Category Archives: Assignment 5

Another’s Perspective


Ethnocentrism is an uncomfortable subject to broach for many involved in the humanitarian aid industry; it’s a subject that touches on culture, privilege and race extensively.  The difficulty of judging a foreign culture by your own standards presents a multitude of problems.   Different situations, beliefs and histories make it extremely difficult for an outsider to fully understand the depth and scope of foreign situations.


Often times Western cultures overlook many of factors that are necessary for long-term, sustainable success in Africa.  These are things like democracy and legal systems, which are structures many Westerners may take for granted.  This isn’t some callous oversight by the majority of Western humanitarians, but its emblematic of a careless way of thinking that needs to change.  Often times we believe we know the entire situation and how to fix it, yet that’s rarely the case.  It’s a form of hubris that actually serves to alleviate those the aid was meant to serve in the first place.  For example, Teju Cole writes, “He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated “disasters.” All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need” (Cole).  Western humanitarians see the obvious symptoms, but fail to realize the underlying problems.


While most ignorance isn’t malicious, many organizations don’t address these underlying problems because they aren’t as tangible, quick to “solve” or apparent to their donor base.  We, as global humanitarians, need to demand more from our aid groups.  The popular issue isn’t always the one that needs the most attention.  If we truly desire to help those in need, then we should plan for the long-term.  The quick fixes that stimulate donors but don’t resolve the issue need to be eschewed for actual solutions.  Technology gives us access to more information than ever before, so we can no longer use ignorance of an excuse; the current form of aid fails to address the real problems.


The most important way to fix the disconnect between the “is” and “ought” of humanitarian aid operations is to work intimately with the local peoples.  Many INGOs claim they foster cooperation and value local opinions, but that’s often just window dressing for donors.  Linda Polman in The Crisis Caravan writes about how Western workers live separately from the locals, isolate themselves with foreign technology and generally don’t embrace the culture.  The higher ups in the aid organizations may hear what the local concerns are, but they don’t listen to them.  We need to stop this ethnocentric way of thinking and consider that we actually don’t always have the perfect solutions.  Westerners, as outsiders, have trouble seeing the big picture.  Cole writes, “There are serious problems of governance, of infrastructure, of democracy, and of law and order. These problems are neither simple in themselves nor are they reducible to slogans. Such problems are both intricate and intensely local” (Cole).   Aid workers haven’t lived in these areas their entire lives, they don’t know the biggest fears, wants and needs of the local population.  At arms length many issues may appear differently, and we need to close that gap and embrace local opinion.



Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. March 21, 2012. Web. July 4, 2013.

Easterly, William. “The White Man’s Burden.” The New York Review of Books. January 2007. Web. July 4, 2013.

Polman, Linda. The Crisis Caravan. Viking, 2010. Print.


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Assignment 5


Although many American college students talk about “saving the world” and “helping those in need”, it is just as likely to see that same student wearing a pair of Nike tennis shoes that were made by Chinese child laborers. In American culture, as it is popular to keep up with the latest style, it seems equally as popular to seem engaged in the issues of the world. However, it does not seem that someone interested in the well being of the world would purchase goods from a company known to exploit its workers. In American culture, it seems people only accept the role of global citizenship when it is convenient for them. When helping others is going to inhibit personal style or success, then the duties of global citizenship are pushed to the side. In Western countries like America, it is very common to see our needs as superior to other countries around the world. The influence of ethnocentrism, or “the belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group”, can create sense of separation between the “us” and the “others” (Wordnet). In trying to help the “others”, we often blur the lines between what we believe is best of them and what they actually want and need.  Below is a chart that highlights how certain beliefs or tendencies can contribute to ethnocentric behaviors.

Some of our ethnocentric attitudes highlighted in this chart come from traits and ideas we deal with everyday. In the article “Beyond the Pledge of Allegiance: Becoming a Responsible World Citizen”, Dr. Tom Arcaro discusses the overlapping definitions of patriotism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, and racism. Arcaro asks us to consider “can you be patriotic without being nationalistic? Can you be nationalistic without being somewhat ethnocentric? Can you be ethnocentric without being somewhat racist?” (7). He sites the Pledge of Allegiance, a pledge American students recite everyday, as an act of patriotism. But doest it instill more than that? Does it imply we protect our country and hold American and its citizens above all other citizens of the world? In this way, ethnocentric attitudes in our society seem almost inescapable, and therefore play an extensive role in humanitarian aid.  

Because many of these attitudes can be found in both donors and volunteers in aid industries alike, ethnocentrism has a profound effect on the effectiveness of humanitarian aid. No one in the aid industry is asking if the recipients of aid are satisfied with the care they receive or if the care is fulfilling all of their need. And, sadly, that doesn’t seem to be a concern for most aid organizations. Instead, they are more concerned about their image as it is perceived by donors and the Western community.

