Whoa, dropping a big word to get in an X. Let’s go for a definition:
“fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners”
As someone in the US, the obvious place where I am coming from is immigration debates in a country largely made up of immigrants. However, I am also fully aware that things like loosening borders in Europe due to the European Union, for instance, are leading to similar debates, concerns, or prejudices elsewhere in the world.
A lot of things feed into xenophobia, so it definitely counts as a problem with no easy or obvious answer. Saying “everybody like everybody else!” doesn’t quite cut it, as words alone might work in abstract, but how do they work in the specific? Luckily, this is a topic addressed a lot in science fiction: so what answers or future problems do we see?
The Solution – Us versus Them
It’s Watchmen. The conclusion that we always need to identify an Us, those like us, and the Them, the outsider. And we don’t like the outsider. So in much of science fiction (or fantasy, for that matter) the outsider is not another human being at all: it’s an alien race, from somewhere else. If aliens attack the earth, humanity will hopefully be at peace with each other. I’ve just read this idea in The Lathe of Heaven as well.
Of course, there is a more hopeful solution in mind. If we solve the sorts of scarcity problems that create differences and a feeling that we need to protect what is ours, then maybe we won’t fear the outsider. Think Star Trek. The crew of the Enterprise is always on a mission of peace, with a diverse(ish) crew of humans and aliens, and off to meet aliens, to meet outsiders. Peace can be imagined, but it does seem like a far-flung future to get there!
However, if we don’t reach an idyllic Star Trek sort of future, then often authors envision a dystopia – and xenophobia is often a problem in dystopias. When things go poorly, when there is war or famine or plague, the outsider is one of the great fears or hated groups. I’m thinking of dystopias like V for Vendetta, or Children of Men, or The Windup Girl. All of these show worsening relations between nations, and worsening racial situations. General distrust and unhappiness.
Which unfortunately means that even if we reach an idyllic future, we may have to go through worse xenophobia to get there. Even in Star Trek, the idea is that they went through World War 3 to get there – and things were likely not very friendly at that point in future history. It was the introduction of aliens and space travel that united humanity and led to peace.
This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!