What is Ethnocentrism?
Ethnocentrism (the opposite of xenocentrism) is a belief that one’s own culture including all its elements is superior to the other culture(s).
This belief stems from socialization with exposure to other cultures. One finds that one’s own culture is the normal and correct way of living while the other culture appears alien and incorrect.
Some examples of ethnocentrism are; in western culture, it is normal for girls to wear shorts and socialize with men. In Pakistani culture, this is considered inappropriate and morally bad for girls. Hence, for Pakistani people, their own culture appears to be civilized, good, and correct as compared to the western culture.
Similarly, the Chinese eat all sorts of insects. They consider this meal normal, good, and healthy. While other countries like Pakistan despise this as food and consider their own meal superior to that of the Chinese.
Usually, ethnocentrism does not produce harmful effects. It is just a sense of cultural superiority that every culture and its members have their own. However, in some cases, ethnocentrism often leads to conflicts and wars. As ethnocentrism creates a we-feeling among the people who belong to the same culture, they tend to see other people from a different culture as ‘they’. Therefore, the gap between ‘us’ and ‘they’ is sometimes disagreement, disharmony, or clashes.
Two major examples of ethnocentrism from the past that have actually led to the conflict are:
- Colonization of the Indian Subcontinent
- American Manifest Destiny and Expansion
Ethnocentrism and Colonization
One major example of ethnocentrism in play is the colonization of the Indian Subcontinent by England. English considered Indian people inferior. They despised their culture, their language, their lifestyle, their customs, and traditions; thus imposing their own values and culture on them. It was entirely ethnocentric in nature. Meanwhile, under English influence and culture, the suffocation that Indians felt, actually led to revolts and revolutions. One can see a constant struggle for domination between two different cultures during colonization.
In fact, there were multiple cultures clashing with each other at that time. English, Hindus, and Muslims were struggling for their dominance. All the struggles of the time can be seen, analyzed, and understood through the lens of ethnocentrism.
American Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny, a phrase coined in 1845, was the American belief that the United States is destined to expand its dominance across the entire North American Continent. This belief led to American westward expansion. Interestingly, at the heart of this belief was the innate belief that Americans are culturally and racially superior to all other cultures and races. Hence, with expansion, Americans were seeking their cultural dominance and emergence by merging all the other alien cultures in it.
Even today, American continuous meddling in the world’s affairs is due to its belief in inherent cultural and racial superiority. It is the belief that America’s political and social system is far superior to all the other prevailing systems in the world. Thus, based on an ethnocentric approach, the USA wants to maintain dominance by controlling or leading the world.
Hence, ethnocentrism often leads to clashes between cultures. However, with Cultural Relativism in practice, such clashes can be avoided.
Cultural relativism is the idea that culture must not be compared with the standards of another culture. Rather, it should be judged on its own terms and in its own context.
In a nutshell, every culture is good and unique; a standard for its individuals. Culture is neither perfect nor imperfect, it is just normal. Culture is neither inferior nor superior; it is just a way of life, a standard of living for some particular people. However, comparing cultures is absolutely abnormal and widespread practice in today’s world.