The Spirit of Christmas – When Patriotism Meets Racism

Picture of By Lea Teigelkötter

By Lea Teigelkötter

For many students, Christmas is a time to go home to their families, fly back to their countries and visit their childhood home. Christmas is known as a time of love and peace  for everyone. And while most of us are happy to be lucky enough to spend the holidays with our loved ones, it is also true that many different generations come together to celebrate – and with potentially clashing views. How do you deal with that?

Older generations who survived wars often feel a closer bond to their home countries compared to younger family members who grew up in a globally connected environment. As someone coming from Germany – a nation with a more than difficult history – I can attest that national pride can be complicated. And whilst listening to my relatives’ conversations under the Christmas tree, I found myself wondering – How can you be proud of your origins whilst respecting other cultures? And, do I have to be proud of “my” country in order to acknowledge the people who helped me become the person I am today? Where does patriotism end and where does racism begin?

But how quickly does nativism turn into racism?

Webster dictionary defines patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s country – so far so good. Nativism, a term not too far from patriotism, is “a policy favoring native inhabitants as opposed to immigrants”. And this is where things are starting to sound more problematic. But how quickly does nativism turn into racism, i.e. the conviction that “racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race?

Patriotism or superiority complex?

Evidently, national pride is not a bad thing – on the contrary, your home is part of your identity and deserves to be valued. However, many horrific events throughout the course of human history were either closely related to or caused by patriotism that went a little too far. And by ‘too far’, I am referring to individuals or nations who thought they deserved the biggest piece of the cake because of their own culture. It may have been a while since Germany tried to conquer the world during World War II, or since the US and Russia fought their cold battle of whose country is the most superior – but recent developments seem to suggest that patriotism might be on the rise again. 

To name my two favourite examples of all time, one might think of former president Trump who wanted to make America “great again” at the cost of all other nations, or little Great Britain which felt so special it had to leave one of the most important existing alliances between European countries. Why is it that people automatically assume to possess higher rights because of their own country?

The engine behind ignorance: knowledge gaps

Experiments conducted by Henri Tajfel (1974, 1981) show that if we are members of a group defined by certain characteristics, we tend to prefer fellow members of the group, and are willing to put non-group members at a disadvantage. And one of the most clearly separated groups are countries. I believe that the less we know about another person or another nation, the more room there is for speculation or, in other words, for stereotypes. Clearly, the way we were brought up and the environment we grew up in are strong determinants of how much accurate information we know about other cultures. And, as someone who was lucky enough to grow up in a world which (despite its issues) is much more connected and tolerant than eighty years ago, I must not judge older generations who experience ethnic affinity differently. However, I still believe it is possible to lead open discussions about different nations and to broaden one’s cultural horizons.

So how should we react to racist comments, especially made by those who we love?

Explaining and offering information can help eliminate stereotypes.

Obviously, aggressive remarks are not the solution. In order to solve the problem, one must first understand the other person’s perspective, why they think the way they do. Explaining and offering information can help eliminate stereotypes. If someone makes a racist joke, be direct and tell your friend, family member or colleague, “I’m sorry, but this is not funny to me”.

It is also important to note that the impact of what is said does not automatically match the intention behind it. Someone who has said something offensive is not an inherently bad person, yet what they said might impact or hurt others. It is therefore essential that we  do not avoid confrontations, but rather speak up and explain why some comments might not be tolerable.

Everyone deserves to be proud of their home country. And everyone deserves to be treated with equal respect regardless of their background. This is why we need to be careful to not let our own pride turn into an unreasoned belief of superiority towards others – regardless of our nation’s history, our age or our personal experiences.


Cover by Mikhail Nilov of Pexels

Edited by Emma Chiaratti

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