In a Calvin and Hobbes comic, six-year-old Calvin finds himself the only boy on a playground full of girls and declares: “Oh no! I’m in cootie central! I haven’t had my shots!” Thousands of kids on playgrounds all over the world continue to be infected with—that most incurable of all childhood diseases—cooties. Until we hit puberty, the playground is divided sexually, boys playing with boys and girls with girls. Why is it we build barriers around ourselves that keep us away from those we consider strangers? Why do boys have cooties?
On the schoolyard and beyond
The Finnish sociologist, Edvard Westermarck, espoused that people who are raised together regardless of relationship are desensitized to each other and will not likely be sexually attracted to one another later in life. It ensures that we will find others outside of our familial circle to procreate with thus guarding against any possibility of incest. In addition, as children we tend to isolate others we deem different. The new kid with glasses, freckles, a lisp, and a limp has little chance of making friends. But what happens when as adults still we view others unfamiliar to us as undesirable?
Xenophobia—why we can’t all get along
Xenophobia is defined as a deep dislike or unreasonable fear of foreigners or strangers. Myths and misunderstandings about people who are different from us abound. For instance, many people from other countries have the misconception that all Americans are rich, rude, and have an easy life. This stereotype is perpetuated by television shows that show a wealthy American lifestyle. In truth, the vast majority of Americans live in zip codes far from 90210.
Sometimes xenophobia can be downright dangerous. During War World II Japanese Americans were interned in camps in the United States, their homeland, just because America feared they would be loyal to Japan. Thus we find an entire national group who experienced xenophobic racial profiling.
Let’s all go to the movies and shoot some aliens
In 1950s era ‘B’ movies aliens came to invade our planet. The reaction to their presence was: shoot first, ask questions later then shoot again. Movies like The Day Earth Stood Still and War of the Worlds were cinematic xenophobia at its best. The Cold War was raging and anti-communist hysteria was high. Because of the communist scare many Americans were blacklisted and labeled as un-American regardless whether the charge was valid or not. At the end of The Day the Earth Stood Still the message the alien delivered to the world’s leaders was: live in peace or be obliterated from the planet. We are faced with the same message today—learn to live together regardless of background or threaten the survival of the human race.
Promoting love of strangers
There are many cities in the United States where people from different backgrounds live in the same communities. San Diego, California is typical of many American cities where people from Asia to Africa, Europe to the Pacific Islands live together in close proximity to one another. Every year events like the Nations of San Diego International Dance Festival welcome all to see the costumes, view the dancing, drink in the culture of those from another land. These multi-cultural events are entertaining but also promote understanding and show us how alike we really are.
The problems of xenophobia won’t soon dissipate unless we make a concerted effort toward tolerance. So the next time you’re on the playground hug a kid with cooties and make him feel welcomed.