Xenophobia: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

In present day we hear a lot about people being xenophobic, but what exactly does that mean? This lesson will discuss xenophobia, its symptoms, and some examples.

Xenophobia is Not Racism

Many people use the word 'xenophobia' when referring to other people that they believe are racist, using the words as synonymous with each other. However, they are not synonyms even if some of the behaviors are the same.

Racism means that a specific race dislikes and looks down upon other races because they feel superior. For example, racism could be people in Australia feeling superior to ones in New Zealand.

Xenophobia actually means to fear or dislike other races, cultures, ways of life, and people not similar to one's own. Xenophobia essentially translates to ''fear of strangers''. Xenophobia includes straight people being afraid and disapproving of gay people.

It is important to keep in mind that xenophobia has this name for a reason. Note the '-phobia', like claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces) or arachnophobia (fear of arachnids like spiders). This phobia can make people act out in response to uncomfortable situations that illicit strong emotional responses. This specific phobia is one of the few that can result in violence and abuse towards others.

Symptoms of Xenophobia

Its important to know behaviors and symptoms of xenophobia:

  • Being afraid to be near people that are not similar.
  • Being angry and volatile near others that are different, even if it is just the culture and not the person.
  • Jumping to conclusions and stereotypes about others seen as different
  • Inability to trust or create relationships with others that are different.
  • Gaining pleasure from the maltreatment of others that are different.
  • Avoidance of areas where dissimilar people congregate in large groups.

Keep in mind that these behaviors are not premeditated, but instead are in reaction to irrational fears that the person has about others. Although the behaviors can be against a certain race, it is not based on race specifically, but more an internal fear of others that they don't understand.

The reason why people are xenophobic is unknown, much like other phobias. It could be their upbringing, a bad experience, or just the environment they are in.


Although the actual cause is unknown there are ways to overcome this phobia. Experiencing other cultures and ideas can help educate on a subject and make it less unknown (scary) and foster understanding. Traveling and experiencing new things, even if those things are not related to the xenophobic tendencies, can still open minds and create a better appreciation for the unknown.

Seeking out counseling is a good way to treat severe cases. A mental health practitioner can help to figure out what triggers the fear, and tackle the underlying issues over a long period of time to reduce symptoms.

Examples of Xenophobia

It's likely people come in contact with xenophobia more than they think, and attribute it to racism. However, here are a few examples to show xenophobic treatment so it is easier to assess.

Example 1

Let's start with small town student, Anne, that has never left the county where she lives. She goes to a large high school but it is mostly filled with other small town students. A new student, Molly, starts school and has been all over the world. Anne finds she is avoiding Molly, distrusts everything she says and gets angry when her other friends hang out with her. This behavior escalates until Anne attacks Molly in the hallway because she is angry and scared of who Molly is.

Obviously this is not about race, this is purely the fear of one student and her inability to understand the new student and her culture, which means the student may suffer from xenophobia.

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