Ethnocentrism is derived from the Greek words; ethnos (people), centr (centre) and ismos (theory). It is best understood as the habit of viewing and judging other cultures by the standards of one’s own culture. This singular view furthers the sense that one person or a society’s views and beliefs are superior to others (Ferraro, G. P., & Andreatta, S. (2018). Cultural anthropology: An applied perspective, pp. 15-16). An extreme case of ethnocentrism was Nazi Germany in 1933-1945. Hitler believed the Aryan race was superior to all other races predominantly Jews. The Aryan race was categorised merely by physical characteristics such as blue eyes, light skin and hair. Thus, Non- Aryans were placed in concentration camps as they were thought to threaten the unity of the German nation. (“How did the Nazis construct an Aryan Identity?”, sahistory.org.za)
At the time of my first job I was 18 years old and was still dealing with some indignity of being a Sri Lankan. The assistant manager; an elderly British man, of the practice would frequent every morning. On numerous occasions I would notice, he would not approach me which I regarded to being the newest member of the company. However, later I became increasingly aware that he would noticeably avoid eye contact with me and our workplace all together if he noticed my colleagues were not at their desks. It went on to the point where we would have no interaction whatsoever. On one occasion, I worked alone and had to ask for his help, to which he abruptly asked me where I was from and responded “Well, if you’re from Sri Lanka, why do you speak like that?”
Usually when I recount this story to people, they are flummoxed into wondering what he meant. However, having resided in the United Arab Emirates my entire life, I’ve grown accustomed to being regarded as a “minority” race in a country where the West is so prominently viewed. A prime example of this is the educational system, where the most weighted syllabus is the American or British, which usually meant you intended and had a higher chance of being accepted into a university, as opposed if you were enrolled in the Indian or French curriculum. History classes were filled with lectures about the United States and Great Britain and any class about the local Arabian history was widely disregarded and carried almost no value. Thus, the United Arab Emirates can be viewed as xenocentric- the desire to partake in other culture other than one’s own- as they place an emphasis on an external curriculum rather than their own (yourdictionary.com). The emphasis on Western practices serves to increase popularity thus increasing tourism and the number of expatriates. Personally, this emphasis made it seem as if Sri Lanka was not good enough in comparison and so ensued some shame of my heritage. As these curriculums were versions of those taught in the America and the United Kingdom, they were primarily learning of their own culture with little light shed upon those in more underdeveloped countries. Thus it can be said the educational system reinforces ethnocentrism as it focuses on the study of a sole belief system. It can be said that ethnocentrism is not individual but societal. Thus it is possible, the manager was not racially prejudice about Sri Lanka but had been raised with a particular mindset of how Sri Lankans and South Asians in general are predestined to act and that these actions would not change even if they were to emigrate. An example is the Indian Accent and the typical head nodding in agreement.
As the UAE is central on foreigners it is not hard to immerse yourself in a magnitude of cultural diversity, which further expands your knowledge on the number of varying cultural practices in the UAE. However, having lived in such an assorted environment has not made me immune to ethnocentric ways. During my first month in Canada, I would always repeat “any country that uses the mailing system is not a country at all”. I used this as a coping mechanism as I was severely culture shocked- a state of distress when immersed in a new culture or surrounding. (Ferraro, Andreatta, pp. 15) I previously only used online systems and had never been enlightened which side of an envelope a postage stamp is affixed to.
In conclusion, ethnocentrism is inherently ingrained in society. While I can blame the “Westerners” for overlooking Asia as underdeveloped, we too look at the Western world as being too “free” and without moral. Even a conscious effort to change it would still result in comparisons wherever we were to migrate to. It is almost impossible to view culture holistically, as it would mean having etic or outsider perspective of the world which can only be done in an ethnographic study.