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Ethnocentrism

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Are we limited in knowledge, in imagination, and in understanding by the culture we grow up in? In other words, are we ethnocentric, and if so is it a bad thing? To answer that, one must understand what ethnocentrism is. According to Macionis (2004), ethnocentrism is “the practice of judging another culture by the standards of one’s own culture”.

We are not born with culture; culture is a socially learned behavior, or set of values that a given groups holds as a norm and are considered to be true and right. It is these cultural norms that connect the individuals of the group, which make up a society. No society can exist without culture and no culture can exist without a society (Giddens, Duneier, & Applebaum, 2002). The two are intrinsically intertwined. It is hard to see past one’s own culture and reach into another for understanding; we find it hard to comprehend the fact that our truths and values, that are so innate to us, do not represent universal truth. So what is universal truth; who is right and who is wrong culturally? Here in lays the importance of understanding ‘cultural relativism’, or “the practice of evaluating a culture by its own standards” (Macionis, 2004), making the previous question irrelevant since culture itself is present in every society, it is therefore, universal; having no right or wrong.

Like culture, ethnocentrism is unavoidable and like culture, ethnocentrism is universal to all cultures to some degree. To claim no ethnocentricity would be to separate oneself from one’s own culture. It is only human nature to be grounded in and reflective of the culture that you have been immersed in since birth, as it is your connection to your heritage. In this sense, ethnocentrism is not all bad, and can be beneficial in promoting cultural diversity (Rosaldo, 2000). It becomes bad when we do not acknowledge other cultures or we expect others to adopt our cultural norms because we believe their cultural norms are wrong. This behavior stems mainly from the troublesome nature of not understanding the basis for their beliefs and values, and from intimidation due to the mere existence of a different view of norms within a culture, leading to a threatening atmosphere when our cultural validity is challenged.

Crossing the lines between cultures has become more common with technological advances. What was once a world where cultures rarely crossed due to geographic locations has turned into a global meshing of cultures where an increased awareness of ethnocentrism is paramount. What is important to know and remember about ethnocentrism is through understanding and coming to terms with another’s culture does not mean you have to agree with it, act upon it, or embrace it. One must only respect the differing value and acknowledge its existence. This includes all values, ethical and unethical. For example, understanding some cultures embrace bull fighting which your culture may find as a cruel way to end the bull’s life. Accepting this value as a valid part of their culture does not preclude or dismiss your belief that it is unethical (Rosaldo, 2000). Allowing and understanding that these two values can and in fact do exist side-by-side in both cultural norms is the ability to get past ethnocentrism through cultural relativism.

There are three levels of ethnocentrism: a positive perspective, a negative perspective, and an extremely negative perspective. This is important to note in terms of the degree that ethnocentrism can be tolerable. The positive perspective views one culture as being preferential to others while maintaining respect for other cultures. The negative perspective views one culture as the standard from which to compare and evaluate all other cultures. And the extreme negative perspective imposes their cultural values and beliefs on others, insisting they adapt and conform, leaving their cultural norms behind where they will cease to exist (Manon, 1999).

In comparing a show such as the Iron Chef within the realm of ethnocentrism, the most noticeable differences would be the type of competition displayed. The Iron Chef has been referred to as “A mix between Godzilla, wrestling, and Julia Child” (Iron Chef, n.d.). The cooking shows that we are culturally accustomed to viewing are nothing like the Iron Chef, and in fact, pales in comparison. The Iron Chef is a symbol for what the Japanese culture revered as the bushido; or the way of the warrior, hence the fierce competition between the chefs. This samurai tradition was once deeply engrained in Japanese tradition; however remains only as nostalgia today, yet the spirit came alive within the show, the Iron Chef (Shotokai, n.d.).

Unlike our cooking shows, the Iron Chef does not teach cooking techniques, although the audience will inevitably contain students and chefs alike. US television show audiences are usually made

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