South Africa has always been a country of diversity, and through most of its recorded history it has been dominated by the tensions that the fear of something different elicits. Whether racism or xenophobia (which one may argue are synonymous) the tension usually manifests in a violent negative sense, either as propaganda or hate crimes – but what is it that causes these tensions to develop?
Why is the human world caught in this culture of fear and aggression towards that which is different, unknown and not understood? And if we look further, even into the Vampi(y)re culture, why do we mirror this reaction? The answer lies in our societies and how we form them, and how they shape our biases and prejudices.
Psychologists have looked into the creation of social divides for decades; a desire to understand the underpinnings of what cements groups of individuals together and why they tend to act aggressively towards those deemed to be ‘outside’ the socially defined groups.
One theory centers around an evolutionary need to keep ‘us and them’ separate. This stems from archaeological findings that ancient tribes and societies tended to be genetically homogenous, meaning that the DNA of the group was closely linked. This then sees the division along lines of familial ties – keeping the blood pure, so to speak.
To this end, families stayed together and intermarried until they eventually became big enough to form a society on their own. One can see how this has carried forward into recent history by looking at the Royal families, who more or less are actually one large convoluted and inter-related family. However, most psychologists do not feel this is the true reason why we seek to divide and categorize humanity.
A second theory says that we categorize ourselves based on simple commonalities. You drink blood to function, I drink blood to function; therefore we are similar and can relate. Most of this stems from the conceptualization of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ – ‘we’ are ‘right’ and ‘they’ are ‘wrong’. ‘We’ are normal; ‘they’ are unknown and thus are a threat to the stability of our normalcy.
Faced with any threat, any individual will instinctively either fight, or run away. This changes when we are in a group; there is a heightened sense of needing to defend what is ours, generally our ‘in-group’ others. We jump to the defense of ‘ours’ and we will escalate against ‘them’.
Living in South Africa provides a rich backdrop to see the reality of how this unfolds. Our nation is one of immigrants, almost all the people who call this place home are actually not indigenous in origin. In fact the migrant societies pushed the indigenous people almost to the brink of extinction. This shows how the bias and prejudices created by societal differences can elicit a dangerously violent response.
Interesting findings show that once in the ‘in-group we form generalizations that we are more connected than what may actually be. Using the earlier analogy, we both are Sanguine and I like rock music, therefore you like rock music too. Anyone who does not like rock music cannot possibly be Sanguine. This creates ever smaller social classifications.
As the classifications each see themselves as become the “ultimate” or “better”, tension builds between these, and sparks begin to fly. This is the root of the hate crime, which the APA defines as “any felony or violent crime based on prejudice against a particular group. They are prejudice’s most extreme expression. Compared to other crimes, hate crimes have a broader impact on victims and communities because they target core aspects of identity.”
Looking at some very recent history in South Africa, one can see how the wave of xenophobia (which is the fear of a stranger, or ‘the other’, or one who is different to the group) erupted into a violent attack on anyone thought to be an immigrant (the irony here being that most South Africans at their root are immigrants).
The implications that this may have on the Vampi(y)re Community may not be immediately apparent. For vampi(y)res we have a multiple identity. There is our racial identity (and yes our country is still run predominantly on racial stereotyping), our religious identity, our cultural identity (which is linked to our racial identity but yet something different), our sexual identity, our gender identity, and finally our vampi(y)ric identity which we keep hidden out of fear.
The amount of fear, aggression and hate that arise from the first four identities as they compete with others mean that our additional fourth aspect to our identity sets us at a potential disadvantage.
Looking at the reaction to sexual identities going against the socially constructed norm, shows us what we as vampi(y)res could expect if we ever came out to the public. The persecution, the prejudice, and the violent attacks as people try to ‘fix’ (or suppress, or eradicate) what they do not understand – that is what we can expect.
It is true that Vampi(y)re communities in other countries have managed to come out of the shadows of obscurity into the public light, but South African Vamps face another huge challenge. Our very existence goes against the middle class morality preached from the Christian pulpit. Religion has set out what is appropriate and ‘good’, anything outside that very narrow box is consigned to being tossed into the ‘evil’ pile. South Africa as a whole is predominated by conservative ideologies, from Christianity through to Islam.
Vampires in this context, whether we need to consume blood or need to feed off sexual energy, emotions or other latent human energies, tends to fall into the ‘evil’ box. Having being pre-categorized before our very emergence, we sit in a dangerous place. Add a spark and this country erupts in violence. Add vampi(y)res into an already turbulent nation and you can already smell the pyres burning.
Who we are is not ‘evil’ intrinsically, and we face the challenge of having to show that vampi(y)res are not at their foundation ‘evil’.
It is important to know the challenges that face us so that we can, armed with foresight and information seek to change the way that this country perceives that which they do not know. This is a huge challenge and one that I feel will take time, effort and willing participation on our part, as Vampi(y)res to overcome. That being said, it is something that requires unity and understanding even within the VC. We cannot stand together if we are constantly tearing each other down, and this I feel is a lesson that can be carried out into the larger International Vampi(y)re Community.
Our combined identity is more important than the nitty-gritty categorizations that divide us. Acceptance and curiosity rather than bias and prejudice are needed if the Vampi(y)re Community ever seeks to find a permanent place in the globalized world we live in today.
Winters, J. 2002. Psychology Today. Why we fear the unknown. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200305/why-we-fear-the-unknown?page=1
APA. 2012. Hate Crimes. http://www.apa.org/topics/hate-crimes/index.aspx