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Xenophobia and an eight-year-old

A boy came home from school looking as if he had lost his X-box. The father asked what was wrong and the youngster explained his verbal fight with an English teacher, an American, which threatened to doom the child's entire semester. All because of one word, the kid lamented. "Xenophobia".

The father: What about it?

The boy: He asked the class what it meant and virtually everyone replied that it meant fear of foreigners or strangers. He was satisfied, and then he went on and on about how many Thais suffer from xenophobia, especially the "anti-democracy" people.

The father: How did that have anything to do with you?

The boy: I told him I had never seen any Thai running scared from a farang. I asked him why, if Thais fear farangs, so many protests have taken place near the US Embassy and why farang-fearing Thais love to visit the US Embassy's Facebook page.

The father: Good point. What did he say to you then?

The boy: He said I was the stupidest kid on earth. He said xenophobia implies unfounded mistrust, distrust, paranoia, prejudice and racism.

The father: Aha. How did you reply to that?

The boy: I asked why the use of "phobia" then. I mean, if you have claustrophobia you don't want to be anywhere near a confined space, right? And if you have arachnophobia, a spider will make you run, right? Why can't we call a spade a spade and name this thing a mistrust of foreigners?

The father: Good point again. Maybe fears have many forms. Maybe if you fear snakes, sometimes you run away from them and sometimes you try to kill them.

The boy: I agree that fear can become hatred. But what really pissed the guy off was what I said next.

The father: What was it?

The boy: I asked him if it's possible that those who label others xenophobic in fact have xenophobia themselves. I mean, is it possible that the farangs who scream "xenophobia" at Thais are paranoid themselves and are thus suffering from xenophobia themselves?

The father: Ummm... let me digest that one. You are on to something here, son.

The boy: Let me explain. If I ask a farang to shut the hell up, maybe I just want him to shut the hell up. Then he gets paranoid because he starts imagining all the scary things "shut up" can possibly mean. And he gets paranoid because I'm a Thai, not someone who can ask him to shut up without freaking him out. Know what I mean?

The father: Not a bad argument at all. You're not dumb. That, I'm sure of.

The boy: He's not. He implied my grades would suffer. His is a very important subject this semester, Dad.

The father: In that case, don't you think you should find an opportunity to apologise?

The boy: Wouldn't that be a case of genuine xenophobia? If I fear the guy that much - enough to apologise for something I don't think I'm guilty of - it's a phobia, right?

The father: Let me ask you this: Would you have said everything you've said to him to a Thai teacher?

The boy: Yes, of course I would.

The father: So, no need to apologise then.

The boy: Oh, he also said something about Thais fearing that foreigners were taking advantage of our natural resources or trade naivety. I asked him, "Do you fear that fear? And if so, what do you call your fear?"

The father: This is great stuff. My take would be "xenophobia-phobia". What was his answer?

The boy: He screamed something that I couldn't quite catch, except for "... your future!"

The father: Apparently he was not giving you a blessing.

The boy: I guess not. What did I do wrong, Dad? All I wanted to tell him was that just because some people say something that a stranger or foreigner doesn't like doesn't mean those people are xenophobic.

The father: Well, xenophobia implies misinterpreting a good intention, especially when it's demonstrated by a stranger or foreigner. So it boils down to the intention. If the intention is good, it can be xenophobia. If the intention is bad, it's anything but. Problem is, it's tough nowadays to tell who's sincere and who isn't.

The boy: So, using "xenophobia" is convenient then. It's still annoying me big time, Dad. You used to tell me there's no such thing as trust in politics. Why do we give trustworthiness so much importance in the one place where it's not supposed to exist?

The father: That's a really good question. I do think you should try to fix it with him, though. He's your teacher, to start with.

The boy: That's out of the question, Dad. I guess the last thing I said to him made it unfixable.

The father: Oh no. What was it?

The boy: I asked him if international spying is a form of xenophobia.


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