Several posts ago we talked about xenophobia: a fear or hatred of persons who are different from ourselves.
A recent example of this came about with the election of Nina Devuluri as the new Miss America. Many people would not bother getting excited over the outcome of a beauty contest, but there were those who found it an earth-shaking political threat. The social media erupted with tweets and other messages expressing disapproval and disgruntlement over the choice.
This was not about Miss Davuluri’s looks or her talent. She has plenty of both. The problem, as they see it, is her Indian heritage. Not American Indian. Who could argue that Native Americans aren’t American? Although no doubt there are those who don’t see it that way.
Miss Davuluri’s heritage is from India itself (where Columbus thought he had landed, and American Indians have been stuck with that mistake ever since.) Davuluri’s family is Hindu. Hindus are not the same as Muslims. It’s an entirely different religion, but that distinction eluded the tweeters. They hurled accusations of al Qaeda and terrorism. Aside from the fact that Miss Davuluri isn’t Muslim, not all Muslims are terrorists. Most, in fact, are not, and they deplore the terrorist acts that give their faith a bad name. Nearly all the major religions have their lunatic fringe, extremists who insist everything must be done their way.
Some tweeters made reference to 9/11 and how close the Miss America election was to its anniversary date—whatever that statement was meant to prove. Some referred to Miss Davuluri as “the Arab,” which she is not. Others, although they got that part right, still felt that her background disqualified her. “This is America, not India,” they ranted, forgetting that most of us have ancestors who came from somewhere other than North America.
These are flagrant examples of xenophobia—literally, “fear of strangers or foreigners,” or of anyone who seems strange or foreign, or just different. That includes any person with a cultural, physical, or neurological characteristic that puts him outside the norm, in looks or behavior or both. According to this philosophy, the only safe world would be a world of clones.
Where does such hatred come from? Is it a genuine fear of what someone “different” might do to us? It may well be that this is what motivates terrorists themselves. Because they feel threatened by differences, and by difference of opinion, they feel the need to make a proactive strike and get there the firstest with the mostest.
Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, who writes for the Miami Herald and other papers, addressed the bigots head-on in a recent column. He even named some of the tweeters as he quoted them. They shouldn’t mind being “outed.” Obviously they weren’t ashamed of flaunting their bigotry, not to mention ignorance, for all the world to see.
Mr. Pitts said it far better than I could. He has an especially lovely putdown for those so uneducated as to lump all Eastern religions together as Islam. It shows the level of their thinking. I hope he won’t mind if I quote him here, giving him full credit:
“And you are almost—almost—less appalled by the bigotry than by the slack-jawed, knuckle-dragging ignorance of people so stupefyingly uninformed that they can’t even hate straight.”
Thank you, Leonard Pitts.