Trumping Xenophobia


The recent election of Donald Trump appears to have caused an increase in the number of racist and xenophobic attacks in the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization, has reported at least 200 instances of physical and verbal harassment, abuse and intimidation against immigrants, people of color, Muslims and women in the wake of Mr Trump’s election. In one high-profile case, a teacher in Washington state reported students chanting “build a wall” in the cafeteria. It is particularly troubling that many of these cases have been reported in schools, forcing some school districts to offer counseling services to students who are upset and fearful of how Mr Trump’s election could mean they and their families will be attacked and deported. Such harassment and a number of actual physical attacks have forced the President-elect himself to restrain his supporters. In his first post-election interview, Mr Trump told 60 Minutes host Leslie Stahl that he was surprised to hear about the attacks and urged his supporters to “stop it.”    Yet while we watch on in horror at what is happening in America, we cannot be so complacent about the possibility of xenophobia and hatred in Zambia. Our own recent general election was marred by tribalism and instances of violence, and even now there is increased tensions and antagonism between certain tribal groupings. Not only that, but Zambia also experienced deadly xenophobic attacks against our fellow Africans in April this year, as parts of Lusaka exploded in violence that was only quelled by the presence of Army patrols on the streets. Ask any immigrant from East Africa and they will tell you of the everyday discrimination they face here in Zambia. Even the children of Ethiopians, Rwandese, Somalis and others, even their young children are harassed, bullied, and even beaten by our Zambian children. How can this happen if they don’t hear adults spreading xenophobia? We like to pat ourselves on the back that Zambia is a peaceful and Christian nation, but we can never forget that biases and intolerances exist in the hearts and minds of every human being. It is virtually impossible to exist in this world without having some form of prejudice. The question is whether or not we feed that prejudice, and what we do about hatred.    It is not well known that in the Book of Genesis, the true sin committed by the people of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality and rejection of the strangers and needy among them. According to the prophet Ezekiel, they were guilty of “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease” and “did not aid the poor and needy” but instead were “haughty” (Ezekiel 16:49-50). In Letter to the Hebrews, there is a similar warning to Christians about the sins of xenophobia: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2)   If inhospitality and prejudice is encouraged in society, as it now seems to be in the US, then cases of harassment will evolve into real bloodshed. And if we fail to combat hatred, xenophobia, and tribalism, we will similarly face a dark future in Zambia, for we will be no better than the worst supporters of Trumpland.