Ethnicity and Ethnocentrism

Ethnicity and Ethnocentrism: Implications for the Modern World


Ethnicity implies a group of people whose members are bound by a common heritage. People are categorized into various ethnic groups based upon their language, cultural origins, and geographic location. So, it is mainly the racial or the cultural relationship or the bond between people that we refer to as their ethnicity. However, ethnicity is an important part of people’s identity. The origin of the word ethnicity lies in the Greek word ‘Ethnos’ that means people belonging to a common race who also share the same culture. In the ancient times, most of the ethnic groups used to live together and their populations were generally confined to the same geographic locations. However, with time things changed and as means of transportation improved people spread out to the various parts of the world. Today, one can find people of the same ethnicity living in two distant parts of the world. The US population itself is comprised of people of varying ethnic origins. The most important aspects of ethnicity are a common cultural heritage, common ancestry and language. However, the people belonging to the same ethnic group may also be similar in various other aspects like the religion they follow, the clothes they wear and even their physical appearance. Every ethnicity has a distinct identity that is determined by its distinct language, lifestyle, traditions, customs, behavior and religion.

Ethnocentrism is a related term. In general ethnocentrism implies judging other cultures from one’s own cultural point of view. It is a general belief that one’s culture or race are superior to the others and therefore at the centre of everything. The result is that it gives rise to a thinking that one’s own group’s identity, culture and style are always superior to that of the others. While on one hand its outcome can be a positive group identity on the other there are some negative implications of ethnocentrism. Still, it cannot always be believed to harm the society in all its forms. The term had been coined by William G Summer when he observed the people’s tendency to differentiate between in-groups and other social groups. He discovered that it mostly resulted in pride and vanity for the members of the ingroup and contempt of the outgroup. Ethnocentrism occurs when a nation or culture sees itself as belonging to the top of the hierarchy of nations and cultures and as superior to all others. Hitler’s hatred of Jews, Muslim’s hatred of the Western culture and white prejudice against people of color are some examples of ethnocentrism.  Ethnocentrism to an extent is fine but beyond a certain point it gives birth to feelings of hatred and prejudice. Such an attitude against other cultures and races has mostly given rise to violence in history.


Ethnocentrism can be positive or negative for societies. Till a certain level it binds societies together and prevents their disintegration. After that it can lead to negative outcomes. The modern world is like a large multicultural society. In such a case ethnocentrism mostly has negative implications. Nations have taken the form of culturally diverse societies where people from varying races and ethnicities live together. Ethnocentrism in such an environment can mostly give birth to ideological differences and clashes. Vanity can give rise to major differences and the outcome would be lack of trust and therefore conflicts. Such conflicts will harm the social fabric of any nation. International relationships too stand to be harmed deeply due to a rise in ethnocentric attitude.

People or groups with an ethnocentric attitude think that they are superior to others based upon their cultural heritage. However, such beliefs have led to nothing but negative biases and discrimination. It is also a major reason behind the divisions in the contemporary society. Still, ethnocentrism continues and particularly politics and people’s political decisions are sometimes highly motivated by their ethnocentric ideals.  Several nations believe that US is ethnocentric and considers itself superior to other nations and cultures. Apart from politics, one will come against the depiction of ethnocentrism in movies and literature too. After having analysed the negatives of ethnocentrism it is evident that in the modern world its prevalence is harmful. Undoubtedly, it can breed nothing but prejudice and conflicts.