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An Explanation of Ethnocentrism

Updated on February 24, 2015

Many people throughout the world do not know what “ethnocentrism” means; therefore it actually enhances their ethnocentrism and comes to be quite the hindrance to them. “Cultural relativism” also is quite misunderstood by people. In life today, it is extremely important to understand these terms and how to correlate them with our own day-to-day lives.

Ethnocentrism is when you, as an individual person or the universal “you” believe that your culture is at the center of the universe. As if no other culture can possible compete against it or amount to it. “The word ethnocentrism derives from the Greek word ethnos, meaning “nation” or “people,” and the English word center” ( Ethnocentrism comes from a lack of understanding. “A lack of understanding can also inhibit constructive resolutions when we face conflicts between social groups. It is easy to assume that others "should" have certain perspectives or values. How often are we prone to address conflicts when others tell us how we should think and feel?” (

Everybody is ethnocentric about their own culture to a certain extent because if we did not believe our culture was the best then why would we have it?

Different types of ethnocentrism come up as events come and go. An example of this, is people’s debasement of Middle Easterner’s culture because of the war we are currently in. Many Americans look at the Middle Eastern culture and think that they are above them because we have a democratic style government and a more "Christian-based culture". It is often easier to believe people of cultures that clash with our own are less evolved and intelligent. That is very simply, not the case.

Ethnocentrism can be taken too far and terrifying outcomes can be forever marked into the slate of the Earth. Extremism, war, genocide, biological experimentation, slavery, etc. This is the line (to me, personally) that divides ethnocentrism from racism.

People are all people; culture is not biological, it’s from enculturation. No one culture is superior to any other culture. “Ethnocentrism leads to misunderstanding others. We falsely distort what is meaningful and functional through our own tinted glasses. We see their ways in terms of our life experience, not their context. We do not understand that their ways have their own meanings and functions in life, just as our ways have for us” (

Cultural relativism simply means that you understand another culture. It does not mean that you necessarily agree with it. “… no one ethnic group has the right to say that their particular system of beliefs and values, their worldview, is in any way superior to anyone else’s system of beliefs and values. What’s right for one culture might be wrong for another and that’s alright. There is no absolute standard of right and wrong by which to compare and contrast morally contradictory cultural values” ( Cultural relativism is beautiful because it keeps people from holding onto stereotypical views that make them look down on others just because they engage in a different type of lifestyle.

None of us can live more than one life on this planet. Sharing and learning with others enhances us. In many ways it allows us to feel as though we have lived many lives. Let me ask you, do you know the races of the people in the photo below? Or do you just know that they are people? They are people.

Have you been in an interracial relationship?

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Do you have any family members you would identify as "racist"?

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