Xenophobia denotes a phobic attitude toward strangers or of the unknown. It comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning "foreigner," "stranger," and φόβος (phobos), meaning "fear." The term is typically used to describe fear or dislike of foreigners or in general of people different from one's self. For example, racism is sometimes described as a form of xenophobia. Prejudice against women cannot be considered xenophobic in this sense, except in the limited case of all-male clubs or institutions. The term xenophilia is used for the opposite behaviour, attraction to or love for foreign persons. A phobia is an "intense anxiety" which follows exposure to the "object of the phobia, either in real life or via imagination or video..." For xenophobia there are two main objects of the phobia. The first is a population group present within a society, which is not considered part of that society. Often they are recent immigrants, but xenophobia may be directed against a group which has been present for centuries. This form of xenophobia can elicit or facilitate hostile and violent reactions, such as mass expulsion of immigrants, or in the worst case, genocide. The second form of xenophobia is primarily cultural, and the object of the phobia is cultural elements which are considered alien. All cultures are subject to external influences, but cultural xenophobia is often narrowly directed, for instance at foreign loan words in a national language. It rarely leads to aggression against persons, but can result in political campaigns for cultural or linguistic purification. Isolationism, a general aversion of foreign affairs, is not accurately described as xenophobia. Xenophilia often leads to racism which can be defined as: 1. The belief that members of one race are superior to members of other races 2. The belief that members of one ethnic group are superior to members of another ethnic group. 3. The belief that capability or behaviour can be racially defined. 4. Aggression or discriminatory behaviour towards members of a certain race or races. 5. Aggression or discriminatory behaviour based upon differences in ethnicity. 6. Ethnically or culturally discriminatory behaviour exhibited by members of the racial, ethnic, or cultural group dominant within a society. 7. The practice of asserting or assuming racially or ethnically defined cultural dominance. 8. The perpetuation of racial, ethnic, or cultural dominance of some groups over others. 9. Opportunity inequality resulting from preferential treatment towards others of a similar cultural background. 10. The act of using political, judicial, civil, and educational systems to oppress one based on their ethnicity. Part of the debate over the use of racism revolves around the concept of race itself: whether the species homo sapiens contains different races (i.e., whether there is any scientific basis for the concept of race); whether what is generally considered racism is in fact related to race (as opposed to being based on cultural differences); and whether ethnic discrimination between two groups of people within the same race can be considered racism (i.e., whether discrimination or aggression if exhibited by white Christians towards white Jews would constitute racism, usually referred to as Anti-Semitism).

Beyond this there is debate as to whether the word racism can only be applied to conscious belief or behaviour, if it can extend to people who believe themselves free of racism but in practice unknowingly discriminate or denigrate people of a different ethnic group, if it can extend to people who do not act to prevent instances of racial aggression or discrimination, if it can extend to people who knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate a social structure of racial dominance, or if it can extend to people who treat people similar to themselves preferentially, resulting in a discriminatory effect with ethnic correlations. Some people claim that racism exists or is inherent in all people, but in varying amounts and with varying degrees of self-awareness. Other people define racism as behaviour exhibited only by the culturally dominant ethnic group towards other ethnic groups (i.e., racism cannot be exhibited by ethnic minorities, since they are incapable of reinforcing the existing power structure by discriminating against members of another race.) Institutionalized racism is the manifestation of discrimination through institutions of the society.

Common forms of intolerance include racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, religious intolerance, and intolerance of differing political views. However, it is not limited to these forms: one can be intolerant of any ideas or anyone. Intolerance is based in prejudice, and can lead to discrimination. In its everyday form, intolerance is an attitude expressed through angry argumentation, looking down at people because of their characteristics or viewpoints, negatively portraying something due to one's own prejudice, etc. On a more extreme level, it can lead to violence in its most severe form, genocide. Possibly the most infamous example in Western culture is the Holocaust. Colonialism was based, in part, on a lack of tolerance of cultures different than that of the mother country. There is debate as to where a government can use its force to prevent what it defines as hate speech. For example, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution allows such expression of intolerance without criminal action. In some other countries people can be prosecuted for such speech. This is a question of how much intolerance the government should tolerate, and how it decides what constitutes the expression of hate.

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