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Shy Anis by syaza shakh
I subscribe to's word of the day -- to keep my smarts on.
I'm not so great about always using new words in a sentence to remember them, but today's is a no-brainer:

\zen-uh-FIL-ee-uh\, noun
An attraction to foreign peoples, cultures, or customs.

Awesome word. I mean, you hear xenophobia all the time referring to angry, ugly sentiments towards immigrants, Arabs, and whomever else is considered "other" and therefore, dangerous.

But xenophilia is all about love -- love of difference, love of "other." Let me just say that I have had an extreme case of xenophilia all my life. Certainly, this condition has been expressed positively in my love for travel, world history, and even, on occasion, certain old boyfriends. 

Kyoto, Japan Image by Michelle Chandler
I also desperately, desperately wanted to identify with an ethnic culture or group growing up. Being white bread and as American as baseball and Apple pie (my ancestors have been here since colonial times) was not doing it for me - I wanted to feel the inclusion and sense of tradition that I saw friends from other ethnic backgrounds experience. I wanted to (and did) wear cornrows and FUBU, saris and salwaar kameez, and gorgeous beaded Native American jewelry and moccasins -- and from these costumes, take on the flavor of those cultures to augment the lack of culture I felt in my own heritage.

love, great way to wear a kurta
Love this kurta and jeans look, here
Now, I will be the first to admit that my behavior, though stemming from a place of respect and admiration for other groups, was a little insensitive as well. I was so intent on the cultural differences that I found so alluring that I romanticized the experience of the ethnic minorities around me. My choice to play "ethnicity" was available to me because of the privilege of my race, and by accentuating the "otherness" of non-white cultures, I actively contributed to their disenfranchisement. 

Daasanach tribe girl - Omorate Ethiopia by Eric Lafforgue
I'm not saying that we shouldn't participate in and celebrate the culture and traditions of other people. I still love my Native American jewelry and my Indian clothes (the cornrows weren't such a good look.) But my brief experience of being a minority when living in India taught me that being different can be glamorous and fun, but it can also be incredibly isolating and lonely. Even though I felt very little prejudice, being identified solely by my skin and hair color, and the country of my birth, was frustrating. Compare this to the generations of exclusion ethnic minorities have experienced in this country and I can only imagine their feelings.

So that's what I try to do. Be aware of the complexities inherent in ethnicity and diversity and be respectful of other cultures, and the various manifestations of their experiences. And love them, regardless.

That, in a nutshell, is xenophilia, readers. 
Live it.

Are you a xenophile? If you're white, do you struggle with what white "culture" is? If you're from a different ethnic background, how do you feel society views your culture?

1 comment:

  1. interesting.. i am a self professed xenophile. i am not white but was born in white uk and raised in white south of usa! i agree that being from the west puts you at a disadvantage but the advantages out weight because being viewed as a guest makes you close to special as god as you can get in many of these poorer but spiritual cultures, the love, respect and didsplay of good that will pour your way is hard to get when your run of their mill! Also dont feel so bad im brown asian concider myself indian but family is all in pakistan and i have never lived in the east. long and yearn to. Culture is also available to us in our homes and small expat communities but its fake and transported type, nothing like the real thing. Finally living in USA for the past 13 years and realizing the melting pot here for the past 236 years is not along time. imagine the mix in the east where the land is smaller and invasions enumorous. We are for sure closer to each other than we do admit. A great big family. If we all think like this i think we would enjoy each other more. there is nothing more exciting than owning a culture. or 2!


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