With this paper, I wish to address ethnocentrism. After I define ethnocentrism, I will identify and discuss its importance regarding relationships between differing groups. Also, pertaining to immigrants, I will identify and discuss the consequences not only of ethnocentrism but also prejudice and racism. Lastly, I will apply in detail the main points of conflict theory to ethnocentrism.
Ethnocentrism, what is it? In the textbook “Race and Ethnicity in the United States” by Richard T. Schaefer; Ethnocentrism is defined as “the tendency to believe that one’s culture and way of life are superior to all others” (Schaefer, 2016). In the textbook “Sociology, A Down-to-Earth Approach” by James M. Henslin; ethnocentrism is defined as “the use of one’s own culture as a yardstick for judging the ways of other individuals or societies, generally leading to a negative evaluation of their values, norms, and behaviors” (Henslin, 2017). I prefer the latter definition because it does not have the foregone conclusion that things result in an idea of superiority. It leaves room for a different conclusion. In fact, shortly after this definition, the book goes on to state “Ethnocentrism has both positive and negative consequences” (Henslin, 2017). I think regardless of one’s feelings of superiority, we are each deeply socialized from a very young age into our individual cultures, believing our way is right and better. It proves a serious challenge to attempt to see things from another’s point of view, with total disregard of the lens of our own culture. As I hope to illustrate, some believe it is impossible not to be ethnocentric to some degree. Therefore, in defining ethnocentrism, I see no use for including a conclusion requiring thoughts of supremacy. With this idea in mind, another definition of ethnocentrism was offered by Ken Barger of the University of Indianapolis in a paper on this subject last July. “ethnocentrism can be defined as making false assumptions about others’ ways based on our own limited experience” (Barger, 2018). Try as we might, everyone may be hostage to some extent, of their own socialization, and not always have delusions of superiority.
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Having defined ethnocentrism, I now wish to identify and discusses why its understanding is important in the relationships between dominant and minority groups. An understanding of ethnocentrism is more than important in such a relationship; it is absolutely paramount. An understanding of ethnocentrism is important even in a typical traditional American marriage. No matter if both parties within the marriage believe they are (or even actually are) from the same culture, and thus think they are not prone to ethnocentrism playing a role in marital affairs, one is a man, and one is a woman. This is a majority/minority dynamic. Even if (and probably because) both parties subscribe to identical beliefs (traditional) pertaining to roles within marriage, they each approach this arrangement confined by views that are limited by each’s own socialization, and therefore each’s own ethnocentrism. Even though they may cooperate in harmony, each (because of ethnocentrism) is unable to truly see things from the perspective of the other because they grew up socialized into opposite genders. I draw this picture to illustrate that if an understanding of ethnocentrism is important here, how much more important is it between other majority/minority groups? Much larger complicated groups, where there are differing opinions even within the group. Opinions including prejudice, stereotyping, and sometimes oppression and genocide toward outgroup members. Understanding ethnocentrism is important because it is the key to operating less influenced by it. If we do not, or because of ethnocentrism cannot attempt to see things from another’s perspective, groups divided will grow even more divided and polarized, leading to escalating conflict.
This brings me to immigrants, and the consequences of ethnocentrism, prejudice, and racism. As stated above, one consequence is a widening of the divide; leading to ever-escalating conflict. If society wishes to avoid this, groups within, both majority, and minority must try to see things from the others’ point of view. However, an honest effort to do so simply is not enough. Without at the very least an understanding that one’s own point of view is skewed by their own ethnocentrism; said ethnocentrism has no hope of being overcome, it will be all the more impossible to see things from another’s vantage point. This consequence of unaddressed ethnocentrism; an inability to see things differently even if one wishes to, is important because it amplifies prejudice and racism when it comes to immigrants. Worse than those lacking an ability to empathize, are those who lack a will to ever even try. Even more dangerous are ideologies regarding immigrants that pretend ethnocentrism may somehow to be good for some groups. Giangiacomo Bravo published research questioning Hammond and Axelrod’s 2006 conclusions that in certain circumstances ethnocentrism may have positive effects. By altering the models used to better represent social behavior, it shows that if ethnocentric actions allow harm to people categorized as different, xenophobia grows. Furthermore, ethnocentrism and xenophobia easily coexist, and when they do, feed into each other at the expense of out-groups (Bravo, 2014). It shows that ethnocentric policy making not only limits potential cooperation but endangers peaceful coexistence (Bravo, 2014). Furthermore, one might conclude from it; that shrinking space (real or perceived) exacerbates actions taken from ethnocentric perspectives. Actions born of racism and hatred containing the potential to violently erupt. Prejudice and racism both serve only in accentuating immigrants’ differences and ignoring a larger number of similarities; thus, leaving individuals on all sides with less ambition of attempting to be less ethnocentric. Here I should draw lines between the three; prejudice, racism, and ethnocentrism. Where earlier I gave three different definitions of ethnocentrism, here I will also define prejudice and racism. Prejudice is a preconceived bias of a person or group based on their perceived ethnicity, rather than on actual experience. It is not an action. Racism is discrimination, an action, based on someone’s perceived race or ethnicity (Henslin, 2017). Where each, or all of, the three may be held (knowingly or otherwise) by an individual, or group, there are distinct differences. Complicating many maters, especially those of immigrants, these terms are recklessly used interchangeably, often leading to further complicating issues.