Ethnocentric tendencies in humanitarian aid can often be linked back to donor interests taking priority over the actual needs of victims. Aid organizations bring care to victims suffering all over the world through whatever services the donors believe will be most beneficial. However, very rarely are the victims ever consulted as to what kind of aid they would find most helpful. For many westerns, it seems the goal of providing aid is to make themselves feel accomplished by providing the services they feel are most necessary, which are likely not the services victims need most. In her book War Games, Linda Polman discusses how MONGOs delivered useless aide items to many areas of crisis. Polman sites examples of shipping “frostbite medication to victims of tropical disasters, and starving Somalis received laxatives, slimming cures, and electric blankets” (49). In these examples, donors are unaware of the true needs of the victims. They provide ineffective aid, wasting both time and money.

When reflecting on the work of MSF, Caroline Abu-Sada recognizes that motivations for people within this organization “largely depend on personal paths rather than general trends” (38). She continues to suggest that “the organization as an institution must assert its own motivations, which its members are expected to adopt” (38).  With unity in motivation, it is more possible to address the needs of victims rather than focus on personal interests. Aid donors are often so blinded by their own interests and fail to see the larger causes of suffering. Cole explains that unseen by most Westerners, “beyond the immediate attention that he rightly pays hungry mouths, child soldiers, or raped civilians, there are more complex and more widespread problems”(Cole). In this way, the ethnocentric attitudes of Americans can of understanding what assistance can be provided and what goals are unrealistic . Instead, Americans become caught up in the idea of “saving the world” when in actuality, they can not even accurately access the needs of the victims they are giving aide to. In Teju Cole’s article The White-Savior Industrial Complex he comments on how ethnocentric attitudes of westerns, specifically Americans, hinder the effectiveness of humanitarian aid. Cole comments that contrary to the current practices of the aide industry, “there is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them” (Cole).  Abu-Sada agrees that the opinions of the victims are often overlooked. She explains that “perhaps because of excessive confidence in the power of humanitarian organizations, there has been a tendency to neglect these negotiation processes” (63). And after these aid organizations feel that their work is complete, they leave that specific region to visit another suffering area of the world. But after humanitarian aid has been deemed “complete”, who decides if the humanitarian work was effective or not? Who decides if the needs of the victims were actually met? Cole agrues that personal interests of the donors, such their emotional needs, play a large role assessing the effectiveness of an aid project. He explains that sites of humanitarian aid are “a liberated space in which the usual rules do not apply: a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied.” (Cole).

An add used by MSF to attract donors. Children are often used to attract Western donors even if they do not represent the main population effected by the crisis. This can lead to ineffective spending.


To address situations like these, Abu-Sada argues that mutual respect for a cultures and an attitude of humility must be utilized when providing aide. Abu-Sada recognizes that “international staff do not always have a good understanding of the political, economic, and cultural contexts in which they work” (62).  She goes on to suggest that “MSF should get back in to the habit of negoticating with the parties involved: politicians, ministries of health, and local people” (63). Overall, it seems that ethnocentrism seems to really create a lack on communication between victims and aid providers. By making the needs of victims a priority, aid industries could be much more effective in their distribution of aide.


Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. MSF-USA, 2012. Print.

Arcaro, Tom. “Beyond the Pledge of Allegiance: Becoming a Responsible World Citizen.” 13 June 2013

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Polman, Linda. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. London: Viking, 2010. Print.

“WordNet Search – 3.1.” WordNet Search – 3.1 Web. 13 June 2013. <>.


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The Aid Worker’s Burden


Ethnocentrism is the primary flaw within the mentality of the present-day aid community. Put plainly, ethnocentrism is a mentality of cultural or ethnic superiority that one either consciously or subconsciously uses as a means of measuring or comparing the culture or ethnicity of others. What happens now in the aid sphere is that those in the “developed” world see a “problem” in the developing world, as compared to their standard of living and cultural understandings, and then have an irresistible urge to respond, oftentimes in a way that hurts the beneficiaries rather than helps them. Aid groups see “others” with less than “us”, who have different, or perhaps “worse” living conditions than us, those who have lesser economic opportunities than us, and feel pity and a consequential motivation to change their circumstances. This emotional and (often unintentionally) condescending response, as Teju Cole highlights in his article in The Atlantic, has created the widely accepted and little acknowledged mentality within the aid community that, “The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.” This enthusiasm blinds the aid community and serves to drive actions that are well intentioned but ultimately harmful to those they intend to help.

Take, for instance, the shoe company TOMS. TOMS has a business model of “One for One,” stating that, “For every purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. One for One.” TOMS was founded by a young man named Blake Mycoskie after he traveled to Argentina in 2006 and saw that there were children were walking around without shoes. Ignorance, based largely in ethnocentrism, hindered him from asking those in the country of Argentina what other, more pressing needs might exist, and he decided to start a for-profit business that would give one pair of shoes to a child in a developing country for every pair of shoes bought by another person on the other side of the world. Mycoskie, acting without significant knowledge of the economy of the countries he was seeking to aid, failed to recognize the impact it would have and unfortunately, “Wanting to do something to help is no excuse for not knowing the consequences of what you’re doing” (Wadmans). In the end, the ethnocentric model of TOMS has put shoes on the feet of over one million children, but at the cost of destabilizing developing local economies that rely upon the purchase of secondhand apparel and accessories by citizens, disempowering those who are acting as the recipients of free goods and failing to listen to the greater needs of the beneficiaries, and last but not least, not seeking to develop a sustainable solution to the issue at hand.

