The OED defines xenophobia as “deep-rooted fear towards foreigners”, but who cares about dictionary definitions any longer?
In its true sense, xenophobia is a relatively rare psychiatric condition that I, for one, have never encountered, although I believe the experts who say it exists.
In its corrupted sense, ‘xenophobe’ is used in the UK to describe anyone who loves England; wants it to remain England; objects to the English becoming a minority in their country, as they already are in their capital; thinks our laws should be passed by Parliament, not Angela Merkel, and based on our legal tradition, not the Koran; likes to deal with English-speaking service personnel in England; has voted Leave in the recent referendum.
It also describes the security guard at Canterbury cathedral, who dared display that quirky, if slightly savage, sense of humour that’s a distinguishing, and to me appealing, characteristic of the English working class.
Argentine dance teacher Silvinia Fairbass, resident in Britain for 12 years, visited the cathedral but somehow couldn’t find her way in. She asked the guard for directions, who, having detected a foreign accent, said, pointing southwards, “Dover’s that way, love.”
This is so much more subtle than what I heard some 40 years ago in Texas, when complaining about slow service at a garage. “Boh,” said the grease monkey, “if y’all doan lahk it here, whah dontcha go back where y’all cum from?” That remark hurt and I took all of 20 seconds to recover my composure.
Mrs Fairbass took a while longer, proving that, though of foreign origin, she has already been imbued with The Guardian way of reacting to transgressions against the prevailing ethos.
“I think since the referendum, unfortunately, there has been a minority who see a platform to voice their opinions against foreigners,” she wrote on Facebook.
“Yes, I’m a foreigner living in the UK. I’m also a British citizen, a hard-working person, a mum, a wife, a house owner, a teacher who inspires young people, I’m also an enthusiastic and positive person. I can speak two languages, I have two bilingual children, I have an amazing husband and I run my own successful little business.”
Easy, love. This isn’t a job application you’re writing. It’s a silly complaint about an off-hand snide remark that any normal person would have forgotten before reaching the cathedral’s stained glass depicting Thomas à Becket.
The guard deserves a reprimand. But do let’s keep our hair on: the referendum has nothing to do with the sentiments he expressed. Long before Maastricht one could hear similar feelings communicated at football stadiums every time England faced foreign opposition.
When England were playing against Holland, the fans chanted “If it wasn’t for England, you’d all be Krauts.” Against Turkey: “I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk”. Against France: “You’re French and you know it”. (If you don’t understand this one, you probably don’t follow English football, but I’d rather not translate. It’s offensive enough, trust me.)
None of this is praiseworthy, but do let’s dismount our high horse. A bit of savage humour is far from the worst thing English football fans have been known to perpetrate. And anyone who thinks people can be cured of primal tribalism must be living on a different planet.
Switching from psychology to physics, let’s remind ourselves of Newton’s Third Law that says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Now switching back to psychology, let’s also accept that most people prefer to be surrounded by those who are broadly similar to themselves. This means not only race or ethnicity, but also other factors, such as class.
From my own experience (and I hope my CV protects me from any charge of Little England xenophobia), the English welcome foreigners with more real cordiality, if less shoulder-slapping conviviality, than even Americans, who pride themselves on being descendants of immigrants.
London in particular is the most cosmopolitan capital city in the world, actually a bit too cosmopolitan even for my taste. But there’s a limit to English hospitality, especially when it comes to welcoming hordes of migrants who aren’t just alien to our culture but actively hostile to it.
It’s when our governing spivs set out to dilute Englishness the better to lord it over the English that Newton’s law kicks in. The deliberate action of demographic subversion (to which the likes of Blair and Mandelson own up with pride) causes an equal and opposite reaction of hostility towards foreigners – especially when the subversion is imposed by a vile pan-European contrivance over whose actions the British have no say.
When the proportion of those who speak funny reaches a certain critical mass, people rebel, as they have done everywhere throughout history. Witness the 1282 rebellion known as the Sicilian Vespers, when the locals murdered 6,000 people who either didn’t speak their language at all or did so with a French accent.
The English so far are limiting themselves to dubiously humorous remarks, but there’s only so much they can take. Hence Mrs Fairbass should count her blessings: if we indeed leave the EU and stem the influx of foreigners, she ought to say thanks to the referendum. It might yet succeed in keeping blood off our streets.