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Subtle Ethnocentrism

Excellent example of paper 1 by Jillian Garrison Fall 2009.

If the "norm" in this society included wearing socks on your hands instead of mittens, carrying weights around to keep your balance, and raising your hand when you didn't have a question, that is the way we would live our lives, without questioning it. As individuals, conforming to society simply means fitting in with the social environment in which you have grown accustom. Thus, "norms" of the society become daily life that most individuals do not question as irregular. Ethnocentric values of our culture allow us to view ourselves as superior to all others. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Ethnocentrism means "Belief in the superiority of one's own ethnic group." From the culturally-based assumption that the world was created for man, to the personal belief that our culture is better, ethnocentrism appears in everyday life. In small ways, such as giving children unconditional praise and confidence, self-superiority is encouraged. Even the right to one's private property often promotes the mentality of, 'I deserve to have this, even though I did nothing to earn it', thus supporting cultural superiority.

In the book Ishmael, the main character and gorilla discuss how the world came to be. Eventually, they discover the concept that people in the student's culture assume the world was created specifically for man, and no other; "when man finally appeared, creation came to an end, because its objective had been reached. There was nothing left to create" (Ishmael, 57). Such an assumption places the status of man higher than any other living thing on earth. We give ourselves superiority merely based word of mouth, which then leads to common belief. Many things we do and say display this sense of superiority, the way children are spoken to, for example.

Encouraging phrases such as, "be yourself", "you can do anything you put your mind to", and "be confident" provide children with the desire to be proud of themselves in everything they do. Not that this concept is a bad thing, however it encourages taking pride in oneself for small accomplishments. This unconditional praise at a young age may cause children to think, "I do everything well, even though I don't always try." Cultural terminology can act as daily examples of cultural superiority. Though some work extremely hard for praise and benefit, we occasionally receive praise for doing hardly any work at all. This pushes the mentality that our society is superior. This also effects individual perception on a large-scale, which is referred to as ethnocentrism.
Ethnocentricity can also be encouraged through the concept of public property. In the United States for example, borrowing a pencil from someone without asking is often viewed as a personal offence. Similarly, taking a bite out of a stranger's sandwich gets you a dirty glare, maybe even a punch in the face. These offenses against ones private property are known as norm violations. Social Norms are "expectations (or rules of behavior) that develop out of a group's values" (Essentials of Sociology, 45). Personal belongings provide individuals with a sense of power and control over their possession and how others respond to it. You see this in young children who shout, "mine..Mine! MINE!!" when their space or possession is being violated. This cultural belief of having a divine right to our private property allows us to view ourselves superior over those who do not have a right to our property. This social value and norm supports ethnocentrism in our society as well as the belief that we are superior.

Similarly, the article Nacirema, reveals the common culturally-based belief that other societies are below us. Reading this article for the first time, I thought the society being described was barbaric, with torturing devices and strange beliefs. Then I was told it is about America, and the content all began to make sense. Americans are not use to hearing our country described as underdeveloped and 'barbaric', but instead as advanced and superior to other nations. As everyday language and cultural values suggest our society as higher than others, we come to act superior to them.

Towards the end of chapter two in the book Ishmael, the main character explains his uncertainty, "you have the feeling you've been lied to...and you'd like to know what it is" (Ishmael, 45). The "story" of life and culture is dissected and questioned in this book. Similar to their "story", our daily values and conversation suggest us to be the superior society. The way children are socialized and reared with values and norms about praise and private property give way to a self-superior mentality. However, the truth is simple. We are not superior. Though our culture consists of offering unconditional praise and undeserved property, America has earned no right to superiority over all of mankind.

"Ethnocentrism", (pg.612). American Heritage Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. 4th edition.
Henslin, James. Essentials of Sociology. Allen and Bacon. Boston, Massachusetts, 2008.
Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael. Bantum and Turner. The United States of America, 1992.