Xenophobia Revisited

Way back in 2010, I wrote an article called Xenophobia and Elitism in the Community. The article talked mostly about xenophobia and elitism in the community through a technical lens – about the tendencies that we all sometimes get toward mocking some technology or technique, and treating people who practice using it as less intelligent than ourselves, or less worthy than ourselves. It’s not a bad read. You might want to check it out.

A recent post on Reddit, titled I’ve gone off the deep end, brought that same feeling of revulsion back to me in full force. It’s rare to see a display of open racism so blatant – regardless of what the original poster calls it. Here’s the text, and you should be forewarned – this will probably upset you if you’re easily upset. It pissed me off, for what that’s worth:

Did any of you see the video on the front page of reddit a few days ago of a saudi guy beating the shit out of an Indian with a belt? It was pretty horrible.

However it made me laugh, and for that I’m ashamed. Working in IT I’ve developed a deep hatred for Indians, and I’m not even a bad or racist person. I’m just so sick of them as a group thinking they know so much more than everyone else when they often know nothing, and that damn accent, and the weird sense of superiority.

My initial thought was “I wish I could do that to the useless indian IT guys at my company” when I saw that saudi kid swinging the belt and beating him senseless.
I never used to be like that.

“I’m not even a bad or racist person”

I don’t even really know how to properly respond to that, when it’s immediately followed by “I’m just so sick of them as a group thinking they know so much more than everyone else when they often know nothing, and that damn accent, and the weird sense of superiority”.

I’m not going to say, “this should make you mad”, but if it doesn’t, you might want to think about why it doesn’t, and maybe reconsider some things.

What is just as depressing to me is the sheer number of comments of supporters in that thread. People who take the side of the person who wrote that he wishes he could take a belt and beat people in his company senseless.

Look, people can be pretty horrible. People can be monsters, and people can be awful to their fellow people, but I can’t sit by and not comment on this blatant …racist…xenophobic….asshole behavior. These aren’t the words of someone who is frustrated. These are the words of someone who really needs to step back and understand that he is everything he claims to not be. He’s racist and I don’t know whether he’s a bad person, but he definitely has some anger issues he should deal with.

Racism is real, and it’s more than just “That person is Indian so I’m biased”, it’s deeply cultural, and it might be deeply biological, but regardless of where the xenophobic, racist distrust originates, we need to see it and we need to understand that it is a bias, and to compensate for it.

The temple of Apollo at Delphi, in ancient Greece, had a stone carved with the words, “γνῶθι σεαυτόν”. We’re more familiar with the Latin translation, “temet nosce”. It means “know thyself”, or literally, “get to know yourself”, and that’s the advice I would give to everyone, because it’s something that I struggle with, too, but I work toward because it’s important. It might be the most important thing that any of us can do.

We each see the world through a series of lenses handed to us by our parents, our teachers, our religious leaders, and others who we encounter through life. What we end up with is a very customized version of the world that is unique to each individual, and your experience on this Earth are very different than mine, so we see different things. If we’re ever to truly understand each other, and work together effectively, I need to understand that my vision is impacted by my experiences, and I need to account for that, and you need to do the same. I can’t do that unless I frankly consider how I look at things, and why, and neither can you.

If you talk with another admin or a support person, and you hear the words, “Do the needful”, or “please advise”, and you feel something negative, ask yourself why that is. Is a negative reaction helping your predicament? Are you better off for automatically having that kind of response? If not, work toward correcting for the response, however you can make that happen. Maybe you need to identify where in your life you got that reaction and isolate what makes you respond that way, so that you can separate that from your current experience. Or maybe you should just use the phrase occasionally yourself. Taken literally, there’s nothing wrong with the phrase, assuming both sides of the conversation know what needs to be done.

In the end, I would just encourage you to ‘temet nosce’, and to work toward a better version of you in the future. I’m trying, and I know that it’s an uphill battle, but I think it’s worth fighting for. And hopefully you do, too.

  • I’d love to see additional links or suggestions for people that have anger issues, deal with this problem, or need some sort of coping mechanism. I feel like I struggle with these things when I’m alone. The difference is unlike the person who posted that, I don’t want to beat anyone & I don’t get outwardly angry – I’m fully aware of my judgements & why they may be wrong from time to time. Thanks for the reminder for all of us to work to be better people, Matt.

  • I think the biggest thing people need to learn is that we tend to have some racism and prejudices we have picked up unconsciously through the years. It is an uncomfortable thing to acknowledge, even just to yourself, because you were brought up learning that we are all equal and prejudism is evil. But keep those eyes open …

    And if you catch on that your ideas about a person are colored by your experiences with their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or whatever, ask yourself where that color comes from and make an effort to deal straight with folks.

    But, mainly, just a big thank you for pointing out that … a great may of us have issues we need to keep an eye out for … so that we may overcome and live together in a better world. IT is one of those careers that is going to expose you to a greater variety of folks, and you need to learn to enjoy the diversity while making an effort to see that everyone gets the chance to be judged on their merits, nobody gets hurt due to prejudices, and that you yourself don’t hurt your career by being a villian.