Fear and suspicion of immigrants inspired discrimination and persecution of immigrant groups in the United States long before the term “xenophobia” was coined during the early twentieth century. Xenophobia is distinguished from bigotry and prejudice in that the latter denote disrespect and contempt based on one’s belief in another group’s alleged cultural or even biological inferiority, whereas xenophobia is prompted by a perceived threat to the culture and mores of the group to which one feels one’s greatest allegiance.
Xenophobic behavior in the United States has been made manifest in many ways throughout the nation’s history and often involved the nativist notion of “America for Americans,” an ironic slogan given that those who used the phrase were themselves descendants of immigrants. Many xenophobic activities over the years have been carried out by secret organizations such as the
This turn-of-the-twentieth century advertisement for rat poison carried a double message: It used the negative stereotype of a Chinese "coolie" eating rats to make its point about the effectiveness of the product, while pointing a finger at the Chinese figure above the words, "They must go!"
Xenophobic acts were also conducted by aboveboard, highly public organizations such as the
During the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, American xenophobia began to manifest in subtler ways, as civil rights laws now militated against the sorts of violent outrages that had taken place in the past. From the 1970’s onward, fear of foreigners and foreign influence often took the form of calls for strict quotas and other restrictions on immigration and a concern for the preservation of the English language as a particularly American institution. Across the nation, cities, counties, and entire states considered implementing laws declaring English the official language and restricting the appearance of other languages on public signs, on ballots, and in legal documents. Some even sought to ban the public use of languages other than English.
Anbinder, Tyler. Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850’s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Caldwell, Wilber W. American Narcissism: The Myth of National Superiority. New York: Algora, 2006. Curran, Thomas J. Xenophobia and Immigration, 1820-1930. Boston: Twayne, 1975. Schildkraut, Deborah. Press “One” for English: Language Policy, Public Opinion, and American Identity. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005.
American Protective Association
Asiatic Exclusion League
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
English-only and official English movements
Philadelphia anti-Irish riots
Snake River Massacre