In my continuing quest to muddy the evolutionary waters of English, I offer the word “xenorepulsive.”

I was discussing with my wife today the issue that “racist” has become an increasingly broad, and hence useless, word. Liberals tend to use it to mean any sort of hostility or negativity based on people of a different skin tone, even if the skin tone is secondary to the real issue.

Specifically, we were discussing accusations that the Tea Party has a racist element. Part of this accusation is due to the overrepresentation of whites in the group, but I also think a significant part is the “English First” emphasis coupled with a preoccupation with illegal (Mexican) immigrants, as well as a moral certitude equating Muslims with terrorism.

I’m not convinced, however, that it’s all about “white” vs “non-white.” There have been times in the past in this country, after all, that the same sort of us-v-them divisiveness has been aimed at other white Europeans, such as the Irish and the Poles. For many, if not most, of the people who have such preoccupations, the issue may well be the “otherness” of Mexicans and Muslims, without regard to their skin tone.

The term “xenophobic” is sometimes used in place of “racist,” and I think it’s closer to the mark. But the word “xenophobic” shares the same low-level hum of a distraction that “homophobic” does: It implies fear, and in so doing allows critics of the term to deny such fear. Fear, after all, is a subjective emotion. If I call someone xenophobic, he can deny it by claiming he doesn’t fear other people, he just doesn’t want them around him (as Ryan Murdough is doing in response to accusations of racism).

The relevant issue is, certain people don’t want to be around people who are different from them, and actively want to remove the “other” from their environment.

I entertained myself briefly by considering calling this mindset “homophilia.” That is, after all, what it is. I decided, though, that the people who are nervous about gays in their environment would obtusely misinterpret the word.

Instead, I settled on “xenorepulsive”: Wanting to get rid of the Other, whoever that may be. “English First” mentalities are generally xenorepulsive; excessive nattering and hand-wringing about illegal immigration is generally xenorepulsive; NIMBY concerns about mosques are xenorepulsive.

To the last point, as a sidebar, I find myself having more empathy for Sarah Palin’s position on the Ground Zero mosque than I thought I would be able to muster. She’s taken to complaining about Imam Rauf’s specific interest and involvement in the case, and her civil discussion of same lead to apparent accusations of “hate speech.” I disagree with Palin, and think that if she’s entitled to her Free Speech, so was Rauf when he suggested that US foreign policy contributed to breeding anti-American terrorism, but I think it’s an abuse of the notion of “hate speech” to characterize her words in that way. Suggesting that because specific individuals have expressed specific opinions, they have abrogated certain privileges (like building a mosque in a particular place) is not xenorepulsive, racist, or hate speech.

However, it is xenorepulsive to suggest that no Muslims “deserve” a mosque near Ground Zero because some Muslims did a terrible thing. And that’s an important distinction.

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