A big theme of the UK May 2014 MEP elections is immigration - there is a great deal of political rhetoric about it that I would describe as racist or xenophobic, but I don't think either term is entirely suitable given how they are used now in UK media.

In addition these terms (racist especially) are generally considered to be pejorative, so as soon as you use them people get defensive and miss the point. The debate becomes about the ethnic mix of their social circle or supporters, both of which are irrelevant.

This rhetoric is characterised by the location of people's country of origin rather than their race.

An example statement would be:

"I'm not racist, but only British people should be able to apply for British jobs."


"26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?"

I don't think these statements are racist exactly, as a person could be any race and be British, or not be British and still be of an Anglo-Saxon white origin.

However they do represent a kind of discrimination: they state that if the most skilled person for a job is not from the UK they should be rejected in favour of a less skilled local. They state that someone who isn't British should not get the same rights and privileges as someone who is.

The rhetoric that goes with these statements tends to also make value statements about the immigrants in question, often describing their intentions as parasitic or that these immigrants would be seeking to change British culture or legislation.

Is there a term for that kind of discrimination or prejudice?

Please note that I'm not trying to encourage any kind of political debate on here - I'm just looking for a way to describe this kind of political argument as discriminatory without referring to race.


This question has been flagged incorrectly as a duplicate. I know that the legal definition of racism includes discrimination based on nationality. However, in the UK political sphere at least, the common interpretation of of racism is limited to racial groups. The political parties that use this rhetoric do not consider it to be racist, and the pejorative nature of the term means that using it just ends any chance of building an argument that they might actually listen to.

I understand that racist is technically correct, I'm asking for constructive alternatives.

The answers to that question do not help with this issue.

Update 2

Xenophobic is a good answer, but not really what I'm looking for as it implies the motivation for the behaviour, rather than describing the behaviour itself.

For instance a typical response might be:

"I've got nothing against foreigners, I just think Britain is full - there's no more room."

This moves the argument to a different point (whether they hate or fear foreigners) and I don't want to do that. I want to describe the discrimination against foreigners without making my own judgements about their motivation for doing so.

Update 3

This question has been flagged as a duplicate of another question, but these are different questions with different answers. The supposed duplicate asks: If a person holds prejudice against people because of their nationality, would that be considered racist? - I'm specifically not asking about prejudice; I'm asking about discrimination.

I can state that a political party's policies or proposals are inherently discriminatory if the action treats one group differently from another. I'm not making a judgement about them if I do so, I'm just stating a deduction.

I can't state for certain that this discrimination is due to their prejudice - they may or may not have prejudiced opinions, but accusing them of prejudice causes offence and any constructive discussion ends there.

So, is there a way to describe behaviour that discriminates without making guesses as to the motivation or any prejudice behind it?

  • 4
    So they're not complaining about someone's skin color, or language, or religion; but just the fact that there's a national border between them and you? That is, a white, Protestant Dutchman who speaks perfect English would get the same resistance as an French-Algerian? As described by others, I think xenophobia would be the best commonly-understood term.
    – Phil Perry
    May 15, 2014 at 14:46
  • Does this include discrimination against say Australian citizens (or is it subjects) of British parentage?
    – Mitch
    May 15, 2014 at 17:52
  • 1
    Why has this been flagged a dupe? That question's asking about racism - I'm specifically asking to avoid describing it as rascim. None of the answers to that question are any use here.
    – Keith
    May 15, 2014 at 20:00
  • 1
    Xenophobia (as mentioned in the other question) is a perfect description for your examples. You say you don't want it, but the only reason is that it is used pejoratively. Unless you edit to something like "What is a non-pejorative term for xenophobic?",I think this should stay closed. May 16, 2014 at 16:18
  • @TimLymington done. I thought that was clear from the first two paragraphs but I've adjusted the title now too.
    – Keith
    May 27, 2014 at 16:43

8 Answers 8


Nativist seems to fit: "Nativism is the political position of demanding a favored status for certain established inhabitants of a nation as compared to claims of newcomers or immigrants. Nativism typically means opposition to immigration and support of efforts to lower the political or legal status of specific ethnic or cultural groups because the groups are considered hostile or alien to the natural culture, and assumptions that they cannot be assimilated" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nativism_(politics)

  • Just the right flavor! :-) p.washingtontimes.com/news/2007/apr/19/20070419-103310-6297r/…
    – Elian
    May 15, 2014 at 18:10
  • 2
    OP's professed interest in a non-pejorative term notwithstanding, I favor this answer as exactly right. "Nativist" is pejorative only to the extent one opposes it, and the diehard opponent will find pejorative any term that accurately denotes the phenomenon. Nativism is discrimination based primarily upon place of birth: "The attitude, practice, or policy of protecting the interests of native-born or existing inhabitants against those of immigrants" (OED 1.a). As such it is distinct from nationalism or ultranationalism, @Elian, which deal with national culture. May 27, 2014 at 16:55
  • 1
    I think the phrase "British people" as opposed to "British citizens" argues for Nativism being the correct answer. And I completely agree that any negative connotation applies to the meaning of the word, not the word itself.
    – Henry74
    Jul 17, 2014 at 0:40

It is xenophobia - because it's about them being foreign. Whether or not immigrants consider themselves foreign, the people who say these things consider them to be. I can't find a definition of xenophobia that doesn't call it the fear/dislike of strangers/foreigners (there might be one but I can't find it).

