Eurocentrism

Eurocentrism is defined as judging the experiences of non-European-descended individuals (i.e., African Americans, Latinos/as) against a European American standard. Eurocentrism often leads to negative attitudes and beliefs about groups of people and can confirm mainstream stereotypes about non-European group members. In essence, a Eurocentric belief system assumes that European American culture (i.e., Western culture) is the norm and should be viewed as the standard against which other cultures are judged. Both implicit and explicit Eurocentrism serve as a basis for prejudice. Though Eurocentrism has significant implications for mental health and psychology, little research exists on the subject.

The Eurocentric worldview is based on Western values and characteristics such as individualism, competitiveness, dualistic thinking, a belief in control over nature, hierarchical decision-making processes, standard English, a rigid time orientation, Judeo-Christian beliefs, patriarchy, the Protestant work ethic, future orientation, “objective/rational” thought, property ownership, and nuclear family structure. When one expects others, regardless of their cultural background, to behave in ways that reflect these values, deviations are pathologized and often serve as the basis of some form of group-based oppression. Eurocentrism, in the context of U.S. society, as well as other multicultural societies, is harmful in that non-Western cultural values (e.g., collectivism, living within an extended family system) are viewed, at best, as novel and, at worst, “deficient” in relation to European American cultural values. Viewing the experiences of others from a Eurocentric perspective may lead to exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination when individuals do not possess and display traits valued within European American culture. Eurocentrism can occur at individual, cultural, and institutional levels and can be manifested in overt and covert ways.

Everyday Eurocentrism

When immigrants come to the United States, there is often an underlying expectation that they will ultimately assimilate into mainstream American (i.e., Eurocentric) cultural lifestyles. For example, in many work and educational settings, employees or students might be expected to wear Western-style clothing or speak standard English despite the fact that many individuals may prefer non-Western, traditional, indigenous dress, or prefer to communicate in their native languages, even if they are capable of speaking English. The pressure to “fit in” and become Americanized may challenge non-Western individuals to assimilate and abandon their own personal and cultural preferences. This expectation may be tacit as well as explicit. Students who come to school dressed in non-Western, traditional clothing may be ostracized from peers or, in extreme cases, may be told that they must modify their dress (e.g., banning the practice of wearing head coverings or religious artifacts).

Eurocentrism can also result in life-changing consequences for those who do not fit the standard. Employment research has found that employers are much less likely to call back job applicants with African- versus European-sounding names and to make actual job offers. This type of preference may suggest a Eurocentric bias as well as a pattern of discrimination with regard to interview selection practices. This type of biased behavior and assumptions about what type of behavior is preferred are also relevant to the field of psychology.

Eurocentrism in Psychology

Manifestations of Eurocentrism can also be found within the practice of psychology. For example, although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has been used to diagnose various forms of mental illness for decades, many of the DSM diagnostic categories are vulnerable to racial disparities. For example, there is an overrepresentation of African American boys who have diagnoses of conduct disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and other behavioral disorders than what one would expect given their statistical representation in the population. It has been argued that African American boys are given these diagnoses in greater proportions than their White counterparts because teachers, physicians, and mental health professionals use Eurocentric standards of conduct to judge these children and are faster to diagnose them with “disorders.” Furthermore, mental health professionals have also been accused of minimizing the impact of racism and other forms of discrimination on the mental health of non-White individuals. The lack of inclusion of such factors in the assessment process may contribute to inaccurate diagnoses and a tendency to conceptualize pathology in the individual rather than interpreting the situation as being rooted in social problems. For instance, recent longitudinal research has found that African American youth who perceive discrimination are more likely to manifest symptoms of depression and conduct problems than their counterparts who do not perceive such discrimination. Other research with Asian American youth has found that experiences of cultural marginalization contribute to depression. Thus, in addition to the problems that Eurocentrism can influence in educational or workplace settings, Eurocentrism and its potential consequences (e.g., racism, discrimination) can affect non-Western individuals’ mental health and the way that mental health professionals perceive them.

It is also important to recognize that the process of counseling has been accused of being Eurocentric. Historically, counseling theories and techniques were developed by White counselors and therapists of European American descent, who worked exclusively with White clients. Scholars have noted that although many therapeutic techniques have been developed and empirically validated as being effective, limited research has been conducted with respect to the effectiveness of such interventions with people of color and clients who are not of European descent. The lack of available research on evidence-based treatment for people of color could be seen as an outcome of Eurocentrism within the field of psychology. As a result, the field of psychology has a less-developed knowledge base about the most effective ways to intervene with non-Western clients.

Within psychology and other mental health professions, Eurocentrism can have adverse effects on individuals and institutions because of the societal power and authority scientific professions like psychology have in the United States.

On the other hand, psychology has also played an important role in efforts to change social policy that has facilitated discrimination. For instance, Mamie P. Clark and Kenneth B. Clark conducted psychological research that helped convince the U.S. Supreme Court that educational segregation resulted in prejudice and discrimination that harmed African American youth. It is important that psychologists remain vigilant against the historical and contemporary effects of Eurocentrism in relation to research, policy development, organizational behavior, and clinical practice.

References:

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  8. Stewart, E. C., & Bennett, M. J. (1991). American cultural patterns: A cross-cultural perspective. Yarmouth, MN: Intercultural Press.

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