Saturday, September 24, 2005
Ethnocentrism, as interpreted by wikipedia.org
Nearly every religion, "race," or nation feels it has aspects which are uniquely valuable. (This tendency is humorously illustrated in the romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding, in which the heroine's father perenially exalts Greek culture: "Give me any word, and I'll show you how it derives from Greek roots." "Oh, yeah, how about kimono?")
Ethnocentrism is common among people belonging to large "empires." Toynbee notes that Ancient Persia regarded itself the center of the world and viewed other nations as increasingly barbaric according to their degree of distance. China's very name is composed of ideographs meaning "center" and "country" respectively, and traditional Chinese world maps show China in the center.
England defined the world's meridians with itself on the center line, and to this day, longitude is measured in degrees east or west of it Greenwich. "The sun never sets on the British Empire."
The United States so conceived of its role of "Manifest Destiny" that it regarded the western portions of North America as essentially "uninhabited" and celebrates Columbus Day as the anniversary of the America's "discovery."
The Japanese word for foreigner ("gaijin") also means "outsiders," and Japanese do not normally use the term to describe themselves when visiting other countries. For a Japanese tourist in New York, gaijin are not Japanese tourists, but New Yorkers.
Ethnocentrism as selfishness
In the latter quarter of the 20th century, various forms of ethnocentrism began to be decried, largely by other groups professing either to be innocent of ethnocentrism themselves or eminently qualified to embrace it. African-Americans complained of the Eurocentrism of white America while exalting Afrocentrism. Edward Said wrote a book called Orientalism, arguing that the West could not understand Arab and Islamic cultures (and should not try to).
Many wars have been fought with ethnocentricism as a major theme. World War II entailed ethnocentrism on two fronts: Nazi Germany's "master race" concept exalted the so-called "Aryan people," while Japan proposed its Greater East-Asia Co-prosperity Sphere with Japan as the center of this sphere in 1940. The Nazis succeeded in taking over much of Europe and embarked on the largest ethnic cleansing campaign in history (see the Holocaust, ironically demonizing Jews for "Jewish ethnocentrism" and using that as part of their justification).
The reasons for maintaining an ethnicity or culture are often personal and relate to the cohesion of familiar personal and social elements; that is, attachment or custom. We are all born into a human culture, and it is culture that shapes our self-awareness and understanding of other individuals. It also reflects, depending on the cultural teaching, customs or patterns of behaviour in relating to other cultures. This behaviour can range from universal acceptance or feelings of inferiority compared with other cultures, to racism, which many consider an aspect of xenophobia. Some examples of ethnocentric behaviors are represented by such social phenomena as economic isolationism, counter-cultures, anti-establishmentism, and widespread social patterns of interpersonal abusive behaviors as ostracization, prejudice, and discrimination.