The causes and manifestation of ethnocentrism can take different forms. One type of explanation would be based on personality factors of individuals. Another form of ethnocentric behavior is contextual or situational, such as the loss of jobs due to competition from a neighboring state or groups. One group or nation can be transformed from a friend to an enemy and vice versa after the end of a war. The reasons for another type of ethnocentrism may vary from mistrust of the stranger to the aims of conquest and subjugation of another group for various reasons.
The more serious negative aspects of ethnocentrism have often been manifested throughout history as violent conflicts, wars, slavery, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. The protohistorical accounts of warfare were based on tribal affiliations. The crusades in the Middle Ages, conflict in Northern Ireland, and the Nazi holocaust were based on religion. In addition to tribal and religious basis of ethnocen-trism, race, colonialism, and ethnonationalism have contributed toward distinctly negative and sometimes savage consequences. Prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behavior of Whites and African Americans in the United States are examples of ethnocentrism based on racial lines.
The apartheid practices in South Africa constituted an example of colonial ethnocentrism and concomitant racism that was common in most colonial situations. Even in multiracial or multicultural colonies, the primary White and non-White grouping, along with the dichotomy of the master and the subjugated, persisted because of the convergence of power, color, race, language, and class differences. The colonial perspective was often Eurocentric, with hierarchical and discriminatory lines drawn between the European colonizer and the colonized. The perceived distinctions of superiority and inferiority of groups became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Race relations in the United States have often been described as internal colonialism by Marxists and non-Marxists alike. The minority ethnic groups are often disrespectful of their own ethnicity in contrast with the ethnic group that is in power, a phenomenon often noticed in the colonial context. Ethnonationalism has manifested in the creation of more new nations in the last century than any other century in history. Many of these nations were created as a result of violent conflicts, atrocities, and civil wars.
Ethnocentrism has also been utilized as a means to bolster the in-group feelings and group solidarity built along ethnic lines. Terms of reference such as "brother," "sister," or "white man's burden" and the development of ethnic literature, clubs, and distinct modes of dressing are examples of activities intended to maintain the separate identity and self-respect of minorities. Socialization through the family, schools, media, peer groups, and religious teachings is a major avenue of germination and indoctrination of ethno-centrism. However, it must be strongly emphasized that all ethnic relations are not necessarily violent. There are many long-standing examples of peaceful coexistence of different ethnic groups in spite of their ethnocentric beliefs.
Ethnocentrism is a learned behavior, rooted in differences covering a variety of characteristics, and thus can be unlearned. Cultural contact has been tried as one of the approaches to reduce ethnocentrism, with the Olympic games being one example. Another solution that has been suggested is the submerging of local ethnic groups into a larger collective such as a nationality. This was the assumption made in the case of countries with intertribal or intergroup conflicts or rivalries, such as Nigeria. It was often wrongly believed that these conflicts would be subordinated or submerged in the superordinate collective such as that of nationhood. Education and socialization of children in schools through the emphasis on multicultural perspectives is another technique used to reduce ethnocentric biases. Legal measures have sometimes been effective in reducing discriminatory behavior in a few cases, but they are not likely to make an impact in case of long-standing distrust or animosities among different groups. Social changes may reduce or enhance ethnocentrism between two groups. Cross-cutting loyalties, such as different religious affiliations but a common language, would oftentimes result in lowered levels of ethnocentrism. However, regardless of many ef forts, different and new types of ethnocentric conflicts keep cropping up in many places all around the world, as it recently did in the form of terrorism. The inherent differences in the worldviews, cultural values, and belief systems are always vying for legitimization. In spite of the importance of the subject of ethnocentrism, the research on this topic is surprisingly sparse so far.
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