It is common for us to have the feeling that our own culture is somehow better than the people around us. You might step back and say, “I wouldn’t ever think I’m better than someone else.” But our society has taught us to think that we are without us even knowing it. Of course, there are extremists who think they are far superior than others, while most people aren’t that way. This way of thinking is called ethnocentrism, and we’re going to take a look at why think this and how it plays a role in our society.
Ethnocentrism in Society
What is ethnocentrism? It is defined as the ill feeling among groups of different races, ethnicities, or cultures, or the tendency to believe that one’s culture and way of life are superior to all others (Schaefer, Richard 2016). It is believed that ethnocentrism is so widespread that evolutionary theorists have argued that it is natural to humans and has evolutionary tracings (Bizumic & Duckitt, 2012). The term ethnocentrism was first introduced by Charles Darwin in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He argued that competition with other groups makes people more cooperative with members of their group, which further influences group prosperity (Bizumic & Duckitt, 2012).
We as Americans will see a woman wearing a hijab and may regard it as strange and backward, yet we are baffled when other countries and societies think U. S. women dressed in short skirts are inappropriate (Schaefer, Richard 2016). The minority group is often underrepresented when it comes to movies or video games. When they are given the opportunity to interact in games, white players are more likely to recall them as being violent or aggressive (Schaefer, Richard 2016). This relates to how the dominant thinks of the minority group, and how they’re kind of trained in a way to think of them. If you look at our society today, the dominant group (white people) think negatively on the minority group. But it can also be the other way around.
Ethnocentrism is what leads to prejudice, discrimination and racism. Many white Americans think negatively of immigrants. You’ll hear “they’re stealing our jobs!” or “they don’t contribute to society!”. A lot of people like to join in on this bandwagon and therefore creating an even more negative image towards immigrants. Ethnocentrism causes us to think that our way is the only way, setting us back from what we could learn from other cultures and ways of life.
A result of ethnocentrism is prejudice. We are highly dependent on our own groups. Because of this, we tend to believe that people who are foreign to us pose as a sort of threat; whether it be taking our resources, cheat us in exchanges or violate our norms and values (Bushwick, Sophie 2011). When we are exposed to that sort of threat, we can feel the need to act in ways of anger, disgust, or in extreme situations, violence. Throughout history, immigrant groups that were once stigmatized very often end up accepted into society, because people come to understand that they aren’t actually posing the threats they were once thought to pose (Bushwick, Sophie 2011).
Another result of ethnocentrism is racism. In the last few years, racist views towards immigrants have risen by the sayings of Donald Trump. Media, academic, and law enforcement surveys suggest a rise in racist rhetoric against immigrants in this country and around the world (Romero, Simon 2018). The Trump administration’s immigration policies represent racist and xenophobic practices, such as anti-Mexicanism and Islamophobia. Like Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, these immigration policies and orders promote an isolationist and white nativist philosophy, which takes us back to the more oppressive periods of U.S. history (Huerta, Alvaro 2017).
When we apply the functionalist theory to ethnocentrism, we can see how our society thinks the way it does. The functionalist theory is described as racial and ethnic inequality having a specific function in society, and that racial and ethnic people have very little skills therefore they get the “unpleasant” jobs (Hossan, Nick 2013). Immigrants usually get the jobs that the American’s don’t want, such as construction, maid service and many other occupations. However, you will hear American’s complain about how the immigrants are coming here to steal our jobs and take away our way of life. We think our way of life is better than the immigrant’s way of life, but when they come here and do what it is expected, we still have to find something negative about them.
American’s tend to use immigrants as a scapegoat, which is the theory of rather than accepting guilt for some failure, a person transfers the responsibility for failure to a vulnerable group, or minority group (Schaefer, Richard 2016). We have seen this recently in the 2016 campaign with Donald Trump who stated, ‘the Mexican government has taken the United States to the cleaners’ by ‘exporting crime and poverty’, which is alleged to have cost hundreds of billions in tax dollars, to have hurt Americans workers and to have precipitated a wave of murder and mayhem (The Economist, 2015). Unfortunately, many people believed Trump when he had no evidence of his allegations being true.
We can also see this through the authoritarian personality theory, which is either an attitude or a mind-state that can be characterized through a belief of submission or total obedience to a specific authority figure (HealthResearchFunding, 2018). This is taught at an early age. Some parents feel the need to harshly punish their children to prove that they have dominance. The harsh treatment creates aggression and resentment within the child, but those feelings are repressed because the child has been taught to view the authoritarian world with reverence (HealthResearchFunding, 2018). Many Americans are shown only one view of how the world should work, and when they see something unfamiliar, such as immigrants coming into the country, they get defensive because they feel threatened.
We can also add in the exploitation theory, which states that the value of a product is based on the amount of labor that goes into producing it (Hornberger, Jacob 2018). Conflict theorists stress the role of racial and ethnic hostility as a way for the dominant group to keep its position of status and power intact (Schaefer, Richard 2016). This approach suggests that even the less-affluent white working class uses prejudice to minimize competition from minorities. However, this theory can have its setbacks. Not everything can be valued by how much labor is put into it. If someone has put 50 hours of labor into making mud pies, they aren’t going to make a profit because nobody wants to buy mud pies. So things have to have a value within them.
Sometimes, we must step back and look at the life around us. There are many different people in this world who all have different views about how the world works. We have learned about ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s own culture or way of life is superior to all others. We talked the about the consequences of ethnocentrism, that can lead to prejudice, racism and discrimination. We learned about how the dominant American group can treat immigrants as a result of ethnocentrism, and we looked at how different theories apply to that. In recent years, we know that ethnocentrism is at an all time high, no thanks to the presidential campaign of 2016. It no doubt has had a negative effect on how dominant Americans treat minorities. It is important that we learn from our mistakes, not continue to make them.
- Authoritarian Personality Theory of Prejudice Explained – HRF. (2017, February 14). Retrieved October 1, 2018, from https://healthresearchfunding.org/authoritarian-personality-theory- of-prejudice-explained/
- Bizumic, B., & Duckitt, J. (2012). What Is and Is Not Ethnocentrism? A Conceptual Analysis and Political Implications. Political Psychology, 33(6), 887-909. doi:10.1111/j.1467- 9221.2012.00907.x
- Blame Mexico! (2015, August 18). Retrieved October 1, 2018, from https://www.economist.com/democracy-in-america/2015/08/18/blame-mexico
- Bushwick, S. (2011, July 29). What Causes Prejudice against Immigrants, and How Can It Be Tamed? Retrieved October 1, 2018, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-causes-prejudice-aga/
- Hornberger, J. G. (2018, May 14). Marx’s Fallacious Exploitation Theory. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from https://www.fff.org/2018/05/14/marxs-fallacious-exploitation-theory/
- Hossan, N. (2017, April 01). Race and Ethnicity in Society. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from https://thehistoricalnerds.com/2013/01/20/race-and-ethnicity-in-society/
- Huerta, P. A. (2017, August 07). The ‘War On Immigrants’: Racist Policies In The Trump Era. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-war-on- immigrants-racist-policies-in-the-trump_us_5980bf68e4b0d187a596909b
- Romero, S. (n.d.). What Are the Social Consequences of Racist Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric? | Event. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/event/social- consequences-racist-anti-immigrant-rhetoric/
- Schaefer, R. T. (2016). Race and ethnicity in the United States (8th ed.). Boston: Pearson.