  • I don't think this behavoiur is characterised by fear or dislike exactly, and either implies motivations for their behaviour, rather than the behaviour itself. Whether they like or dislike foreigners is irrelevant - it's their solution to the perceived problem that is discriminatory.
    – Keith
    May 27, 2014 at 16:47
  • @Keith, I agree with you that if the only motivation is to do with who is entitled to British resources, this is definitely nativist but not necessarily xenophobic if it does not extend to the presence of non-British in other aspects of life.
    – Henry74
    Jul 17, 2014 at 0:46

In France, that kind of discrimination or prejudice is euphemistically referred to as national preference or national priority.


That's just a case of barely disguised ultranationalism and overt populism.

"The masses are feminine and stupid. Only emotion and hatred can keep them under control." Adolf Hitler - Mein Kampf


In legal terms, it falls under national origin discrimination.

From USA Department of Justice:

Laws prohibiting national origin discrimination make it illegal to discriminate because of a person's birthplace, ancestry, culture or language.

Also, Canadian Human Rights Commission mentions birthplace as national or ethnic origin. If there is a discrimination based on birthplace, it falls under national or ethnic origin discrimination.

  • Birthplace (national or ethnic origin)

An example:

A bank has lending rules that make it unreasonably difficult for new immigrants to get loans. This is an example of discrimination based on two grounds — race and national or ethnic origin.

UK Ministry of Justice mentions national origin discrimination as a type of race discrimination:

  • race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • The bank might well argue that it had nothing to do with race or origin, simply that a person who was a relatively new arrival, was more likely than one born here suddenly to disappear out of the country leaving loans outstanding.
    – WS2
    May 15, 2014 at 15:59
  • 4
    @WS2: That's a discussion point. I'm just quoting from legal sources.
    – ermanen
    May 15, 2014 at 16:29

Ethnocentrism (taken from an anthropology website) may suit your needs.

here, ethnic means: being a member of a particular ethnic group, especially belonging to a national group by heritage or culture but residing outside its national boundaries: e.g. ethnic Hungarians living in northern Serbia. (NB ethnicity is not primarily about race.)

"Ethnocentrism" is a commonly used word in circles where ethnicity, inter-ethnic relations, and similar social issues are of concern. The usual definition of the term is "thinking one's own group's ways are superior to others" or "judging other groups as inferior to one's own". "Ethnic" refers to cultural heritage, and "centrism" refers to the central starting point... so "ethnocentrism" basically refers to judging other groups from our own cultural point of view. But even this does not address the underlying issue of why people do this. Most people, thinking of the shallow definition, believe that they are not ethnocentric, but are rather "open minded" and "tolerant." However, as explained below, everyone is ethnocentric, and there is no way not to be ethnocentric... it cannot be avoided, nor can it be willed away by a positive or well-meaning attitude.

  • 3
    'Ethnocentrism' is a function of 'ethnicity'. But is the OP not at pains to point out that he/she is not talking here about race, but country of nationality/residence?
    – WS2
    May 15, 2014 at 15:55
  • @WS2 - how do you define ethnocentricity as race? Can you support this idea? May 15, 2014 at 17:06
  • @medica I Agree with WS2. thefreedictionary.com/ethnocentricity 2. Overriding concern with race. However, I am not certain it falls outside of the OP's scope May 15, 2014 at 17:15
  • @DavidWilkins - have you ever taken an anthropology course? Ethnic is about more than race; you can find it defined as that if that's what you're looking for, but that's not correct. Ethnicity is about shared cultural values. Are ethnic Hungarians a race? May 15, 2014 at 17:19
  • @medica I simply posit that ethnicity has more to do with race or lineage than it does geographic origin. Are Americans ethnic anything? Only if they claim ethnicity as a birthright, in which case it is synonymous to race. But, this is becoming a discussion, so I will just say that this may or may not fit the OP's question. May 15, 2014 at 17:39

According to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination:

The term "racial discrimination" shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

  • Ok, so by that definition this behaviour is racist. However it's clear that the people who hold these views don't see themselves as racist, so that isn't a definition they're using or that they'd accept.
    – Keith
    May 15, 2014 at 13:41
  • It could be viewed as an unfortunate result of the education level many of the people who espouse such views. You could try to narrow down the definition to 'ethnic discrimination' or 'xenophobia/xenophobic,' if you felt it too inflammatory to use 'racist'.
    – Sam
    May 15, 2014 at 13:52

You are referring to a lot of issues in you question, anyway, if I understand your point, I think you are looking for an expression such as : Ethnic phobia, or anti-national/cultural behaviour.


A more general term would be bigotry.

  • 1
    Quite possibly, but it has the same pejorative interpretation as rascist.
    – Keith
    May 15, 2014 at 20:02
  • 2
    There is no way to say "irrationally opposed to strangers" -- or to anything -- that isn't either pejorative or a mental illness. Much as some who hold those views might wish otherwise.
    – keshlam
    May 15, 2014 at 20:14
  • 2
    I don't think they're irrational. Nepotism is one of our earliest survival strategies. I think the problem is that there's a line between wanting the best for you and yours and actively excluding those outside your group that they can't see. I think when these groups are called racist or bigots they get defensive and more vehement. Any opportunity to convince or educate them is immediately lost.
    – Keith
    May 16, 2014 at 15:47
  • How about 'ignorance'?
    – Jelila
    Jan 14, 2018 at 7:31

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