An Alphabet Of Things I Don’t Like: X


This was originally a Greek word. For anyone unfamiliar with it, here’s a definition.

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

Also known as ‘Fear of strangers’, this has developed in modern times to become little more than a racist ‘blame game’

“They are taking our jobs”.

“I never liked the French”.

“They want us all to be Muslims”.

“They get all the new houses”.

“The migrants all want to come to Britain for an easy life”.

“You can’t trust Arabs or Turks”.

And so on.

Since 2016, this has been fuelled by Brexit in Britain; and in America, Trump’s claims about his wall across the border with Mexico.

Then Coronavirus came along, and many people rushed to blame anyone but themselves for spreading it.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that we live in the 21st Century.