“Xenophobia” was Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year in 2016, after searches rose 938% following Britain’s Brexit referendum, and rose again when former President Barack Obama used the word in a speech targeting then-candidate Donald Trump. At a glance, the word seems ancient, as it is made up of two Greek words: “xenos”, which means “stranger”, and “phobos”, which means “fear” or “panic”. But the word is actually Greek Revival, says George Makari, professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, and it was coined in the 1880s to describe a way of thinking about the first wave of globalization.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of xenophobia is “fear and hatred of strangers or strangers or anything strange or foreign,” which differs from racism in essential ways. Racism is defined as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and abilities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority in a particular race”. Basically, xenophobia is an irrational fear of strangers or foreigners while racism is the belief that a particular race is inherently better than another. Other forms of discrimination, such as homophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia, target specific groups, such as gay people, Jews, and Muslims, while xenophobia targets anyone who is considered foreign or foreign.

What is the history of xenophobia in the United States?

The United States was ostensibly founded as a nation of immigrants, but xenophobia has been embedded in its history from the start. In 1751, 25 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin, who had become the founding father, expressed his irritation at the influx of German immigrants. “Why should I Pennsylvaniafounded by the Englishbecome a colony of aliens, who will soon be numerous enough to Germanize us instead of angelizing them? he wrote. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, himself an immigrant, echoed Franklin’s sentiments when he wrote, “It is extremely unlikely that [immigrants] bring with them that temperate love of liberty so essential to true republicanism?

As America has moved beyond its infancy as a country, xenophobia has not been left behind. In the 1850s a powerful political party called “the Know Nothings” was founded (so named because it was a secret society and if members were asked about it they had to say they knew nothing). The party was founded on principles of xenophobia and exclusion and, according to Smithsonian Magazine, “supported the deportation of beggars and foreign criminals; a 21-year naturalization period for immigrants; compulsory reading of the Bible in schools; and the elimination of all Catholics from public office.

Thirty years later, xenophobia was enshrined in federal law with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned Chinese workers from immigrating to the United States for 10 years. According to History.com, “West Coast Americans blamed declining wages and economic ills on Chinese workers.” Anti-Asian sentiment continued into World War II when Japanese-American internment camps were established to imprison people of Japanese ancestry, even if they were American citizens, and strip them of their property and of their property.

How does xenophobia work in the United States now?

At the turn of the 21st century, xenophobia peaked after 9/11. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Muslims were profiled, intimidated and surveilled in the name of national security. Years later, when Donald Trump, then just a real estate mogul and reality TV host, spread the birth conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama, it was a chilling glimpse of what was to come in Trump’s campaign and eventual presidency. Xenophobic views have become one of the defining tenets of Trumpism.

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