Justifying American Ethnocentrism

If you are a strong supporter of “multiculturalism” and are easily offended by those who are not, you may want to take your business elsewhere, for I fully intend to completely deconstruct that concept in this post.

William Graham Sumner (1840-1910), a so-called “social Darwinist,” coined the term “ethnocentrism.” Many varied definitions have emerged, but the common ground defines ethnocentrism as “the belief that one’s own ethnic group or culture is superior to all others in areas such as social customs or political systems.” The term was intended to be inherently bad, indicative of a society’s inability to consider the validity of other cultures or political systems, or even indicative of subconscious racism. It is my belief that this condemnation of ethnocentrism and the subsequent glorification of multiculturalism is itself shortsighted, or even dangerously misleading.

I am certainly not saying that it is acceptable to breed hatred of any kind toward those who are socially different, just that it is not always bad to be proud of your own system or even to believe that it is superior. This distinction may be a fine one, but it is a distinction that must be firmly upheld. While a healthy dose of ethnocentrism will yield a proud, hard-working, productive, and innovative society, unchecked or perverted ethnocentrism can lead to racism, chaos, or war.

Multiculturalism, the Yin to ethnocentrism’s Yang, is the belief that all cultures are equally viable, equally valid, and equally worthy of consideration. While multiculturalism is practiced in the interest of suppressing hate, it is a belief that is dangerously blind toward human rights violations and economic oppression. Multiculturalism is equivalent to forced social relativism, and requires the believer to deny that there are any ultimate truths when it comes to the plight of the human race.

I would like to provide you with an example to underline my point (and in the process, bring out the healthy ethnocentrism you did not know you had). Many African and other countries practice forced female genital mutilation, a brutal ritual in which the genitals of a girl or a woman are cut or otherwise altered in order to deny the recipient the opportunity to ever experience sexual gratification. If you are at all shocked, disgusted, or angered by that concept, you are “guilty” of ethnocentrism. According to multiculturalists, forced female genital mutilation is a traditional ethnic custom signifying a woman’s unique place in her society, and is not inherently any different from circumcision or ear piercing. To think anything different would amount to viewing their society through distorted Western eyes, and casting judgment on it because it is different from the society you embrace.

When you choose to avoid casting any judgment, you forfeit the luxury of outrage and tolerate the outrageous out of a paranoid fear of seeming insensitive. Multiculturalism is cowardly, and it leaves the oppressed alone and without recourse. Without any ultimate truths, nothing is taboo. If there is to be any hope for those in this world who suffer, a few ultimate truths have to be recognized. First, that people are happiest and have the greatest chance for self-actualization when they are free to live and worship as they please. Second, that societies with free enterprise are wealthier and have a higher standard of living than countries without. Third, that people have a better chance of living how they please and achieving happiness when they have a say in the workings of the laws that govern them.

Any society that does not respect these truths is inferior to one that does. America is regarded the world over as a very ethnocentric country. Multiculturalists would have you believe that this is because we are needlessly arrogant and exclusive. The reality is that we are ethnocentric because America respects the ultimate truths about humanity and as a result, Americans are happy, wealthy, and safe. We are proud, but not arrogant. I’ve said it before: arrogance would be if Americans were wary of nations who emulate our values, refusing to allow them a seat at the table of world freedom. A desire to spread the happiness that can be realized with a social system that respects human dignity is generous. America is drunk on the fruits of freedom, and it is incomprehensible to us that societies exist where people cannot, or do not want to experience a similar inebriation.

Some have used phrases like “they drive on the wrong side of the road in England” as examples of America’s ethnocentrism. Let’s be honest: things like that are trivial when compared to the basic truths regarding human freedom. Americans may tend to overextend their ethnocentrism to matters of little significance, but these minor offenses do not in any way mean that our ethnocentrism with regards to freedom, democracy, and free enterprise is misguided. Americans have every reason in the world to be proud of their society and the freedoms they enjoy. Not only am I ethnocentric… I’m damn proud to admit that I live in a country where it is truly justified to be so.

33 thoughts on “Justifying American Ethnocentrism

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  6. Michelle Whitehead

    I think that what a believes person is what a person believes even if what they believe is wrong. You shouldn’t judge a person by your beliefs. I think it wrong for a person to look down on another culture just because their not like them.Before you judge someone’s culture and the way they live take the time to study them.

    1. Linda Hopkins

      I agree with you what a person believe is what a person believes even if they are wrong

  7. Krysta Hill

    I think that everyone has a right to their believe and no one has a right to impose their believe on anyone else. I think that it’s not right for a person to be prejudged about their culture or anything else until the research is done.