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Here, I would like to look at ethnocentrism through the lens of conflict theory. At the heart of conflict theory is competition for resources. Originally, Karl Marx envisioned this as a struggle between two classes of society. The first of which is the bourgeoisie, those with money and power, who control the means of production and therefore resources. In sociological terms, they are referred to as the majority, despite numbering far fewer than the counter-group. The other group, as Marx saw things, is the proletariat, the vast many working poor. All the others who, without any power to do otherwise, must toil away only to further enrich the aforementioned bourgeoisie. Within sociology, the proletariat is considered the minority.
As discussed earlier, both the 2006 Hammond and Axelrod study, and later the 2014 Bravo study, demonstrate that perceived availability of resources is a factor in how a group and/or individual acts toward out-group members, and inwardly, either alone or amongst each other. It is not hard to see that when dealing with immigration, access to resources can be broadly defined, rather than simply relegated to the notion of ‘means of production’. Resources can be viewed as simply as access to things like jobs, education, and healthcare. Also, resources may be viewed as freedom from being murdered by drug trafficking cartels. There are as many resources to define, as there are people willing to endure the hardship of immigration. Particularly to immigrate to within or alongside a culture often very different than their own. An immigration from a predominately “X”-race, “Y”-speaking, “Z”-culture nation, to another predominately “XYZ” nation, is quite different than running risks within or alongside an “ABC” nation. However, throughout time mankind has had groups willing to migrate, sometimes in seek of access to resources, sometimes to avoid becoming a resource through subjugation, but always there has been conflict. Let us take a deeper look into Marx, and where his conflict theory has at times led, and take away from it a warning about ethnocentrism. Marx believed nothing short of a revolution could bring this conflict to an end. When this revolution came to pass, born of unchecked ethnocentric-blinded class prejudice, it was a bloody mess. It stayed a bloody mess for decades and led to never before seen hoarding of resources, resulting in intentional, systematic starvation and genocide. Some would argue that later, the nation spawned of Marx’s ideals at one point nearly brought about the thermonuclear destruction of all life on earth. Every group among all of society will be wise to consider the ethnocentrism that lies within them each. Clashing in brutal warfare with the union of soviet socialists to which Marx was a pillar, was another extremely xenophobic ethnocentric power. A regime that was intoxicated with its own prejudice, racism, and ‘us versus them’ bigotry; also resulted in an ethnic genocide in hopes of securing resources for itself. It was only after the most violent bloody conflict the earth has ever known, that Nazi Germany’s racist one-thousand-year plan for global domination was brought to a halt. Delusions of superiority have a historic habit of ending badly. Bearing all of this in mind, I think it is best to approach ethnocentrism from a conflict theorist’s standpoint, if for no other reason than to avoid further conflict. If in perpetuity one group sees an out-group as adversarial because it is different, rather than seeing it as the same-as, because of the outnumbering similarities (including a need of resources), there will never be peace, only conflict. It is for this reason that every group understand and admit its ethnocentrism, so there is hope of not only overcoming prejudice and racism toward immigrants but also the worst of ethnocentrism’s potentials; war and genocide. The consequences of groups not addressing and understanding their ethnocentrism when it comes to immigrants, go well beyond prejudice and racism. Escape from ethnocentric ideals and behavior maybe difficult to overcome, perhaps impossible in its entirety, but it is crucial that we not stop in our attempt.
- Barger, K. (2018, July 25). ETHNOCENTRISM, What is it? Why are people ethnocentric? What is the problem? What can we do about it? Retrieved September 13, 2018, from IUPUI.EDU: http://www.iupui.edu/~anthkb/ethnocen.htm
- Bravo, G. (2014). The Dangers of Ethnocentrism. Linnaeus University, Department of Social Studies. European Council for Modelling and Simulation. Retrieved September 2018, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4b18/d2911f2bad49c479e8e3054c08baaec7ebb6.pdf
- Henslin, J. M. (2017). Sociology: a down to earth approach – Thirteenth Edition. Pearson Education. Retrieved 5 1, 2018
- Schaefer, R. T. (2016). Race and ethnicity in the United States (Eighth Edition ed.). Pearson Education. Retrieved 9 12, 2018
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