Ethnocentrism is a double-edged sword that bears both positive and negative consequences for group life. In order to understand this problem, we must define our terms. The word ethnocentric means that one ethnic group views itself and its culture as superior to the other ethnic groups of the world. Culture is that which makes a group distinct: philosophy, religion, literature, art, architecture, societal norms, etc. The concept of group life refers to the health, or ability to thrive, of those individuals belonging to a specific ethnic culture. The obvious reason for the negative consequences rests on the fact that an ethnocentric worldview leads to harmful assumptions about others, and the positive effect is that it builds solidarity among the culture espousing that superiority.
It is safe to say that stereotypes can sometimes be true—but they can also be dangerous. The real danger of ethnocentrism is that it promotes a view of superiority over other groups. This kind of insular thinking sees other cultures as backward, evil, or wrong. Such assumptions can evolve into violence, oppression, prejudice, discrimination, and stagnation. This is both negative for the “other” in the world and unhealthy for the group viewing itself as superior. As cultures tend to ebb and flow, syncretize, and evolve, it is healthy for group members to remain conscious of both similarities and differences; it is healthy for the survival of civilizations if groups can see the common threads of the human experience. If a rigidity in the group forms, stagnation may result in a deterioration of that culture. As basic sociological theory argues, it is unhealthy for group members to be overly integrated into society.
There are also some positive aspects to ethnocentrism. The most obvious of these reasons is the solidarity that ethnocentrism perpetuates. When a group holds their view to be superior to the other views of the world, there tends to be an ardent effort to defend, build, expand, and underscore the group’s ethnic and cultural characteristics. Arguably, this can be seen in the history of Western civilization. The colonization of the world, the triumphing of the arts and humanities during the Renaissance, and the Catholicization of the world, all served to fortify the culture of the West. As basic sociological theory holds, people flourish when they are well integrated into society. Ethnocentrism leads the group to rally around what makes their culture distinct. Ethnocentrism also bears a positive effect on societies as it heralds the most important elements in that society. This heralding draws together the members of the group as they celebrate their superiority in thought, culture, and civility.
As can be seen here, ethnocentrism has both positive and negative effects on group life. These effects can be seen in the harmful facilitation of stereotypes and assumptions as well as in the solidarity ethnocentrism accentuates within the group that holds that view. Unfortunately, such superiority often comes at the expense of other groups.