Ethnocentrism influences the manners in which individuals participate in a larger society, as they view entire bodies of people as superior to another. This creates a disparity of power and privilege between the in-group and what populations it perceives to be out-groups, based upon expressions and manifestations of identity such as race, culture, religion, sexuality, and gender. These divisions can be observed in U.S. society as the ways in which the in-group caters to the political system for its benefit over the benefit of others in an out-group, as evident especially in the formation of legal legislation, government policy, and access to public services.
Ethnocentrism and gender.
Although women are subject to oppression based on gender, research on ethnocentric thought implies that inequality with issues related to the women’s movement is not rooted in the same sentiments of disdain or hatred associated with ethnocentrism. Because gender is dispersed throughout communities, populations are more commonly invested in the support of women within their own groups. As a result of such omnipresence, women are not treated within modern American society as a group that is demonized. However, studies done on women’s groups associated with extremism or radical behavior have statistically shown these groups to be victims of such ostracism and construction as a threatening other, and thus are subject to ethnocentric thought in modern culture.
Ethnocentrism and race.
Ethnocentrism is observable in the ways in which racial and ethnic minorities lack equal access to resources and opportunity for upward mobility. However, such exclusion is not to be directly correlated or made interchangeable with the notion of racism. Racism, defined by William Wilson as being contingent upon motives for exploitation and exclusion, can be manifest as extreme application of ethnocentric thought, but is related to populations engaging in a more severe practice of acting power inequalities. Ethnocentrism, which has hereunto been defined as one population perceiving itself to hold superiority over and disdain for another for reasons imbued with intolerance of cultural difference, is not as invested in possession of a minority public as it is in emotional conceptions of superiority and general disdain for outside groups. However, ethnocentric thought as acted out by individuals who hold positions of significant influence in a society can lead to the formation of dualistic policy, which victimizes members of ethnic minority populations.
These practices are especially visible within statistics regarding the racial makeup of imprisoned populations, especially that of African American males, who are accountable for a disproportionately higher percentage of incarcerated inmates than their respective population size in the United States, as well as being subject to increased police brutality, serving longer prison sentences on average than white inmates, and being more often sentenced to the death penalty. Furthermore, populations of minority race and ethnicity are also observed as having less access to and involvement in multiple government assistance programs.
Ethnocentrism and sexuality.
Ethnocentrism has been observed in various studies as statistically being a highly contributing factor related to individuals holding opinions that discriminate against homosexual populations, particularly as holding opinions in opposition to marriage between same sex individuals, participation of homosexuals in the U.S. military, protection of gay and lesbian workers from job discrimination, and adoption of children by same-sex couples. This correlation between ethnocentric opinion and gay rights can further imply that ethnocentrism does engage with topics of morality in cases assigning moral superiority to populations acting as the in-group.
Frameworks for Overcoming Ethnocentric Bias
Given that ethnocentrism is but a contributing factor for the foundation of public opinion, awareness of its influence in consequences can decrease the ways in which in-groups, unintentionally or not, create public policy that discriminates against out-groups. In realizing how ethnocentric oversights constitute minorities as victims, repeated victimization can be intervened upon and prevented.
Charles Ridley suggests that these practices, especially within the racist treatment of individuals receiving social services, can be mitigated within a framework of five interventions, which can be applied to avoiding ethnocentrism as follows: First, the ones providing a service should not justify acting in a biased manner simply because they personally consider themselves to have good intentions. Second, training should be undergone to understand nuances of cultural difference, but should not be used to justify an idea of overarching understanding of all populations. Third, special attention should be given to the multiplicity of social factors that influence the behavior and quality of life of the individuals in the out-groups. Fourth, one should be wary of blaming the individuals within the out-group for their actions in lieu of understanding all contributing factors in the situation. And finally, individuals should not be solely treated as falling into discrete, dichotomous categorical relations—because it is that discretion that leads to the assignment of supremacy of one body of people over another.
- Booth, Ken. Strategy and Ethnocentrism. London: Croom Helm, 1979.
- Bowser, Benjamin P. and Raymond G. Hunt, eds. Impacts of Racism on White Americans. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1996.
- Jarrett, Alfred A., ed. The Impact of Macro Social Systems on Ethnic Minorities in the United States. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000.
- Kinder, Donald R. and Cindy D. Kam. Us Against Them. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
- Ridley, Charles R. Overcoming Unintentional Racism in Counseling and Therapy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995.
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