Ethnocentrism in aid propagates the outlook within the aid community that those who are on the receiving end of aid are lucky to be beneficiaries and yet, “Local circumstances alter the way humanitarian action is perceived, filtering it through a cultural, religious or political lens” (Abu-Sada 27). Noting this, it is of the utmost importance that we follow in the footsteps of the NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres, and place unblinking attention on how recipients perceive aid, the factors influencing perception and the perceptions of recipients by aid workers in order to best govern interactions and interventions and combat ethnocentrism in humanitarian action. Once more humanitarian organizations commence intensive introspection, such as what MSF did with their Perception Project regarding the perceptions of their distribution of aid and the intentions behind it, they can begin altering approaches so that they more effectively and sensitively address the actual needs of communities being served. Aid groups can then address real, pressing needs of communities rather than a projection of perceived needs and do so in a way that empowers local people groups and enables them through partnership or investment. The end goal of this will be that long-term sustainable solutions to foundational issues begin to emerge. As William Easterly says in his article “The White Man’s Burden,” Poverty never has been ended and never will be ended by foreign experts or foreign aid. Poverty will end as it has ended everywhere else, by homegrown political, economic, and social reformers and entrepreneurs that unleash the power of democracy and free markets.” Only after ethnorelativism is attained and a healthy dose of humility infiltrates the humanitarian aid community, can the disempowering impact of aid be addressed and the international system of aid be healed again.

 Works Cited:

Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. United States: MSF-USA, n.d. Print.

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. N.p., 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Davenport, Cheryl. “The Broken “Buy-One, Give-One” Model: 3 Ways To Save Toms Shoes.” Fast Company. Fast Company, 04 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 June 2013. <>.

“One For One Movement – A Pair Of New Shoes Is Given To A Child In Need With Every Pair Purchased.” One For One Movement – A Pair Of New Shoes Is Given To A Child In Need With Every Pair Purchased | TOMS, n.d. Web. 13 June 2013. <>.

Wadhams, Nick. “Bad Charity? (All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!).” Time Inc., 12 May 2010. Web. <Wadhams, Nick. “Bad Charity? (All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!).” Time Magazine 12 May 2010: n. pag. Web. .>.

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A. Nicot – Assignment 5: Ethnocentrism and the White Savior

My internet service has been acting up due to the copious floods in the region of the world where I am right now, so forgive the absence of the previous two assignments, I’ll see about getting those up as soon as possible – I shouldn’t expect many other delays, after talking with my ISP.


France bringing “civilization, liberty, and peace” to Morocco (or possibly Algeria).

Before commenting on Ethnocentrism as a force, I think it would be wise to take some time to talk about the less important but nevertheless irritating “white savior” complex. In his editorial reply to some received criticism, Easterly identifies the modern “white savior” mentality, which consists of Europeans and Americans (mostly anglophones) supporting charitable action or humanitarian intervention in African countries, usually attributed out of  a desire to feel good as opposed to a desire to do good. Easterly makes a connection between this complex and the historic notion of the “White Man’s Burden,” which I contend is in fact quite dissimilar. Whereas white saviors advocate increased charitable donation to poverty-stricken countries (Jeffry Sachs, identified as the man making the comments displeasing to Easterly, mentions $75 billion annual donations), they take a purely materialist view of the problem. That is, they, with the bureaucratic entities of the higher orders (mainly the UN and it’s various subordinate entities such as UNESCO or UNICEF) argue that money will somehow solve the problems.

This is not the case in reality, and was not the case with the White Man’s Burden. Real aid to these sorts of Third-World wastelands (to put it bluntly) comes in the aid of active development. China understands this, even though they tend to do a sub-par job with their infrastructure development. But China sees that it’s a quid pro quo exchange of services and goods. They come and build the roads and the power structures, they fund schools and so on instead of just dumping the money into the governments, and in return, they obtain resources and privileges in commerce. Similarly, 19th Century neo-colonial Empires exchanged what was understood to be civilization (schools, medicine, religion, participation in Empire itself) in exchange for resources (manual labour, troops, minerals, lumber, etc.). The relationship was proportional to the level of development between the two parties. It was the act of domination, of establishing a hierarchy of civilizations, and of the greater uplifting the lesser. In the eyes of the 19th Century European, in any case.

This puts it miles away from modern “white saviors” who are motivated purely by humanist, soft, charitable ambitions and demand nothing in return but gratitude (and the inevitable adulation of their supporters on the home front, for their “bravery” and “courage” and so forth). Naturally, one can observe that the first model, the Colonial one (and as successor the more equilateral arrangements between China and African countries) as more effective at raising standards of living in Africa proper. After all, when the Empires left, Africa was left with so much more than what it had before, and so many more resources to spare besides. The dichotomy between the two concepts is the first point is the first ting I wanted to address, since Easterly and Cole (from his Atlantic editorial) seem to suggest that the one derives from the other. One was born of a sense of superiority and moral duty, the other was not.

