The psychological dynamics that make people xenophobic.

Innocenzo Fiore


“Ensaio sobre a Cegueira” is a novel by José Saramago, published in Italy as “Cecità” (Blindness). It tells the story of a sudden epidemic that makes all the inhabitants of a nameless city, except for one woman, go blind. It is an allegorical work that refers to people’s inability, at certain times in their history, to see the other person as being similar to themselves. In fact, the city where it is set is vague, the period is not stated, and the characters have no names. What happens in that place could happen anywhere, what happens at that time could happen at any time, what happens to those people could happen to any of us. 
Saramago’s novel is a pretext to start thinking about the phenomenon of xenophobia that is making itself felt in various parts of the world, particularly in Europe and even more, in Italy. The victims of xenophobic feelings are immigrants from the European Community (Albanian, Roumenian) and non-Community states, as well as the Romany and Sinti ethnic groups. Looking closely at our country and continuing with Saramago’s metaphor, obvious breeding grounds of xenophobic blindness are appearing in various parts of Italy, which if not dealt with, could spread with unpredictable consequences. This is going on in a political climate of intolerance which is expressed in certain government measures. 
Xenophobic behavior can occur at any time and in any place; humanity has had to face it, probably right from its beginning. Man’s history is in fact characterised by periods when xenophobic behaviors are confined to a few individuals or groups, and by times when the xenophobic contagion, which these have kept alive, spreads rapidly until it has infected a great mass of people and finally the whole Polis. The Shoah was the greatest expression of collective blindness in all human history, and along with it, there was the “Porajmos”  of the gypsy people. The almost total lack of memory of this event, its historical minimisation, if not an actual denial, is in part responsible for what is happening today in our country against this ethnic group.
Today’s xenophobic behaviors cannot however be compared to those of that time, because of the different political, social and cultural climate. At any rate, they deserve attention and are not to be underestimated, since the relevant psychological dynamics are in many respects very similar to those of yesterday, and the possibility of an uncontrollable spread must always be taken into account.

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Rivista di Psicologia Clinica. Teoria e metodi dell'intervento

Rivista Telematica a Carattere Scientifico Registrazione presso il Tribunale civile di Roma (n.149/2006 del 17/03/2006)

ISSN 1828-9363