What is the opposite of xenophobia? I don’t know if it has a name, but the recognition of the fact that we are all the same, not different, is, well, Truth. The opposite of xenophobia? Truth?
A wave of attacks in South Africa where locals meted violence against immigrants led many to do that weird thing where we ask a rhetorical question as if it doesn’t have an answer: The question in question, if you’ll excuse me for at least trying to make a pun in what is going to be a very serious article, was “What would make someone do such a thing?”
It seems like such brutality, such cruelty, such evil is from way over our horizon, such is so them, never us. But, the truth is, if we are all the same, then it’s all us. What would make someone do such a thing? resides in all of us.
Every community works along the same underlying laws; like the laws of physics, these laws of society govern us all.
The experts call it “tribal psychology”, using the word tribal as jargon for the tendency among humans to create groups within which to belong and identify (what we call tribes in Uganda, such as Busoga, Ankole, Lugbara are what they could actually call “nations” in their Europe. Busoga Nation rep your set!)
The way lions’ survival trait is fangs and claws, chameleons’ trait is camouflage, humans’s trait is not intelligence– it is society. It is getting together to cooperate. That is why a single person cannot survive the wilderness, but put a group of them together and the wilderness will not survive them. They will bury it under one of their cities in no time.
That instinct demands intense loyalty to the group because it’s not only your identity, but your awareness of being a valid entity is derived from the group.
In modern times, the concept of tribe is more fluid, and we get to choose and even have multiple simultaneous tribles. I myself am Educated Elite, and Feminist, and Sheebaholic, and Kampalan, and Urbanised Muganda, Generation X, Movement Die Hard and Celebrity.
After getting the into the tribe, the next step is less benign. Inclusion doesn’t work without exclusion. Can’t be us without a them. A thing is not itself without its opposite. So once I identify myself as one thing, I need to identify everything that is not part of my group as another.
We do this all the time. We see members of opposing groups as less human than us. Us tajiris will (rightly) mourn when another middle-class Kampalan is kidnapped, but are quite capable of blanking out Karimojong kids who were abducted and trafficked to the city as they mill around our Harriers.
I’m not judging you on this. It is just coded into our psyches.
Sometimes we turn the other into a threat. Then the instinct really kicks in, because its purpose is to protect, defend and fight. By destroying the other.
And now, another term from these academics: misrecognition. This means when your tribe identifies the wrong threat. Like instead of rallying against rapists, you rally against cisgender males. Instead of condemning embezzlers, you condemn the NRM. Instead of condemning the weather that knocks down the poles, you condemn UMEME. That sort of thing.
And instead of strategising against the system of capitalist endeavour that created the new market situation in South Africa wherein your tribe remains at the bottom of the economic pyramid, you misrecognise the dichotomy of haves vis have-nots as Indigenous South Africans vis Immigrant Africans.
This tribal drive is so deeply hardwired, it will override sense, reason, emotion and even morality. In fact, we will twist those other facilities to the service of our tribal instinct. Override logic? If you burn MTN masts in Nigeria you are just going to mess up Nigerian communications, not affect the street vendor who looted your compatriot’s shop in Johannesburg. Override emotion– you will mete gruesome acts upon a person you used to wished a good morning every day. Override morality– you will not even think what you are doing is wrong. You will think it is right, honourable and patriotic.
I say “you” not “they”. I mean “us”. Us as human beings. This is who and what we are. This is the kind of creature that is the human being. The kind who says, “Why are South Africans burning us?” when it should be saying, “Why are we burning ourselves?”
Now, are you going to ask me for solutions? I don’t have solutions. This isn’t the solution column. It is supposed to be the satire column. And I have not even made any satire.
All I can offer is this Philip Larkin quote. “We should be kind to one another, while there is still time.”