Ethnocentrism is the evaluation of another culture according to personal preconceptions that originate from the customs or standards of one’s own culture. That means one person judges many others based on the beliefs and practices that are relative to their own culture.
Ethnocentrism may involve an overall judgment of a culture. It may also be a specific judgment on certain aspects of a culture, such as religion, behavior, or language.
The term was first used by Ludwig Gumplowicz in 1883. Since then, several individuals have furthered those initial observations, including William Sumber, Robert Merton, and Franz Boas.
Here are the pros and cons of ethnocentrism to consider.
List of the Pros of Ethnocentrism
1. It creates high levels of self-esteem.
For someone to extrapolate their own culture onto someone else, there must be a love for that culture in the first place. Ethnocentrism occurs when there are high levels of self-esteem, which can be beneficial in specific circumstances. It creates common ground by emphasizing patriotism, national pride, or the desire to practice one’s preferred religion with others in a similar way. When we find common ground with people, it makes us feel connected – like we belong.
2. Ethnocentrism creates like-minded togetherness.
For most people, they are comfortable around other people who are a lot like themselves. We feel like we can be ourselves when we’re around people that think, or act, like we do. That desire for togetherness is then placed on other people from other cultures or ethnicities with the assumption that the same results will happen. At the end of the day, someone generally feels pretty satisfied with where they are in life when their networks reinforce the benefits of their perspective.
3. It allows a society to remember past traditions.
One of the most unique aspects of ethnocentrism is that it places a heavy emphasis on past traditions and practices. In some ways, it is a perspective which allows us to see what it was like to live in the past. By showing new generations what can be accomplished through developed best practices, there are opportunities to keep a culture alive for centuries – if not longer.
4. Ethnocentrism created the world we have today.
To be honest, life for most of us is pretty good. Sure – we have good days and we have bad days. The fact that we can have these days in the first place is due, in part, to the benefits which come from ethnocentrism. Westward expansion in the United States occurred because there was an ethnocentric belief that God was calling people to advance Christianity from coast-to-coast, by whatever means possible. The original colonization of the Americas, from Europe, occurred because of a belief that any resources found belonged to the discoverer.
List of the Cons of Ethnocentrism
1. Ethnocentrism encourages false conclusions.
Everyone is ethnocentric in some way. What we each believe is “normal” is reflected upon others. It is easier for us to understand generalizations than it is to understand individual perspectives that are foreign to our own. We use these generalizations to draw conclusions about people, often quite rapidly. It can only take a few seconds, when meeting a stranger, to fully judge that person. Unfortunately, without accurate information or perspectives, that means we often leap to a false conclusion about that person – and their culture in general.
2. It creates rifts within societies.
Think about someone who is different than you right now. There’s a good chance that the first thing you thought about was something you dislike about that person. When we embrace ethnocentrism, we’re embracing negativity. We look at what another person or culture offers and attempt to rip it apart. This is done because we want our own experiences and perspectives to be superior when compared to others.
Because of this process, societal conflicts begin between various cultural groups because everyone sees themselves as “right” and everyone else as “wrong.”
3. Ethnocentrism can even divide families.
Since 2016, there has been a societal effect in the United States called the “Trump Divorce.” It began when Lynn Aronberg, a cheerleader with the Miami Dolphins, and Dave Aronberg, an attorney, cited political difference in a divorce filing. On social media, supporters of Lynn encouraged her to seek out companionship from someone else who shared her circumstances and political views.
When we close off our minds to different opinions and perspectives, we’re refusing to believe that anything but our own perspective could be correct. When that happens within a family, the result is usually division, if not destruction.
4. It drives people away from a culture.
During every 4-year election cycle in the United States, supporters of both political parties like to say that they’ll move away from the country if the other candidate wins the election. Few actually carry through with the threat, but the statement is an indication of ethnocentrism at work. Such a statement draws a line in the sand. It says you’re either “with me or against me.” That kind of ultimatum is rarely the starting point for an effective relationship. With that kind of attitude, you’ll find diversity tends to avoid you than embrace you.
5. Ethnocentrism limits perspectives.
Let’s say you get hired into a new job. As your new boss takes you through the expected duties you’ll be completing, you notice that your team is doing the same job three different times. “Wouldn’t it make sense if we structured policies to only complete this task once, instead of three times?” you ask.
Ethnocentrism would cause your new boss to say something like, “We’ve always done things this way and it works. Let’s not change things.”
The reverse might also be true. Maybe it is easier from your perspective to do things once, but the new team has discovered that triple-checking their work actually saves them money in the long run. Ethnocentrism would then place your perspectives as superior to the best practices being used, even though your perspective really isn’t a best practice.
6. It kills people.
How many times have you heard a news story about terrorism in the past year? Does it cause your heart to sink? Have you changed your personal habits because of the actions of those who create terror?
Ethnocentrism ultimately creates death. It does so because it blinds people to the truths that other perspectives provide. It causes people to feel like everyone who is different is inferior. In extreme examples, that leads to actions that cause one person to attack another.
Is all terrorism, or hate crime, based on ethnocentrism? No. Some of it comes as a response to real or perceived oppression. Historically, however, the worst of what humanity can create is based on the idea that one group is superior than all others.
7. Ethnocentrism causes isolation.
Imagine you are attending a world history class at your favorite university. You pull out the textbook and discover that it offers a comprehensive view of the history of the United States. The rest of the world is not included. One of the great travesties in modern education is that many children are taught that their country is the best. That is ethnocentrism.
“The United States is the greatest country in the world.” That is an ethnocentric statement.
When these statements are made, or these perspectives are incorporated into believe systems, then it creates more isolation than inclusion. Sure – like-minded people still come together. In time, however, that group of like-minded people becomes smaller and smaller, until only a handful of people remain.
8. It limits choices.
People who tend to have an ethnocentric point of view tend to incorporate that viewpoint into every aspect of their life. It will even affect their shopping preferences. Ever had someone criticize you for purchasing something that came from China? That type of criticism is a reflection of practiced ethnocentrism.
There are seemingly reasonable perspectives that are offered for such a criticism. Shopping local supports local businesses, for example. Why support a foreign economy instead of your local economy? In a free market economy, the choice to purchase something is personal. Judging someone else because it is different from your own personal preferences or tastes is the very definition of ethnocentrism.
These ethnocentrism pros and cons show us that it can be very dangerous for us to make assumptions about others. Even though our perspectives might be correct for the lives we lead within our own cultures, that truth does not apply globally. If we are going to be strong as a human race, then we must be willing to embrace our diversity. Our uniqueness on the individual level is what inspires innovation. Without it, we ultimately settle for the status quo because we see that as being the best that life will provide us.