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Minnich: Ethnocentrism is not racism, so let’s talk about it | COMMENTARY

Americans — wait, that’s not the right word. The right word is people, or human beings, in a very general sense. Human beings talk past each other and wind up arguing over what a word means.

Ask the average person and they’ll say America is divided over race; that we are a racist nation and have not resolved the issues of slavery and 400 years of social injustices and unfair, unequal application of the laws.

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I disagree.

To be sure, racism can be found everywhere, but I maintain, at risk of offending everyone, that it is not racism that needs immediate attention. It’s ethnocentrism. So let’s talk.

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Ethnocentrism is ingrained in the human psyche, part of the self-identity of virtually every living person. It is that instinctive tendency of evaluating other cultures according to the concepts taught by their own culture.

It’s often perceived as racism, but it lacks the malicious intent of those who would eradicate other races. It isn’t a platform for dominance of others, but for pride in one’s own history and customs and potential. A person can be proud of their race or origin without wanting to destroy those not like them.

It can give permission to racism if it goes beyond the boundaries of consideration of others or is pushed to the point of aggression. But it’s mostly just ignorance, or neglectful attitudes toward others.

White people are too touchy about the term, Black Lives Matter. It is not a declaration of superiority; it is a plea to all of us to pay attention to the fact that all lives do not matter if Black lives do not matter as much.

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So, the truly rational response to Black Lives Matter is, yes, they do. That’s all.

Everyone else is taken care of, but this area needs our special attention for a while.

African American youths need the support of the whole community, in a united America, to see that people who look like them can celebrate success and prosperity; that they have the right to compete, participate, not just in sports and entertainment, but in all professions. People who look like us.

We all know that. It’s accepted by just about everyone I know. If those people were racist, they would say white Americans are genetically and intellectually superior to all other races.

Some are like that. They’re wrong.

We are all ethnocentric, though, to some extent. We get offended if we think we are asked to give up our place in line for a job, a seat in a university, a house loan, a place in the culture.

It has nothing to do with our color or heritage. Black people can be ethnocentric, too; after all, as a minority group they have been reminded time and again, often by outright racist violence but more commonly by white ethnocentric neglect, that life for them is harder.

This is no defense of the ignorance caused by narrow focus of people simply being more comfortable with people who are most like them. It is a plea to not give up on making things better because racism is someone else, not me, and so it can’t be fixed.

Perspective is not a truth. It is one angle of view, one way of seeing something.

It gets difficult to have dialog when either participant asserts an absolute truth, or unassailable fact. We’ve witnessed shifts in truth and accepted facts over the years. One thing that I find consistent is that most human tragedy begins with the inability to relate to the realities of others. That’s why despite all the changes in technology over time, from prehistoric campfire gatherings to cellphone texts, storytelling thrives. We keep trying to connect with others.

The bravest among us leave the comfort of the tribal campfire and explore the habitats of others. The risk there is that there will be a lack of acceptance, of rejection, even violence. The reward is discovery and progress.

I see my grandchildren and their generation accepting differences that my grandparents would have rejected. That would not happen in an atmosphere of institutional racism. It’s encouraging.

Dean Minnich, who retired from a career in journalism and served two terms as a county commissioner, writes from Westminster. His column runs Thursdays. Email him at Dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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