We were taught as children to beware of strangers, but there are some people who have taken that advice to the extreme. They are, as adults, afraid of anyone or any group who is foreign to them. This is called “xenophobia.”
Most of us hopefully think this is a pretty silly fear or something that is reprehensible or even sinful, but the truth is there is an element of xenophobia in each of us. As the Broadway hit “Avenue Q” puts it, “Everyone’s a little bit racist.”
Oh, our xenophobia doesn’t keep us locked in our homes or away from Mexican restaurants, but it might keep others locked out of our lives in other, more costly ways. Although there has been a lot of talk about white, male, and American privilege, and the privileges of the educated and employed classes, few of us live with much awareness of the myriad of advantages those privileges have afforded us or the ways they have made us unconsciously afraid of those who are not as privileged.
Bishop Ben Oliphint tells the story of a bank robber named José Rodriguez. He lived in Mexico, but he preferred to rob American banks. José would slip across the border into Texas, rob a few banks, and then flee back into Mexico. One day, a Texas Ranger caught up with him in a saloon. The ranger pulled his gun and threatened to shoot José if he did not tell him where he had hidden all the money he had stolen.
The problem was José didn’t speak English, and the ranger did not speak Spanish. The ranger kept screaming louder and louder, “I’m gonna blow your head off if you don’t tell me where the money is.”
Finally, a young man came over and offered to translate. “Okay,” said the ranger, “tell him I want to know where all of that money is hidden or I am going to blow off his head.”
The young fellow translated the ranger’s words, and José said in Spanish, “Tell him not to shoot. The money is in a dry well at the end of town. If he removes the bricks with moss growing on them, he will find a million dollars in the well.”
When José was finished, the Ranger asked the young man, “What did he say?”
“Oh,” said the translator, “he said that he dares you to shoot him.”
Rev. Michael Piazza