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Refocus a Eurocentric view

| Thursday, February 27, 2014

Eurocentrism is the practice of viewing the world from only a European-centered or Western-centered perspective, overlooking the importance of the views and achievements of other cultures. Though everyone’s worldviews are obviously affected by their own culture and national identity, refusal to attempt to understand other worldviews or perhaps even to adopt some of their principles is extremely self-centered and ignorant.

Unfortunately, many forms of Eurocentrism are embedded in daily life in the United States, and they are embedded so deeply that most fail to recognize it.

Through my studies of Spanish-American/Latin-American literature with Notre Dame’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, my eyes were opened to the value of literature that draws from different cultures and historical traditions. What is deplorable, however, is that without my pursuance of a degree in this field, there is a very good chance I would have never been exposed to these kinds of writings throughout my academic career.

The focus of the majority of high school literature and history classes in the United States is Eurocentric — on North America and Western Europe. I do not wish to argue that this is necessarily completely negative, as this focus is vital for educating students about the United States’ national and cultural identity, as well as fostering an appreciation of this identity.

However, refusing to include sizeable education about the literature and history of other cultures — such as Latin America, Asia, Africa or Eastern Europe — can create ignorance and closed-mindedness. The practice perpetuates the idea that high art only stems from the Western world, while everything else is shoved into a completely different category, perhaps “ethnic,” “international” or even “indigenous.” By the very fact that this kind of literature is viewed as separate, students are subconsciously encouraged to view it as inherently unequal to that of the Western tradition and therefore as less important, less interesting or less relatable.

I know it is impossible to cover the keystones of every culture throughout the course of a school year, or even four or more. However, it is unacceptable that the majority of students graduate from high school with little to no exposure to the literature, history, etc. that comes specifically from cultures other than those of North America and Western Europe, especially when countless works from other traditions are masterpieces in their own right.

For example, nearly every high school student in the United States is required to read “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, but very few are required to read even excerpts of “100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez, which is considered by multiple scholarly circles to be the greatest novel of the 20th century. The study of literature from other cultures should not necessarily supersede that of American culture, but certain important works should definitely be included in curricula, if only to alert students that intellectualism and high art come from places besides North America and Europe.

Especially in the last five years, various high schools in the United States have attempted to address this problem by adding International Baccalaureate programs. These programs aim to “promote intercultural understanding and respect, not as an alternative to a sense of cultural and national identity, but as an essential part of life in the 21st century.” They do so by offering courses such as “History of the Americas,” “World Religions” and “Global Politics.” Unfortunately, access to the program in public schools is still limited.

The study of literature in the American education system is only one example of the Eurocentrism that is so prevalent in this society. The fact that the term “American” is exclusively used to describe United States citizens, inherently excluding the many other countries that comprise North and South America, is Eurocentric. The fact that places like South America, Asia and Africa are continually stigmatized solely by images of poverty or differing political systems, causing a complete overlooking of their positive cultural and intellectual contributions to the world, is Eurocentric.

In a rapidly globalizing world, it is imperative that American students get some world perspective.

Bianca Almada is a sophomore residing in Cavanaugh Hall. She is studying English, Spanish and Journalism.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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