Tuesday, 5 May 2009

How to confront ethnocentrism?

My today's – or tonight's – thesis, to be defended in more detail later: Ethnocentrism cannot be refuted efficiently by oversimplifying it. The nationalist or ethnocentrist argument often begins with the sentence "I am not a racist..." (or, as in a Monty Python sketch, "I am not a racialist! But..."). In a certain sense, I tend to accept that claim, even though I know how easy it would be just to smirk at it. I tend to accept it because the concept of racism has become void of all precise content: as far as I know, racism used to be connected with a certain biologism and a belief in substantial differences between "races". No one seriously believes in racism any longer, in that sense, or at least professes such belief publicly (although there are notable exceptions to prove this rule). Ethnocentrism and nationalism need not even signify a belief in the intrinsic superiority of one's own nation or ethnic group. Rather, they seem to be founded on a certain notion of cultural "rootedness" that can very well subscribe to the idea of equality of different nations and ethnicities – a belief in a homestead, fatherland that is the best place for any nation to live their lives. A certain apparently rational myth of autochtony and an argument for monoculturalism...

P.S. I almost instantly begin commenting on my own text – but I suppose "Work in Progress" is all right for a weblog... So, here is a footnote: Ethnocetrism is not a hierarchy of one-over-the-others, but a belief in a "centre", a concentric nationality and ethnicity, one land and one language (or maybe a couple: we have "our own minorities", those that our fathers already learned to "tolerate"...).

P.P.S. "Tolerate" in inverted commas – why? Well, I remember Derrida saying in an interview that "toleration" is actually an insult. I agree on that: the notion of toleration implies a condescending attitude, a hierarchy between majority and minority, "same" and "other", concentric and eccentric. To be sure, "toleration" might not be the worst kind of attitude, but it's still a questionable form of ethnocentrism, I'm afraid.

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