Ethnocentrism is the degree to which other cultures are judged as inferior to one’s own culture. Ethnocentrism can lead to racism and sexism. Racism categorizes individuals on the basis of their external physical traits, such as skin color, hair, facial structure, and eye shape, leading to prejudice and discrimination. Sexism is the assignment of characteristics to individuals on the basis of their sex, such that the genders are treated unequally. In many cultures, the female gender is treated as inferior and subjected to prejudice and discrimination.How can ethnocentrism, racism and sexism be decreased or eliminated? Decreasing ethnocentrism is usually not just a matter of increased information but rather one of bringing about an emotional change on the part of the individuals involved. Greater contact between unalike individuals may be one means to lessen ethnocentrism. Many individuals study other national cultures or travel to visit them because they think that closer contact will help them toward better understanding of an unalike culture. However, the nature of such intercultural contact is an important determinant of whether such travel decreases or increases ethnocentrism toward the culture that is visited. Many tourists who visit another culture for a brief period, often without knowing the language, become more ethnocentric toward that culture. Language competence, contact over a lengthy period of time, and a more intense relationship with members of the foreign culture (such as through close personal friendships) can help decrease ethnocentrism. The key is that only positive contacts produce positive feelings about another culture.The various elements of a culture are integrated so that each element generally makes sense in light of the other elements. When a stranger encounters only one cultural, independently of the other elements, it may seem exotic, unusual. Only when the outside observer experiences and understands all the cultural elements, does that culture make sense. This level of cultural understanding can be achieved more fully if an individual has fluency in the language that is spoken and has had extended personal contact. Only then can the stranger perceive all of the elements of an unfamiliar culture and understand that the totality is coherent.The nature of contact also applies to the case of ethnocentrism toward another religion, race, or any outgroup within one’s own society. Just as most individuals have only limited, and socially distant, contact with foreigners. Direct, personal (one-on-one) contact with an unalike other can decrease ethnocentrism.More individuals today have the opportunity to meet people from another culture. Frequently the reasons for increased contact are related to studying or working abroad. The special cultural patterns created, shared, and learned by individuals who have lived in a culture other than their own have been termed “third culture”. Someone who was born in the United States and then lived in India has a third culture experience in common with another individual who was born in Japan and then sojourned in Mexico.Most people learn the third culture as adults when they sojourn abroad. Their children may learn the third culture by accompanying their parents on the sojourning experience. Third culture young people have much in common and, in fact, often marry each other. Third culture individuals are unusually tolerant and understanding of cultural differences. They are less likely to think in terms of borders between ingroups and outgroups.
Some individuals have a third culture from birth. Biracial children, for example, can often operate effectively within each of their parents’ cultures and can connect the two. Biracial people, who never leave their home nation, have a third culture. In the United States, the number of interracial marriages is increasing, as is the number of multiracial children. Today there are more than two million people of mixed racial ancestry in the United States; this number may be a substantial underestimate.
Ethnocentric attitudes are firmly entrenched in cultural norms and thus are extremely difficult to change. Change is not, however, impossible. One means of decreasing ethnocentrism is intervention through training. There are courses designed to help individuals understand the nature of their ethnocentric beliefs. Intercultural communication training must be highly experiential in order for it to increase intercultural competence. Thus intercultural communication courses often use simulation games, exercises, videos, and other types of learning in which another culture can be experienced by the learner. In other words, if intercultural communication training is to have an effect on individuals’ behavior, the unalike culture must be experienced. One cannot just talk about intercultural communication. One has to do it. The variable of ethnocentrism versus ethnorelativism is marked by a series of stages through which an individual may pass.
denial of cultural differences, in which there is little contact with unalike others.
An evaluative defense against understanding cultural differences, because they may be threatening to one’s view of the world. An individual may say, “I don’t want to understand what those people think. They are so different from us”.
A minimization of cultural differences, through which cultural similarities are stressed.
The acceptance of cultural differences, which are acknowledged and understood.
The adaptation of one’s thinking and behavior to cultural differences.
The integration of cultural differences into one’s own worldview, so that one’s identity is both a part of, but apart from, the different culture, and a new “third culture” perspective replaces the native culture perspective.