One can see from this that the white savior complex is not mandated from an explicit ethnocentrism, whereas old-style colonial relationships were openly so. So how do some cry “ethnocentrism” (one should note as well that this term is used, for no good reason, in an almost entirely negative manner by all) when it comes to modern humanitarian missions? I recall reading the book Dancing Skeletons, an extensive study by Katherine Dettwyler about the state of the health of West African tribesmen in Mali. I hate to bring in anecdotes, but it seems to adequately summarize the concerns over ethnocentrism. In this book, Dettwyler chronicles the various diseases and afflictions that had befallen this particular tribe of Bambara, including but not limited to urinating blood, intestinal parasites, widespread malnutrition, and the like. Now, the interesting part of this account comes when analyzing the causes of these tragedies and the reasons for their persistence: native Bambara culture. Indeed, in their traditional way of life, the Bambara treat ailments by rubbing feces into open wounds, keeping essential proteins contained in meat away from the young because it was felt the elders deserved it more, or thinking that goiters the size of basketballs are part of a healthy physique; thinking that blood in urine for boys is the equivalent of menstruation in girls – a sign of maturity. These are all indigenous beliefs and practices of the Bambara people. Now, Kettwyler detailed in her book how she did her best to treat these people, but concern was raised amongst my fellow students and my professor about this. Apparently, there is no right to alter these people’s culture just to make them healthier. Naturally I was dumbfounded. It was suggested to me that Western medication is a Western cultural artifact that should not be imposed upon the tribesmen. Naturally, I concluded that if juggling rocks would allow a people to establish good health amongst themselves, then there should be no problem with not giving them pills and injections. But that simply isn’t the case. The mortality rate has always been high in certain parts of the world specifically because of cultural practices which are objectively dangerous for the human body. Circumcision for example. But let us look at a hypothetical European example: as many know, the French do not pasteurize their cheese. Now obviously this might seem dangerous to those who understand that this increases the likelihood of contracting disease. Which is why cheese is made in sanitary conditions and it’s ingredients carefully selected. No artisanal fromagerie culture is sacrificed, nobody dies (or at least very rarely). The proposition to introduce objectively superior practices, in this case healthcare ones, was and is perceived as ethnocentric.

Nobody was making a fuss about child soldiers in Europe until the latter half of the Twentieth Century.

It is interesting to note that such cases of humanitarian aid, perceived as ethnocentric, are not motivated by a feeling of superiority of the white as is implied by the term “white savior” but by a feeling of guilt and contrition. Essentially white guilt. Would it not be more ethnocentric to not be contrite, to refuse apology, and to say “enough is enough, not one cent more, we’ll deal with our own problems?”

The Kony 2012 campaign, while absolutely laughable from the start, was not ethnocentric. It was not, as Teju Cole heavily implied, for the benefit of the white man’s superiority complex. It was a commercial event and nothing more. A symptom of the decadence of Western civilization, where people believe they can make a difference in the world by sitting on their backsides and buying shirts and posters online after watching a moderately long video on the internet. Where ignorance is the substitute for knowledge and feel-goodery the substitute of genuine charitable spirit. False emotion (as outlined in the David Jefferess piece) attempts to supplant real and genuine attempts to aid Africans who suffer. the Catholic Church runs through it’s extensive charitable network services which benefit the suffering and demands nothing in return. It doesn’t even demand recognition. Things like the Kony 2012 campaign insult both Africans and Europeans/Americans who support it – the former for patronizing them and the latter for stealing from them by playing their emotions.

On a lighter note, this series of comedy sketches are spoofs of the “white savior” image and how Africans many perceive it:


Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic, 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Dettwyler, Katherine A. Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1994. Print.

Easterly, William. “The White Man’s Burden.” The New York Review of Books. N.p., 11 Jan. 2007. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Jefferess, David. “Humanitarian Relations: Emotion and the Limits of Critique.” Critical Literacy Journal 7.1 (2013): n. pag. Http:// Web. 13 June 2013. <>.


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Ethnocentric Pitfalls

While I had previously heard the term ethnocentrism, I had never studied it, nor did I know the exact definition.  After looking at multiple definitions I have found one that I think manages to be both unbiased and thorough.  Princeton writes that

“Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one’s ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one’s own. The ethnocentric individual will judge other groups relative to his or her own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with concern to language, behavior, customs, and religion. These ethnic distinctions and sub-divisions serve to define each ethnicity’s unique cultural identity.” (Princeton)

The implications of ethnocentrism in humanitarian aid are quite apparent.  Any time two cultures interact so closely and at such a raw level you are bound to have judgements and preconceived notions that may affect the receptiveness and stability of the two groups.  For instance, the western perception that Africa, and by extension Africans themselves, are intellectually and culturally inferior can adversely affect the long term effectiveness of aid to those communities.  Teju Cole writes that aid workers, especially in Africa, need to view their recipients as equals.  He states that if aid workers respected the urgency and independence of those they were helping they would do a lot better.  He cites that many people that receive aid also want to learn how to provide it, especially when it comes to medical training (Cole).  I completely agree and think that while emergency aid is incredibly important, long lasting success can only come through development.

