Supergirl and Xenophobia

Xenophobia is a problem that has been around for many years. It is the fear of outsiders, of something unknown and unlike yourself. It’s closely related to racism, because fear of difference can lead to treatment of said outsiders in a negative way. This issue has been tackled by many people from different angles.

The CW show “Supergirl” aired an episode (2×03, “Welcome to Earth”) in which Mon-el, an alien from Krypton’s twin planet Daxam, has arrived on Earth. Supergirl is suspicious of his motives, saying that if he is from Daxam then he cannot be good; she thinks he is colluding with her enemies. She tells the DEO (Department of Extra-Normal Operations) that Kryptonians have a saying about Daxamites: “May tex kolor Daxam,” which Supergirl refuses to translate, implying it is highly derogatory. The following exchange takes place between Supergirl and Mon-el; he is in a holding cell and she questions his recent actions.

Supergirl: …Your entire race thinks nothing but themselves.

Mon-El: And you would know all about my race, Kryptonian? Judging by that self-righteous glyph on your chest. Hey, so shouldn’t you already have all the answers?

Supergirl: What’s that supposed to mean?

Mon-El: Well, I know how your people feel about us. High-and-mighty, “enlightened” Krypton. Looking down on us lowly peasants ever since you attacked us with no provocation. […] You’ve already made up your mind about me. So, it seems kind of pointless to keep talking to you.

More of this scene can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Se35j9PKRE

Mon-el demonstrates his awareness of her attitude toward his people. He knows that Supergirl has condemned Mon-el simply because he is not from her planet. She stereotyped his race and jumped to conclusions about his actions. He resents her judgment but thinks he is powerless against it. This is a perfect example of how xenophobia/racism works, and the parallel to modern society is obvious. It’s clear the show intended the episode as commentary on today’s America.

Nowadays there is rampant xenophobia in the United States. Under the Trump administration, racists are proud of their misguided beliefs. All the fear of immigrants and/or terrorists is xenophobia at its extreme. A lot of right-wing Americans are afraid of the newcomers having a negative impact on their own lives, like taking their jobs or attacking them, even when there is little reason to expect such a situation. The modern political climate in America is very xenophobic.

But it’s not just nowadays that people have had this attitude. In Euripides’ “Medea,” Jason and Medea are both exiles from their respective lands, taking refuge in Corinth. The king of Corinth doesn’t trust Medea around his daughter, and although this is because she is the psychopathic ex-wife whom nobody in their right mind would trust, it’s possible it was also impacted by Creon’s subconscious mind telling him to beware this outsider. Also, in some translations, Medea asks Jason, “Whither can I fly, since all Greece hates the barbarian?” She, as an outsider, will not be welcomed anywhere, even if she leaves the place from which she has been banished.

At the time it was written, “Medea” was intended as a social commentary on Athens’ treatment of foreigners, and the Athenian belief of the superiority of native Athenians. Athenian imperial propaganda perpetuated the myth of autochthony, pretending Attica had always been populated by the same people, in much the same way Americans forget that no one has “always lived here” because life didn’t originate on this continent. “Newcomers” are simply newer than you are; at some point, your ancestors were newcomers too. Xenophobia is unfair to the victims of its warped perception because it hinges on the belief that you belong here and they do not. Really, no one “belongs” any more than anyone else.

It’s just a matter of who got there first, really. If Mon-el had landed on Earth before Supergirl, would she have been protective of Earth from him? Probably not. She would be the outsider stepping into an unfamiliar setup. Supergirl’s mistrust and suspicion stemmed from her prior integration into Earth culture. When American citizens are concerned about newcomers, they forget that their family was once in the same position, coming off the boat or plane into a country filled with people who already had their lives set in place. Would they dare say those other people don’t belong here?

Xenophobia is an issue, deeply rooted in flawed perception of yourself and others, that has unfortunately been around for thousands of years.

Chaya, team Venus