  8. Jaiva Bonner

    I think that we are all a little bit guilty of ethnocentrism, I mean it’s only natural, but at the same time I would not by any means try to force my opinions or my way of thinking or living on anyone else. So, no I do not agree.

  9. Christina Barnes

    I like how the author thinks. We (america) are ethnocentric, we do beleive that our morals, behavors, values are better than the rest of the world. We are “imposing” our values on other countries every time we go somewhere to help teach others how to live a “better” life, with better food and water supplies. I think we have to be very careful that in “helping” we are not taking away what makes other countries unique. We are a people born to help others to have a better life, and I am proud of that.

  10. Emile Zaidan

    I agree with the author when he says that there is a fine line between ethnocentrism and racism, but I also disagree where he is a proud person living in a country that goes to war with other countries because they do not believe in our democratic government. On this subject I disagree because the author is saying one thing but believing another without even realizing it.

  11. LaMattie White

    I believe that we all have been guilty of some form of ethnocentrism,because of what a culture may dress, live, look,and what they may believe in,: not that it’s right. I think that as we get older we realize that we were all created different and if our cultures were the same we wouldn’t have any history and it would be boring intellectually. In saying all that a person’s cultural and belief doesn’t make them less of a person because everyone have the right to believe in what they want to believe in.

  12. janeru

    While I would be the last to admit to succumbing to stereotyping groups of people, it’s that sort of arrogant ignorance which makes many people of my country unable to stand being around loud mouthed fat americans. Grown fat on sucking a disproportionate self helping of the very limited natural resources our mother earth offers up for the world community to share. the writer talks of being wealthy but at the rest of the world’s expense. does he have any idea that americans’ ecological footprint are massively disproportionate to america’s percentage of world population? Moreover america has for too long assumed the role of policing the international community. Surely abuse of economic power is a very unstable way to bully the rest of the world into submission. The writer spouts on about being proudly ethnocentric and juxtaposing his superior society to those of less worth due to not wanting to embrace ‘democracy’ but what is democratic about storming in troops and tanks, killing civilians and subjugating a country to america’s ideals of freedom? And freedom at home gets you what? While visiting america recently I was assured that crossing the road to the liquor store would be unlikely to result in being shot. Tonight. Oh, JOY! I guess I never knew what I was missing at home! The hypocrisy of america and the writer’s inability to recognise ‘ethnocentricism’ (that’s the correct term in my country) as always a bad thing makes me laugh out loud. Whilst in no way affiliated with extremist groups nor their views, it is exactly the writer’s ethnocentric (and make no bones, it is always a negative characteristic) arrogance which engenders a rising tide of anti-american sentiment world wide. I recommend some wider reading by the author starting with “The clash of civilisations and the remaking of world order” by huntington. Finally, with the emerging climate crisis and the apparent ignorance of the majority of americans of the biggest threat this planet has ever known, I would hope the wake up call to america resounds like a slap across the face to all across the globe.

  13. Clarence Hooks

    I understand the author’s stance and I agree. If we cannot be proud of who we are (whoever we are) we set ourselves up to be dismantled piece by piece ironically in the name of being tolerant. Think about it what person in their right mind would not want to be proud of whatever group they belong to? All of those people who flock to the term “the ugly American” are apparently proud of whatever it is they have. No America is not perfect; she is far from it. But then neither is any other country. The point here is that unless we feel like we have something to be proud of we will end up destroying even the great and wonderful part that belongs to us right now!

    The author mentions a “paranoid fear of seeming insensitive”. Let me give an example; In the days following 911 Americans were displaying the American proudly; however not too months later we we actually asked by some authorities to stop flying the flags. Why? So that we wouldn’t offend anyone from other backrounds. It is as if Americans are telling other Americans “you have nothing to be proud of and everyone is better than you”. Whose flag should we fly? I dare say that in “ANY” other country you will never hear the authorities say “don’t fly our own flag”

    My point is that whoever we are and where ever we are from if we are locked in on only the problems without the ability to see reason to be proud then we are part of the problem.

    Personally, I am tired of people telling us that everyone in the world can be proud but us. Especially while watching the population in America grow by leaps and bounds with people who are trying to find something better than what they have previously known.

  14. Shawn Wilkes

    On many points, I must agree with the author. I live in China and see many intolerable things done.Frankly, I believe people should be allowed to do what they please, so long as it does not harm another human. His example of genital mutilation is a quite relevant to this point and to hell to any who say, “It’s just their culture.”