While I do agree with Cole on some things, I found the much of his vitriolic article to be frustrating in the extreme.  In The White-Savior Industrial Complex he constantly bashes the privilege of western nations and those that come bearing aid.  He states that “a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied. Many have done it under the banner of “making a difference.”  He states that this emotional experience is all about validating the privilege we have in our countries.  (Cole)  What kills me about this is that he touts his statements about privilege as eye opening and shocking.  To be honest, the privilege and fortune we have here in America is made very clear to every child during their formative years.  Almost everyone I know is very much aware that they could have been born in any number of unfortunate circumstances.  That said, not all of them think about it very often, and fewer still take action on it.  And those that do, those are the people passing out blankets and mosquito nets.  Those are the people trying to make a difference, and I commend them for it.  And so what if they get a positive emotional response from it?  So what if they want to spend their lives helping those that are less fortunate.  Cole’s apparent condemnation of these aid workers baffles me entirely.

All this said, I am the first to admit that the aid system has problems.  For this very reason, I found the MSF study in In the Eyes of Others to be very interesting and a strong step forward.  MSFs comprehensive study seemed to have been carried out with the utmost diligence and clearly yielded some powerful insight.  I found it interesting that Cole’s push to have more development was corroborated in the responses to the study.  It is clear that for the aid system to advance, it needs to take a more long term approach.  That said, the survey did indicate that people liked MSFs immediate care and appreciated the economic effects that humanitarian aid can confer (In the Eyes of Others).

The issue of ethnocentrism was very apparent in Mali following the end of conflict there.  After the fighting stopped, nearly 30.7% of the funds were never delivered to help refugees and reconstruction.  Jacey Fortin writes that these big name donors waited until nobody was watching anymore to pull their checks, stating their assistance was no longer necessary.  This use of a conflict to improve your name is an obvious example of western corporations and institutions using those less fortunate than themselves for gain (Fortin).  We cannot allow this to continue.  By acknowledging and casting aside ethnocentrism we can work together to create an aid system with less corruption and better long term effect.

Works Cited

Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. N.p.: MSF, n.d. Print.

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2013.

“Ethnocentrism.” Ethnocentrism. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2013.

Fortin, Jacey. “Aftermath In Mali: Things We Forgot About Humanitarian Aid.” International Business Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2013.




If one were to investigate ethnocentrism, one would only need to look at the history of this country. Before the United States was founded in 1776, the North American continent was inhabited by native Americans, what the colonists called, “Indians.” Once Europeans began to invade the continent in increasing numbers, they needed more space than the Indians wanted to give them. The result? Many, many, many battles between colonial, then eventually, U.S. forces, continually pushing the natives west. This came to be known as the Trail of Tears.

The Academy Award winning motion picture Dances With Wolves deals with the issue of how the U.S. Government dealt with the ethnocentric views of the Plains Indians, specifically the Sioux. Kevin Costner plays a U.S. Army Lieutenant who is granted his wish to see the frontier after the Civil War. He is sent out to Fort Sedgwick, located in the Great Plains. He knows nothing about the Sioux, only what the U.S. forces tell him. They are, “nothing but beggars and thieves,” he is told. The trailer for the film gives a good picture.

It is only after a few encounters with the tribe, Costner’s character realizes that they are not the savages they are made out to be. The biggest lesson from the film, simply put is, one needs to look outside their perspective in order to gain another.

The whole reason ethnocentrism exists is because people do not take another people’s culture into perspective. In the modern world, think about how different some places are in the world are from the United States. Who is to say that another culture that is different from ones own is incorrect, or backwards. It all comes from perspective.

Ken Barger is a professor of Anthropology at Indiana University. He defines ethnocentrism as: “making false assumptions about others’ ways based on our own limited experience.” To allow this blogger a cliche, “first impressions are what sticks in your mind.” When a person from another culture, makes a(n) impression (perhaps negative) on a person, then that person’s culture and place of origin is forever judged by the original person. Exhibit A: Muslims and 9/11. After the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, Muslims were (and still are) grossly discriminated against. If one were to do some research on Muslims, one would realize that the radical terrorist represent an extreme minority of the religion.

What is the solution to this problem of global ethnocentrism? In the United States there is still ethnocentrism between citizens. When basketball player Jason Collins became the first gay athlete in the four major American professional sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) to come out, he faced criticism from ESPN reporter Chris Broussard, basing his criticism on his Christian faith. It comes down to perspective. Did Broussard ever consider what Collins had been dealing with? No, he narrow mindedly saw Collins as gay and as Broussard believed, gay is wrong. Who is he to make that decision.

Just have the thought to think of the side’s perspective.



Works Cited

Barger, Ken. “ETHNOCENTRISM.” IUPUI, Barger: What Is Ethnocentrism? N.p., 1 July 2008. Web. 13 June 2013.
Beardsley, Frank. “Native Americans Fight Two Wars Over Land Rights.” American History: (VOA Special English 2005-09-14). N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2013.
Khera, Farhana. “Muslims in America, It’s Time to Demand Justice.” CNN. Cable News Network, 06 June 2012. Web. 13 June 2013.
Webb, Jefferey. “PolicyMic.” PolicyMic. N.p., May 2013. Web. 13 June 2013.


