Ethnocentrism is the practice of judging other cultures in the context of one’s own culture. By using the standards of a certain culture to assess other cultures, ethnocentric people often make hasty and offensive generalizations about people whose cultural backgrounds differ from theirs. Racial stereotypes and the usage of scapegoats are two negative effects of ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism A common mistake that occurs in the study of other cultures is the tendency to critically judge the culture being studied using the standards of one’s own culture.
In doing so, the researcher imposes the assumptions and perspectives of his or her own culture on everything that he or she encounters about the culture that he or she is studying. The researcher eventually starts to dismiss facts that may appear different or strange to him or her as “bad,” “dumb,” “pagan,” “primitive,” etc. The end result is that the researcher unknowingly practices ethnocentrism (NCSU-CHASS, n. d. ). “Us” against “Them” Merriam-Webster Online (2008) defined ethnocentrism as a “(belief that is) characterized or based on the attitude that one’s own group is superior” (Merriam-Webster Online, 2008).
Ethnocentrism occurs when people make generalizations about other cultures and customs that are based on their own cultural norms. More often than not, ethnocentric individuals unconsciously use their own culture as a universal yardstick that can accurately judge cultures that are different from theirs. As a result, they come up with erroneous, hurtful and disrespectful assumptions about other people (Culbertson, 2008). Positive Consequences Ethnocentrism satisfies the human psyche’s need for identity and belonging.
By claiming that his or her culture is “superior” over other cultures, a person gains a sense of importance over other people. Ethnocentrism also fosters intarethnic loyalty, which, in turn, leads to the survival of a society. In her article Ethnocentrism and Xenophobia: A Cross-Cultural Study (2001), Elizabeth Cashdan argued that being social animals, humans do not have the capacity to survive on their own. They had to form groups or communities wherein members shared the complex responsibilities needed for survival (Cashdan, 2001).
But they also have to compete with other groups or communities, especially for resources. In order to win the competition, a community’s sense of identity must be strong enough to motivate its members to abandon personal interests and work together towards the society’s advancement. As a result, the community survives and even improves (Cashdan, 2001). Negative Consequences Ethnocentrism is the root cause of various misconceptions about people of certain cultures. Ethnocentric individuals often create racist stereotypes about them simply because they regard them as “inferior” or “uncivilized.
” Below are some examples of racist stereotypes: The Mammy. The mammy is the oldest and the most popular racial stereotype regarding African-American women. She is portrayed as dark-skinned, middle aged, overweight, very religious cheerful and extremely loyal and faithful to the white family she was working for. There is no historical evidence that supports the existence of actual mammies. Further research revealed that this stereotype was created to justify the institution of slavery – the mammy was proof that black women were happy and contented as slaves.
In addition, her desexualized nature was intended to conceal sexual relations between white men and black female slaves in pre-Civil War America (Pilgrim, 2000). The Tom. The Tom is the male counterpart of the mammy. He is frequently presented as a hardworking, smiling and dependable black server, usually working as a fieldworker, cook, butler, porter or waiter. Just like the mammy, the Tom’s life revolves around his white masters and their families. Furthermore, the Tom is another racial stereotype that was intended to debunk arguments about the evils of slavery.
Nowadays, “Uncle Tom” has evolved into an expression that is used to criticize a black person who is unreasonably subservient to white people. Lotus Blossom. The Lotus Blossom is one of the most well-known stereotypes attached to Asian women. The term “Lotus Blossom” refers to a prudish, quiet and submissive Asian woman. But Hollywood took this stereotype to a higher level by featuring Asian women who are prudish, quiet and submissive, but at the same time, eager to please white men. Consequently, movies such as “Street Fighter” and “The Joy Luck Club” often pair white actors with Asian actresses (Dugong, n. d. ).
Dragon Lady. Akin to the Lotus Blossom, the Dragon Lady is also physically stunning. However, the latter uses her sexuality to get what she wants. Aside from having the ability to seduce men, the Dragon Lady also has superior physical strength and martial arts skills. It is believed that she “has the power to hypnotize her male rivals, gain trust by seducing them, and when they least expect it, she rids of them through sabotage or backstabbing” (Dugong, n. d. ). As a result, this stereotype projected the misconception that Asian women are avaricious and not trustworthy (Dugong, n. d. ).
Scapegoats The usage of scapegoats is another detrimental effect of ethnocentrism. Some people and or organizations unjustly blame other people or groups for the occurrence of certain problems. The targets, in turn, receive rejection and even outright persecution from parties that the perpetrators have managed to influence. The Holocaust is a classic example of using other people as scapegoats. Adolf Hitler got himself into power by constantly blaming the Jews for Germany’s economic, political and social instability after World War I.
Conclusion There is a saying that prejudice is the idle man’s substitute for thinking. This byword is very much applicable in ethnocentrism. Instead of taking the time to really know other cultures, some people would rather judge them negatively simply because they are different from their culture. True, attacking other cultures unfairly may be cathartic. But doing so also exposes ethnocentric individuals as insecure people who put other people down to make themselves look and feel good.