Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism are opposing but still complimentary forces in today’s world. They are the cause of many wars and yet the enchantment of travel, trade and commerce. The topics can be defined as: eth”¢no”¢cen”¢trism (ethn sentriz m), n.
1. the belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture.
2. a tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own.
Cultural Relativism does not appear to have a definition listed in a dictionary however it is the practice of accepting the cultures of different people throughout the world not necessarily separated by geography.
Probably the most recent and blatant example of ethnocentrism was Milosevic’s attempt at ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. However this is by no means the worst case. Unfortunately ethnocentrism is the cause of many wars. Ironically the US was labeled as the Cultural Relativism that countered Milosevic’s ethnocentrism. The US is not totally innocent of the ethnocentrism in view of the Indian wars or the US civil war. The US has been guilty of both reculturization of the native Americans in trying to force them to learn and live the white European ways and genocide in the wars and isolation. It appears that Milosevic was only concerned with genocide as Hitler was. In Asia it appears that China and North Korea are practicing ethnocentrism but not in an overt way as in Serbia. Rather China and North Korea practice it in not opening up to outside countries. In this way they are saying that they obviously don’t want their cultures infected by any others.
Although these extreme and overt examples may appear to be negative to some people, they are examples of the desire responsible for the unique qualities of the various cultures. It is the unique qualities of the various cultures that excite us as people to want to travel and experience the differences in other life styles. The unique cultures produce a diversity of life styles that ultimately enhance humans to adapt to various environments. Only by respecting and appreciating each others cultures will we be able to preserve them for subsequent generations to enjoy and learn from.
This brings us to Cultural Relativism. The practice of accepting the various cultures of the world for what they are and appreciating what they have to offer. The United States is probably the best example of this. Although the US has had it’s periods of ethnocentrism, it is now diverse in its cultures. There are groups of people in the US who live mostly the style of some “motherland”. Not only are there groups that are identified with Asia, Europe, and Africa just to mention a few, but there are various versions of each of them. For instance Asia can be divided into East and West, then from the East, China, Korea, and Japan. The list could cover several pages. The point is that these groups of people enjoy cultural lifestyles that have dominated their heritage for generations. The relative benefit of this is a diverse nation that accepts and appreciates many life styles.
There is a question as to where to draw the line between preserving and altering cultures. Some cultures have practices that are considered to be human rights violations by others. Such things as female circumcision and honor killings. Again these are extreme examples but the point is that some human rights activists would have these practices outlawed worldwide while some anthropologists choose to preserve the cultures as they are. When outside sources force change on a culture practice, where does it stop? In conclusion it is a level of ethnocentrism that keeps the world we live in diverse and interesting to those us who like to travel and explore. And cultural relativism helps to blend the cultural differences that can strengthen a nation or society with the various qualities of the cultures involved.