The term xenophobia is traditionally used to describe fear of literal foreigners from distant countries. I think it can reasonably describe any process by which a person or group of people are perceived as “the other.”
I even conceive of that process in verb form: “othering.” To other is to deny marginalized people’s fundamental humanity, to distance oneself rather than own one’s discomfort and move towards a place of understanding and compassion.
We see this a lot in the news lately with judgment and fear of transgender individuals. Xenophobia is also rampant against people with disabilities, particularly those with mental illness, who are frequently (and inaccurately) perceived as violent dangers to society.
One of my goals in writing Etched On Me was to put a human face to the plight of mentally ill mothers, who face child protective services’ involvement in their lives at a rate of three times the national average. It’s easy to detach from a controversial headline or a cold statistic, but much harder to do so when you are engaged with a sweet, funny, relatable narrator. I frequently hear from readers that Lesley’s story has raised awareness for them of social struggles they might not otherwise realized existed. It’s moments like that when I know my writing is making a difference.
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