To begin with, the very definitions of the two terms are different. Xenophobia is defined, by the Merriam Webster dictionary, as “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign”. Racism, meanwhile, as per the Merriam Webster dictionary, is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race; racial prejudice or discrimination”.
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As per these definitions, it is clear that xenophobia is a general (often unreasonable and irrational) fear or dislike for anything that happens to be foreign or different from ones’ own – this may refer to individuals, societies, and even to strange customs and ideas. Racism, on the other hand, is based on the notion of “races” – i.e. how human beings are divided into races on the basis of characteristic traits, abilities, and qualities like traits of intellect, personality, morality, and other cultural behavioral characteristics. This concept is often expounded to mean that certain races are superior to others – thus, the act of discriminating against a particular group on account of their race is generally known as racism.
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Xenophobia, in this sense, is a more general hatred, directed at anyone or anything foreign, while racism is more focused and targeted. For example, the Muslim custom of sacrificing an animal as part of the religious festival of Eid is viewed by many in the West with suspicion and fear - this is a prime example of xenophobic behaviour. To take another example, the Western custom of Valentine’s Day is regarded with suspicion and even banned in certain Asian countries, where it is felt the foreign custom will pollute local traditions and values – this is also xenophobic. On the other hand, the segregation of blacks from whites, and the slavery of the blacks in 1930s America, on the grounds that white people are superior to black people, was a prime example of racism, as was the massacre carried out by Hitler and the Nazis.
Finally, xenophobia can be fixed to a certain extent, while racism is more deep-rooted. Xenophobia often stems from ignorance, narrow-mindedness, or just because someone simply doesn’t know enough about a foreign culture or concept - this can be fixed with a little education, or cross-cultural understanding. Racism, however, is deliberate, carried out by people who are usually educated, and is even justified by skewed and twisted concepts that are concocted to suit a particular race – e.g. the concept of the “White Man’s Burden”, which was used to justify colonisation and imperialism.
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