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Fear and “Otherism”

Ethnocentrism is the action of judging another culture based on the views of one’s own. This is a major obstacle in facilitating humanitarian aid to other countries. Being a citizen in a third world country and suddenly seeing a group of well-dressed Caucasians imposing their various forms of aid upon you will often be unwelcomed and can come off as intimidating. Working among people from vastly different cultures can be extremely difficult for those giving and receiving aid. Ethnocentrism is a major contributor to aid inefficiency, as evident throughout Abu-Sada’s “In the Eyes of Others.” A great way to make humanitarian aid more economical is to stay educated, open-minded, and eliminate the unconscious feeling of superiority that ethnocentrism can often put across.

In SOC111 with Dr. Arcaro, I learned about the concept of “otherism” and how it is connected to ethnocentrism. Otherism is the overarching term that describes various prejudices such as racism, classism, and sexism. It’s the sometimes inhuman feelings we have towards another who is different from us for any reason. There are a number of ideas that contribute to the various forms of otherism. For example, one of the leading arguments for sexism is human biology – women should stay home and raise kids since they are the ones who birth them. After discussing otherism and its varying subcategories, the idea that was always present was fear. Evolutionary psychology would constitute that “[it’s] human instinct to fear ‘the other’” (Arcaro). This “fear” manifests itself on both sides of humanitarian aid, though in vastly different ways.

For the inhabitants receiving support and assistance, fear becomes evident through intolerance, sometimes leading to violence. In the very first paragraph of “In the Eyes of Others,” Abu-Sada mentions how five MSF staff members were killed in Afghanistan, in an area that they had been working out of for the past 25 years (10). Because of this incident, MSF was forced to rethink its role in some of the areas in which they provide development assistance – principally, how they are perceived by the surrounding culture.

For the groups that provide humanitarian aid, fear will often emanate itself in an unconscious feeling of superiority. This is called counteranthropomorphization: or that idea that “just because A≠B, does this mean A>B?” (Arcaro). Of course no aid worker would be able to admit this to someone else, let alone his or herself. Part of actively being a global citizen is staying unbiased and viewing everyone equally. When coming in direct contact with inhabitants of third-world countries and witnessing first-hand the inferior technology, economy, etc., as well as their ever-present cultural differences, it’s extremely hard to disregard these aspects and view them as equal.

In more blatant situations of superiority concerning those who give humanitarian aid, Teju Cole has coined the phrase “White Savior Industrial Complex.” Many Americans believe themselves to be “better” than citizens in third world countries, and for that reason impose support upon them to help fuel this feeling of superiority. Backing up about 200 years ago, in a time when Americans were much less open minded than today, this feeling of superiority manifested itself through the African slave trade. Americans openly believed that since A≠B, then A>B. They literally regarded blacks as less-than-human; they weren’t American citizens, they were property. Nowadays, close-mindedness is frowned upon, so many Americans turn to the facilitating of development assistance in less privileged regions to stimulate their superiority and boost their self-esteem.

The understanding and adherence to the norms of a surrounding culture is fundamental when interacting with other people. This is especially true when providing direct assistance to people in third-world countries, though also something that many agencies seem to struggle with. People that provide aid find themselves not accepted by locals because of their own ethnocentrism and ignorance of the culture they are enveloped in. This problem is only amplified when workers help others more for their own personal benefit that for the benefit of those around them; “there is much more to doing good work than ‘making a difference.’ There is the principle of first do no harm” (Cole). On a psychological level, ethnocentrism is a tough obstacle to overcome when providing aid. It’s done unconsciously because it’s human nature to “fear the other.” The fact that it’s so tough to overcome makes it that much more important. Being able to put one’s self on the same echelon as someone who is reliant on the aid of NGOs to stay alive is just one step in becoming a global citizen.



Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. N.p.: MSF-USA, 2012. Print.

Anonymous. “Confronting the Demons Of Ethnocentrism.” Tales From the Hood. WordPress, 17 June 2011. Web.

Arcaro, Tom. “Race”. Elon University. Elon, NC.  11 Apr. 2013. Lecture.

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 21 Mar. 2012. Web.

Ferrante, Joan. Sociology: A Global Perspective. Belmont, CA: Wadswoth, 2008. Print.


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Manifestations of Ethnocentrism in Humanitarian Aid

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The humanitarian aid industry is all about perception- how recipients perceive the aid they receive and how donors and aid workers perceive the recipients.  The latter is particularly intertwined with one specific sociological concept.  Ethnocentrism is defined as “the tendency to believe that one’s ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one’s own.”  The song, “Colors of the Wind” expresses ethnocentrism to a tee: “You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you.  But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”  I believe ethnocentrism plays a huge role in the humanitarian aid industry, affecting how we view peoples all over the world.  When crisis occurs somewhere on the planet, we feel it is our duty to go and lend whatever support we can.  Our actions, donation or otherwise, are based on good intentions, but ethnocentrism sneaks up and grabs hold of us.

The very essence of humanitarian aid is ethnocentric.  Going out and helping other peoples, sometimes without their request, implies that we are superior to them, and we are going to make their lives “better.”  The popular charity song from the 80s, “We Are the World,” perfectly demonstrates the ethnocentric undertones that are evident in the humanitarian aid industry, particularly in the West.  Through lyrics like, “Send them your heart, so they know someone cares, and their lives will be stronger and free,” it is implied that we “Westerners” are responsible for the fate of millions of the less fortunate, that they are incapable of helping themselves, and that we are their “saviors.”  Further on in the song comes the lyric, “…let us realize that a change can only come when we stand together as one.”  Again, according to this, we are playing the role of someone who is swooping in to save the day.

