Thursday, April 28, 2016

Xenophobia: What Will It Take to Shake the Shackles of Xenophobia? #AtoZChallenge Letter X

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.

A memory from my childhood haunts me. 

My stepmother and I were on a public bus in Joplin, Missouri. The bus had some benches that butted up against its side, and that's where we sat. Toward the back of the bus I saw a young African American boy. 

I stared. 

At the time--mid 1960s--I had not seen many black people, and the youth sat closer to me than I'd been to a black person. I wanted to look at him. I knew staring was wrong, was rude. I didn't want to be rude, so I tried to steal glimpses of the boy, but my mother saw and scolded me. 

Curiosity drove my desire to look, to see this boy who was close to my age. I wanted to know him, to speak to him. Not out of fear but out of a desire to make a new friend. 

During my childhood I had no idea that I'd grow up wanting to know as many people from other places and races as I could meet. I wanted to hear about their lives, and through getting to know them, I desired to visit their countries. 

Consequently, the culture of xenophobia permeating our world makes no sense to me. I simply have no capacity to understand it. 

The ugly head of xenophobia emerged full-throttle with the announcement that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the twenty dollar bill. 
Image via Google search and labeled for reuse.
Harriet Tubman, the conductor of the Underground Railroad, lived 12 years as a slave. Yet her mind could not be imprisoned: 

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world...I freed thousands of slaves,  and could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves.

Those who traffic in xenophobia, who hate based on skin color and nationality, live imprisoned in their own minds. Yet they don't know they live in cognitive slavery. I see them staring across the aisle of the bus, but their stare is that of fear. 

In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can't seem to get there no-how. I can't seem to get over that line.

In the title for this post, I ask: "What will it take to shake off the shackles of xenophobia? It takes us having a dream. It takes us recognizing and rejecting what binds and limits us. It take us holding out our arms toward each other, moving across the aisle, and shaking off the shackles of xenophobia. 

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt 
Bur still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you? 
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders failing down like teardrops, 
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You ay cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.


  1. Awesome post, Glenda! Here's to a world without prejudice & fear.

  2. I want to know how you find time to write all of these well, thought out, beautiful posts? I barely have time to think of a topic, let alone develop it the way you do.

    Now onto today's post. If I didn't have to go write a post for Y, I'd tell you about growing up with no blacks around, so I never developed a sense that they were different in any negative way. But it's too complex an issue to do it justice now.

    1. Thank you for these kind words. I'm not sure I have an answer, but I can say I didn't plan out any of my posts; that I did jot words in my phone as inspiration hit me. That inspiration comes from discussions w/ students, particularly my AP Lit and Comp students and students in the university class I teach, which includes many international students. I read the Better Living Through Beowulf blog that provides a model for the reader response writing I do about literature. I'm a bit of a news junkie, which helps, and teaching speech means I'm constantly thinking about topics. I've spent many years trying to look at the world from an angle, trying to see things a little differently. I don't have a big readership, which is obvious. The blogging really is an act of selfishness on my part. I do write the posts at night, after work, and schedule them for posting in the wee morning hours.

      Again, thank you for the compliment. It means much to me.

    2. I guess that writing and developing written themes is part of your job so you are better trained than many of us in writing. So it may be your job, but it is obvious that you do it well.

      In reading your posts about teaching, you are bringing up many thoughts I had about my sons and their fit into English classes in both high school and college. They wrote very well, but not in a style that most English teachers liked--very flowery and emotional. But their style is serving them well in the real world. Both are often complimented on how well they communicate in writing.

      Not to say that any of this reflects on you. In fact, what you talk about seems very well reasoned and tries, most of all, to get kids to think things through, and explain clearly what they are thinking. Both very important skills that today's lifestyle does not encourage.

    3. I want kids to have "voice" in their writing, to have a personal style rather than a formulaic one. I'm opposed to teaching the five-paragraph essay as a go-to formula. I've taught students who have either voice or "support," for lack of a better word. The trick is to get the best of both worlds. Since I come from the world of academic and competitive speech and debate, I think a bit differently about these things than do many English teachers. I wish you could see some of the writing I get from AP students who have both the style and substance. It is difficult to learn to foster these things in student writing, and many don't stay in teaching long enough to accomplish it.