Monday, August 30, 2010

Blog #1 Everyone is Ethnocentric!

          Ethnocentrism can be defined as “based on their limited experience, people of a given culture view their particular culture as centrally important, and make false (usually negative) assumptions about other groups”. Examples of ethnocentrism could be found broadly anytime in the history, anywhere in the world, in both levels of politics and daily life: 

• The European imperialism started in the 16th century. Europeans took over colonies in Africa and America, based on the belief that both of them were primitive societies.

• Nazi Germany in the 20th century. Millions of innocent Jewish and other groups were slaughtered, due to the prejudice against them.
• People in the U.S. talking about British driving “on the wrong side of the road”.

• Foreigners are sometimes referred as “foreign devils” in China, because they have blue eyes, red hair and big nose.

      In some other cases, people make false positive assumptions about other groups. These false positive assumptions sometimes lead to xenocentrism, a belief that cultures of other groups are superior to one’s own. I had chances to visit Hong Kong (a city of China historically, after colonized by British government for 100 years, it was eventually taken back by China in 1997) between 1999 and 2001. I found that when lots of people in Hong Kong were struggling with relocating and adjusting their cultural identities, false assumptions of "British culture and language are better than those of Chinese", could be observed throughout many aspects of the society.

      Ethnocentrism and xenocentrism lead us to make premature judgments and cause misunderstanding between people of different groups. They are the barriers to the social justice and equality of any country, as well as the international society.

      Looking at the definition of ethnocentrism, many people would believe they are not “ethnocentric”, but are rather “open-minded” or “embracing”. As a matter of fact, ethnocentrism is inevitable, everyone is ethnocentric. The problem is our consciousness could not sense ethnocentrism, because it is in the layer of our subconscious. Did you have the experience of learning a second language, and judging it as “difficult” or “easy” to learn, by subconsciously comparing it with your first language? Did you notice that each mistake you make in the process of learning a second language, either on pronunciation or grammar, is something different from your first language? We are naturally ethnocentric about our first language, and are viewing other languages with our tinted glasses. 
      But what could we do about it? Our experience is always limited, there is no way we can experience everything that other people had experienced, therefore, there is no way we cannot be ethnocentric!  Well, we can still try not to be ethnocentric! Before making a judgment about things from different cultures, to avoid being ethnocentric, you can ask yourself these two questions:

1. What is the meaning of doing so? For example, why is there a “One Child Policy” in China? What is the social-economic context of this policy? What is the purpose of the legislation? When was it enforced?

2. What is the function of doing so? For example, what are the outcomes of “One Child Policy”? On what aspects does it help? How do Chinese people feel about it? Do they comply with this policy, or feel oppressed by the government?

      Same questions could be asked about our own culture. By answering these questions, we will establish more objective understandings about the things that we have been accustomed to for generations. For example: Why is “freedom” considered as an important American value? How does this value help American people adapt?

      Yes, our human nature and limited life experience have decided that everyone is born ethnocentric.  But through critical and rational thinking, we could develop more functioning understandings about issues from both our own culture and different cultures, that enable us to interact with people of other cultures.