On the other hand, Chinese humanitarian aid to Africa “has never used the term ‘donor-recipient’ to describe China-African relations, using ‘partner’ instead.” (Abu-Sada 127).  Self-reliance is what Chinese foreign aid policy focuses on.  In humanitarian territories where China provides aid, particularly medical aid, to African peoples, they strive to work together with the local people.  Chinese humanitarian doctors make a significant effort to train the local people in medical practices, such as acupuncture, so that the local people can help themselves after international aid is gone.  This is one way aid can become sustainable and how nations can work together to build each other up.

Li Anshan tells us, “It’s important to differentiate between help and interference.” (Abu-Sada 132).  Some people have written articles telling how all of Africa’s problems can be “fixed.”  Others, including William Easterly, combat these ideas by saying that they are oversimplified.  Several times in his essay, “China-Africa Medical Cooperation: Another Form of Humanitarian Aid”, Anshan makes the point that rarely have a struggling country’s problems been solved by an outside force.  His thoughts on MSF include, “…if MSF’s purpose is to save people’s lives in emergency situations, it should keep in mind that it should not meddle with others’ business in a country it knows very little about.” (Abu-Sada 132).

In his article, “The White-Savior Industrial Complex,” Teju Cole identifies humanitarian aid as “interfering in the lives of others.”  One of Cole’s main points is that we should involve the countries to which we provide aid and have discourse with them before we ride in on our “white horse.”  The difference between doing good and doing no harm is key.  “There is much more to doing good work than ‘making a difference.’  There is the principle of first do no harm.” (Cole)   If in our rush to do good, we inflict substantial harm (as discussed in previous posts), what is the benefit in the good?  I have said before that humanitarian aid can sometimes function as a Band-Aid on top of a much more serious and complex problem, and I stand by this.

World Wealth Distribution Map

World Wealth Distribution Map

I have conflicting feelings about ethnocentrism in general, as well as its influence on humanitarian aid.  One glance at a world wealth distribution map will tell you that America and Europe have disproportionately large slices of the global economic pie.  I feel that because we were born with into more privilege than most other people on the planet, we have a duty to share what we’ve got.  In a May 2007 article, Peter Singer argues, “…if you are living comfortably while others are hungry or dying from easily preventable diseases, and you are doing nothing about it, there is something wrong with your behavior.”  However, the fact that I feel a need to help others is ethnocentric in itself, as it inherently means that I have compared my way of life to theirs and made the assumption that my way of life is better.  Since my life is better than theirs, I should do what I can to make their life better, right?  Sarcasm aside, I recognize that this way of thinking is ethnocentric.  I don’t consider myself to be any better of a person than anyone else walking this planet.  However, I do think that some of the things that are available to me, such as high quality medical care, adequate nutrition, and safe drinking water are things to which I believe all of humanity should have access.  In my eyes, this is not ethnocentric, as I believe these are basic human rights.

“Humanitarian aid comes from good people who want to help poor people live better.” (Saclepea, Abu-Sada 27).  By wanting to help others in need, am I assuming that I am better than they are?  Am I assuming that they are lesser simply because they have less?  Does having fewer possessions mean that they are living a lower quality life that must be “fixed”?  Delving deeper into this issue reveals that there are many questions about this issue.  There are layers upon layers of understanding related to the human desire to help others.  If we can think about aid as a transaction rather than an “archaic form of unilateral charity” (Jochum, Abu-Sada 104), we could learn to work together with those in need and understand that they are not the lesser.  Combating ethnocentrism is necessary if we wish to “be a part of a relationship of equals.” (Jochum, Abu-Sada 104).


Works Cited


Abu-Sada, Caroline, ed. In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid. N.p.: MSF-USA, 2012. Print.

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic, 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Easterly, William. “The White Man’s Burden.” The New York Review of Books. N.p., 11 Jan. 2007. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

“Ethnocentrism.” Princeton University, n.d. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Singer, Peter. “Humility Kills.” Jewcy. N.p., 24 May 2007. Web. 13 June 2013. <>.

“The Dark Side of Development Aid.” Blogcritics. N.p., 6 Dec. 2006. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

“USA for Africa – We Are the World.” YouTube. YouTube, 05 Apr. 2008. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

“World Wealth Distribution Map.” N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2013. <>.


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The Dangers of Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is the greatest enemy of humanitarian aid and, unfortunately, it is also one of the easiest to become a victim of. Ethnocentrism stems from our personal experiences, our views and our opinions, essentially all of the things that have shaped us as we have grown. Although no one can fault a person for being initially biased based on what they have personally experienced, one can fault someone for not attempting to first understand and look at a situation from another perspective before they take action. Although I am sure Jason Russell and the rest of the Invisible Children team’s intentions were pure, their execution was marred by arrogance.

