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Ethnocentrism - Essay Example

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Before 1971, however, when the term gained popular use, it went by some other less grating names. Ethnic means “cultural heritage” while centrism refers to the…
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Ethnocentrism
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Ethnocentrism: Stumbling Block to World Peace Ethnocentrism has since the dawn of history posed the single biggest threat to world unity, peace and progress. Before 1971, however, when the term gained popular use, it went by some other less grating names. Ethnic means “cultural heritage” while centrism refers to the “central starting point.” In that sense, ethnocentrism may be defined as a people’s excessive amount of cultural pride, a mindset that clouds their understanding of other cultures and thus leads to a tendency to look down on other groups as inferior. An ethnocentric, anthropologists agree, likes to make premature judgments about other cultures and consequently brings false assumptions into his dealings with other cultural groups. In international relations, as a result, innumerable conflicts have broken out in the name of ethnocentrism. Constructive resolution of such conflicts between social groups have proven intractable in most cases because of one group’s lack of understanding of the other’s cultural uniqueness.
One of the earlier names of ethnocentrism is colonialism, in which one culture sought to “civilize” and “develop” another. As was often the case, the social group placed under the gun of colonialism had its own concept of “civilization” and “development” which was quite different. Conflicts inevitably occurred. “When people are denied the legitimacy of their own life goal,” notes anthropologist Ken Barger, “they turn to radical means outside accepted practice.” Thus, we witnessed the bloody revolutions in colonized nations against colonizers that eventually led to global de-colonization starting in the 1950s, to coincide with the growth and acceptance of the United Nations.
Colonialism is actually one of the three extreme forms of ethnocentrism, the other two being racism and ethnic cleansing. The latter gave rise to the most notorious ethnocentric of all time, Hitler, who sought to annihilate the Jews in favor of the “pure’ Aryan race and in the process triggered World War I. The belief that any culture represents the pinnacle of human achievement, which certainly possessed Hitler, is cultural arrogance of the worst form, a gross misreading of history and anthropology.

Evidence of the evils wrought by ethnocentrism is all over the globe in modern times. On top of this is the mutual ethnocentric attitude between the Islamic world and the capitalist societies represented by the United States which now more than ever threatens to divide the planet. The Islamic societies see capitalism as a flawed, decadent system, while the latter looks at the former as warmongers. For this reason, we witness the Al Qaeda terrorist campaign directed mostly at the United States and its perceived satellites. In the same manner, the US goes about its own ethnocentric ways by intervening in the affairs of Islamic countries and imposing what the Americans perceive to be the best.

The ugly face of ethnocentrism is also seen in the editorial cartoon ran sometime ago in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten which showed the Prophet Muhammad in a bomb-shaped Muslim turban which, when reprinted in some European papers, triggered Muslim riots in many places all over the world.
We see more of it in the decades-old conflict in Mindanao in southern Philippines where the Muslim-dominated populace wants nothing less than secession to establish a government separate from the mostly Christian population of the capital, Manila. The Manila government, on the other hand, has remained unflinching in its position that the region is too weak and impoverished for self-government. Up to now the Organization of Islamic Countries has its hands full trying to resolve the problem which has assumed geopolitical proportions. In pluralistic societies, ethnocentricity can be destructive to patriotism and good citizenship, leading to exaggerated demands for cultural and political autonomy.

We also see ethnocentrism in the diplomatic brouhaha occasioned by such little incidents as the caning in Singapore of foreign nationals caught violating anti-littering ordinances, the punishment of cutting off the fingers of petty thieves in Saudi Arabia. To avoid the conflicts resulting from such incidents, people need to catch themselves and control their bias, endeavoring to develop better understanding of others. “We must know one another and try to live with that knowledge,” H. Culbertson suggests.
That this can be done is shown by people who have moved to other societies and learned to become functional in their new settings. In the US, for example, boatloads of Vietnamese refugees arrive on the West Coast without any prior exposure to American culture or any knowledge of the English language, but seven years later or less, they begin to speak the language fluently, run prosperous business and have their children scoring near the top in American schools.
Reference List:
Barger, K. Ethnocentrism. 2004. Department of Anthropology IUPUI Indianapolis, Indiana 46202. Available from: Http://www.iupui.edu/~anthkb/ethnocen.htm [accessed 7 March 2006]
Culbertson, H. Why is ethnocentrism bad? Copyright 2000, 2001. Southern Nazarene University, 6729 NW 39th Bethany, OK 73008. Available from: Http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/ethno.htm [accessed 7 March 2006]
Hammond, R. The Evolution of Ethnocentrism based on Tags and Localism. The Brooking Institution. 9 December 2004. Available from: Http://www.brooking.edu/es/dynamics/seminars/css_2004209.htm [accessed 7 March 2006]
Ray, J. Ethnocentrism – Attitudes and Behavior. The Australian Quarterly Volume 43, No. 2, pp.89-97. June 1971. Available from: Http://jonjayray.tripod.com/ethatt.html [accessed 7 March 2006]
Union of International Associations. Cultural Arrogance. World Problems – Issues Online. 1907-2006. Available from: Http://www.diversitas.org/db/x.php?dbcode=pr&subject=2140&go=e&id=11651780 [accessed 7 March 2006]
Windschuttle, K. The Ethnocentrism of Clifford Geertz. The New Criterion Vol. 21, No.2. October 2002. Available from: Http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/21/oct02/geertz.htm [accessed 7 March 2006] Read More
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