    Now, I am American, but am not a proud American. I care not a fig about where I come from as I believe in a unified planet, but as the author says, there are certain rights and wrongs which must be dealt with. Walking down the streets of China a few weeks ago, I saw a beggar woman holding a 4 or 5 year old girl. I saw her slap the girl, who was sleeping, several times in the face in order to make her cry so that people would feel sorry and give her money. In the poorer areas of China, poor people sometimes disfigure their children (severing a limb, scarring, etc.) in order to have a beggar that people will feel sorry for and give more money to. How can any person say, “That’s just the culture, so we should not judge it.”? Saying so is to allow these acts to continue. I for one cannot stand for it.

  15. Shonkeia McCain

    I think that ethnocentrism can lead to make false assumptio about cultural difference. I think people use our cultural norms to make generalizations about other people cultures and customs. I think that ethnocentrism leads us to make premature judgements. I think that you should care about a person belief and culture. I think that people make a big deal about culture and belief. I think people think if you don’t have the same belief and culture that they have they think you’re weird and stupid. I think that people should evaluating other culture by its own standards.

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  17. Peter

    America needs to take its finger off the trigger, its foot off the gas, and pull its head from its ass. Then we can all think about ‘compromise’ and ‘living in harmony’.

    Let’s face it, Bush is intellectually deficient and incapable of running a country the size of America. What does he know of foreign policy and respect for other countries custom and values?

    It’s his ignorance that is exacerbating the hatred felt for America. Ask him to name 10 countries on the continent of Africa, would he be able to name 10? Would he be able to converse on any historic event that took place in the middle east or Asia for example? For the love of smog and greenhouse gases, hell no.

    What is more scarier – 260 million people electing a redneck baboon for a leader, or Sadaam and a few scuds? I know what my answer would be.

  18. Margit Hutton

    The author was very honest in his opinions on ethnocentrism. In my opinion he felt his stand was for the improvement of human society. He acknowledged that there was a fine line between being proud of your culture and being tolerant of other ethnic groups. The point he made about what we are all entitled to as the human race, happiness, health, and a measure of wealth was well taken.I am personally of the opinion that we all descended from one man and one woman. Therefore, we are all related. How we choose to live and worship is up to us. There are some fundamental human rights. We have the right to breath clean air, eat wholesome food, and be secure in our beds. When a culture tries to brainwash us into giving up those basic human needs, that is where they cross the line. Each one of us must choose what culture is right for us. That is why people immgrate to other lands. That is one reason we should be more willing to let people in to a land where they obviously feel they can have those basic human rights.

  19. Aaron

    I think that every body in the world has a flaw, there are too many people in the world to worry about what others think of you. Do what makes you happy and dont have such a stern set on everything in life. In every religious system, or belief that someone has may not be the same beliefs you have, but that does not make them an evil person. its just a matter of opinion. If everyone had as much respect for themselves as they do others, I think the world would not be so divided and corrupt as it is today

  20. Mistie McDaniel

    I believe that we all judge people by their beliefs even if it is wrong. if you believed a certain thing and someone walked up to you and tried to convince you other wise you are going to judge that person. its human nature to do it even though it is wrong.

  21. Deondra' Horton

    I strongly disagree with the authors view point that ethnocentrism is better or more viable then multiculturism. America is one of the most diverse and multicultural places on Earth. We live in a day and age where globilization is a must. Instead of taking so much pride into ones “self”, we should be progressive human beings who are willing to learn and benefit from other cultures.

  22. Tasha Franklin

    I agree with the author on being enthnocenttism. I believe that a person that believe in his nationality or race promotes self-awareness and self esteem. I believe that you must have a profound and concrete history of who you are and ethnocentrism instill these values. Aside from that I believe that respect for other cultures is also essential. But that the belief that ones nationality is superior to others is not wrong this is my belief.

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  24. krista

    After being labeled ethnocentric today in my sociology class, I was, at first, offended. The term seems negative and is implied as such. Through further research and understanding, and maybe pure justification, I believe that the evolvement of human kind and even the world, relys on the advancement of what is, plainly speaking, better. Since the assumed beginning of the universe, life has evolved. Meanwhile, metaphorically speaking, the hard-headed tradionalists held on to the belief of ‘it is what it is, why change?’ Eventually, they jumped off the advancement bus. This relates to animals, tribes, religons, and much more. To deny the degree of benefits something has is to deny truth and slow progression.
    Lately I have been hearing alot about a ‘shift in consciousness’. Maybe (hopefully), this is true. However, simply the thought of this possiblity rests on the idea of ethnocentrism.
    Like it or not, there IS a better way.