Russell oversimplifies the issue of child soldiers in Africa, not maliciously, but because of an inability to put his own ego aside or, as Teju Cole puts it, “think constellationally.” Cole believes that Russell’s good heart is not enough to allow him to, “See the patterns of power behind the isolated ‘disasters’.” (Cole)

Russell’s attempt to make a large impact, unfortunately also pushed his efforts past the point of valiant and into the realm of being dangerous. As Cole says in his article, it is important never to forget the principle, “first, do no harm.” The KONY movement oversimplified the facts in order to create an emotional impact on its audience, and its hope was that this emotion would turn into action. However this oversimplification also led to a mass movement of relatively uninformed activists demanding a change in a conflict they didn’t really understand. Watching one youtube video does not make one an expert, and simply being white and privileged doesn’t mean that one knows better than the victims themselves how best to be helped.

Russell makes some glaring mistakes as a result of ignorance, and as a result unintentionally misled millions of people to support military action by an army that they knew nothing about.  An aid worker from a group known as “Change from Within, says that, “Invisible Children assumes that the Ugandan Army, a group also under investigation by the ICC for atrocities committed against civilians, is a group we should support.” (Utt)

The KONY movement is a perfect example of the White Savior complex, something that Cole says, “Is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.” (Cole)

The feelings that sometimes can form into this complex are not necessarily out of racism or any sort of holier-than-thou attitude, but rather from a sense of guilt about ones own privilege and quality of life, while others are left to suffer. When these feelings become dangerous however is when we assume the attitude that we alone know the right course of action, and that we alone must push forward and that we alone must create positive change as we see it.

This self-centeredness can be extremely detrimental to aid efforts, as shown by MSF’s insistence at doing things their own way, even going so far as to refuse “to use the aid resources of other relief organizations (food from the UN World Food Program in Niger, for example.) (Abu-Sada) If MSF were truly concerned about the welfare of the people they want to assist, then they should put their needs above MSF’s desire for self-reliance.

Russell has promoted military action by the Ugandan Army against Kony to bring him before the International Criminal Court, but the Ugandan Army themselves are currently under investigation by the ICC for alleged crimes against humanity.

Russell has promoted military action by the Ugandan Army against Kony to bring him before the International Criminal Court, but the Ugandan Army themselves are currently under investigation by the ICC for alleged crimes against humanity.


If nothing else these instances prove that we must do a better job of examining our intentions, and researching all of the facts before we take action.


Works Cited:

Utt, Jamie. March 8, 2012. June 13, 2013.


Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. March 2012. June 13, 2013.


Abu-Sada, Caroline. “In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid.” Doctors Without Borders. 2012. Print.

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MSF and Ethnocentrism

In my reading of In the Eyes of Others, it brings to light the fact that ethnocentrism is a key factor throughout humanitarian aid and specifically in the organization Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF. Ethnocentrism can be defined as the judging of another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture ( MSF is the main focal point of In the Eyes of Others, which points out the problem MSF is dealing with its perceived image to other humanitarian organizations, the people MSF interacts with, and people that do not directly interact with MSF. To do this, they prepare questionnaires, discussion groups, and conduct interviews to determine the way they are perceived by others. The point of this project is to get an understanding of “the extent to which MSF’s supposed “difference” from other humanitarian organizations is real and identified” (Abu-Sada 12).

MSF appears to be a standalone organization that does not, and will not, rely on the other organizations, governments, or “actors” to help in fulfilling their duties. This, in turn, appears to alienate their image with other humanitarian aid organizations and governments. This perception could be due to the fact MSF appears to consider their organization as being better than that of any of the other organizations because they are unwilling to work together with them. This can create many hurdles for MSF to overcome when delivering aid and hinder their ability to provide aid as needed.

While their perception to other humanitarian aid organizations might be perceived negatively, surprisingly, the people receiving aid did not have the same view. They were happy to be receiving the aid and the felt that MSF was being helpful. However, they did report they believed it was sometimes challenging to receive aid from MSF. This hindrance is a direct result of MSF’s unwillingness to work with other organizations in order to help them provide the aid needed. The people receiving aid also reported confusion on who exactly they were receiving aid from.

MSF’s ethnocentrism doesn’t seem to have an effect on the perception of the quality or gratitude people that they provide aid for but it does tend to lead to confusion on exactly who is providing aid. This confusion, because they are distancing themselves from other humanitarian aid organizations, can lead to incorrect identification not only from the people receiving aid, which have should have a better understanding on who is providing the aid, but from people on the outside as well. This confusion can lead to the incorrect identification of MSF workers as having ties to other organizations in the area. The inability of outsiders not being able to identify MSF workers with their humanitarian duties leads to dangerous working conditions. The independence they strive for could actually leave them vulnerable for identification as a hostile purpose rather than that of aid.

MSF’s struggle with their perception can be attributed to their ethnocentrism regarding their organization and purpose compared to other organizations. I feel like their commitment to their core values of independence, neutrality, and impartiality to a fault can be blamed for this. While they should strive for all of these things, they have undertaken the values and applied it to all organizations and governments. This separation in completeness can be perceived negatively, while that might not be what they intended, and can create undesired results for MSF and put their workers in dangerous situations.




Works Cited:

Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. United States: MSF-USA, n.d. Print.

“Africa For Norway – New Charity Single out Now!” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. N.p., 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

N.d. Graphic. MSF.orgWeb. 13 Jun 2013. <>.

Wikipedia contributors. “Ethnocentrism.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. <>.

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