The Other Xenophobia

We’ve all heard about the one type of xenophobia, right? Literally, this term refers to irrational fear of the foreigner or stranger. The most common xenophobia that is being reported today is of Americans who are either suspicious of or malicious toward foreigners or strangers. When someone who is unfamiliar with the “Other” (whomever that may be), they may become doubtful about their presence or impute some bad motive to their behavior. But perhaps it’s just a cultural or linguistic misunderstanding, right? So, the theory goes, we need to become more enlightened so that we do not develop this “xenophobia” which is a cultural sin that the media is rarely willing to forgive.

So, what is the deal with the other xenophobia? The other xenophobia is the under-reported xenophobia. It is the xenophobia which the strangers have toward their host country. Yes, that’s right. Many foreigners and strangers to our community simply don’t want to be with us. They don’t want to learn from us and our (dominant) culture. They do not want to learn the language of their host country. They’d rather live somewhere else. (Honestly, I can understand the sentiment).

But we need to develop a new vocabulary about this other xenophobia. Typically, one reads in the literature on inter-cultural communication that there is “acculturation” and “enculturation.” According to Professors Ting-Toomey and Chung, “acculturation” is “the degree of identity change that occurs when an individual moves from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar one. Intercultural acculturation, however, does not happen overnight. It is a gradual, incremental lifetime identity transformation process.”[1] Aside from the fact that this definition seems too broad (an unfamiliar environment doesn’t seem on par with moving permanently to another culture foreign to one’s native culture), the definition suffers from another problem. It assumes that the person acculturating will actually adapt and learn from the new culture and not simply hunker down and ignore it. The authors do refer to someone who has become “enculturated” into their native country and culture who only slightly acculturate when they become an immigrant into another society.[2]

But I think that we need a third term, “disculturation.” This is a phenomenon, highly under-reported, in which guests and immigrants transplanted into a new culture do not wish to adapt to the host culture. Adaptation or becoming a citizen are not on their “to-do” list. The denizens of the former simply reject the denizens of the latter. They would rather not get along except to deny and/or avoid cultural values of their new homes. For them, the host culture represents values that it does not like and will not accept. Yet the guest culture continues to dwell within the host culture. It will not allow itself to become integrated into that host culture.

Therefore, our new cross-cultural vocabulary should include this new word, disculturation, to serve as an antonym to acculturation. Let us employ our cultural anthropologists at universities who have many brilliant insights to study this confrontation of cultures.

This week, I am wrapping up audio book production of an awesome work on Christian apologetics which compares and contrasts Christian beliefs with Hindu religious beliefs, particularly the school of Advaita Vedanta. The full title is Worldview Apologetics: A Christian Worldview Apologetic Engagement with Advaita Vedanta Hinduism. The most fascinating chapter in the book is on Kierkegaard in my opinion. The author, Pradeep Tilak, and myself have been collaborating for several months on this one and I hope it receives widespread acclaim.

Worldview cover art





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