  25. James

    This nationalistic rant doesn’t justify anything. If anything, it just exposes your belief that your belief in your national superiority is in some way a explaination for your narrowmindness.

  26. Matthew Godin

    I agree with this article is some ways that America is ethnocentric. As a Canadian man who has lived in America for little over 6 years I think that America does posses the qualities of a ethnocentric system, but it has also made this country arrogant(especially this article). American is “the land of the free” but there are many other countries that are free and allow there people to do what they want. Which most Americans choose to ignore or forget because that would impeded on Americas status of number one. The best example of Americas ethnocentric views is when people say “America is the best country in the world”, especially when they haven’t ever left the shores of this country. How are you supposed to know what the best country is when you’ve never been to any other except the one that tells you there the best, and never show anything on the news about any other country unless it has to do with war or death. I do believe though that America is truly the land of the free, we are an ethnocentric peoples, but I don’t agree with the article because we also are multicultural, we just don’t know how to balance the two.

  27. Bob vde

    Dont ever be ethnocentric… What?!

    Ethnocentric… Well ladies and gents, this word is one of the basic reasons behind every war and conflict in human history! It briefly means that one sees the world only from ones own culturally point of view and believe others should do the same.

    Other people in the world does not view on issues as you do my friend… no they see it differently. And so the best way of solving any kind of disagreement, is by first trying to understand how the other part sees upon the issue, and why he or she does not agree with you, and obviously ask them to do the same. After this is done, it is so much easier uniting and reaching to wise conclusions.

    But nooo, I am right, I have principals, this is not discusable, I do what I think is right…. I am ethnocentric! Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about striving for justice, but do understand that other people who are going in the opposite direction are many times doing what they truthfully believe is right as well.

    Just to name an example; I am christian and with this comes certain values in my life. Then there are people who truly are Muslim believers (who knows, they might be stronger in their faith than me!) and they have a different set of values. Now if I tell them: Man, you are just dead wrong! They will tell me exactly the same thing!… leading to nothing but more frustration and the mere obsession of winning the argument. However would I choose to see/understand it from their point of view… maybe it would change from a discussion to a conversation and later on to a fika (swedish coffey-time).

    1 Corinthians 9:19-23
    Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

    The greatest anthropologist of all time was probably Jesus himself, He became man, grew a beard, had to eat, couldn’t just fly around, got a favorite colour, had to use sandals and became generally vulnerable and limited and went through so many human-culturally things that he actually can tell you like:

    ‘ey dude, I know what its like!… so peace out bro’

  28. S. Jennings

    The defining characteristic of the US is ethnocentrism. Note that I didn’t use the term “America” – it being really a geographic term. Using that term by the US in itself is ethnocentric. Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Argentina, et cetera, are as American as is the US.

  29. L.O.S

    What a terrible thing, that forced female mutilation. Sounds familiar, hmm….kinda like forced male genital mutilation which happens more often than not in your beloved U.S. of A.

    You fail, fail, fail.

  30. Jennifer

    I am American and although I despise the term, ethnocentric, I must say that I am guilty. Yes, guilty. Everyone is to some degree. Ethnocentrism means the passing of judgement on peoples with different styles of living through the lens of their own culture. We make generalizations and misunderstandings of the meanings of others’ actions based on our own preferences. The doctrine created in response to ethnocentrism is not multiculturalism, rather cultural relativism, coined by Franz Boas in response to anti-semitism and popularized between the first and second World Wars. The author fails to distinguish the differences of moral relativism and cultural relativism. The individual can choose his/her own moral standards, but cultural relativism requires one to learn how people live life differently, not from a limited view of the author’s, who is wrapped up in Imperialism. How can anyone say their system is the best when there is no equality, and other systems are automatically rejected without investigation? That is the idea of cultural relativism, investigation of differences. As the greatest of Philosophers have taught us, “Democracy [ultimately] leads to tyranny.” “Democracy is 51% of the people taking away the rights of the other 49%.” “Democracy is a mobacracy.” This definition of Demcracy was changed when FDR was president. He erased that definition and changed it to the current belief of the term. Not everyone agrees that their rights should be taken away, nor should they be chastised for not seeing it your way, Mark. You are not the center of the World. There are almost 7 billion people on this planet, and a world government of democracy will only end in conflict and war.

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