West does not mean best
BridgeND | Friday, October 1, 2021
On the last day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, I was excited to see that the United States had passed China for the most gold medals won. It was a reassurance that the US was still superior on the world stage of international athletics. After all, dominance is what we have been accustomed to, but it was surprising to not see the gymnastics teams in first place or see the men’s track and field team win just one gold. It was also disappointing. As one of my good friends put it, “no one is more patriotic than they are during the Olympics.” Myself included.
My father, on the other hand, was born in Canada. Of course, he watched and rooted for the Canadians, but I noticed that he had more of an appreciation for the competition as a whole. For example, he took an interest in the more obscure competitions, like handball, and went out of his way to root for the underdogs. His view of the games was less targeted than mine, my sister’s or any of my friends’. I took time to reflect on the difference between my father’s approach to the games and my own. As I did, I was reminded of how western-centric and particularly American-centric many Americans view the world: western culture, history and values are treated as more important and better than others.
I can only speak from my own experience, but this appears to be a widespread phenomenon. Western-centrism seeps into almost everything, starting with the way we are educated. I remember being in awe when I learned about the “New World” in elementary school. It was the land of opportunity — a place where you could be freed from the shackles of the established old world order and live out your own individuality. We were taught about the greatness of American values and that anyone who tried to challenge them was the enemy. We learned about how the US and its Western allies fought to preserve those values so nobly, be it in the World Wars, Korea or even Vietnam. Yet I could not tell you a thing about the history of Africa if it doesn’t relate to European colonialism. Even my college class, entitled “Introduction to World Politics” (“world” being the key word), spent 95% of its time examining the west. This western-centrism is not confined to the education system. It is present in everyday life, especially in the way we talk. Whether it be casually throwing around the term “third-world” to describe a country outside of the West or to imply that all African countries are the same, Americans frequently project the idea that American culture is the only one that is relevant.
I do not want to give the wrong impression: I am pro-western values. I was raised in the United States and, despite all of its issues, love the United States. I am not suggesting that we should eliminate our American or western focus. Like everyone, we are products of our environment and pay most attention to what impacts us directly. Nevertheless, I still believe intense western-centrism is highly problematic.
If we focus exclusively on the west, we discount the lives, cultures and histories of billions. When we project that western culture must be emphasized to the point where other cultures are crowded out completely, we imply the idea of the west as being more “civilized” than the rest of the world, or America as an exceptionalist nation being entitled to manifest destiny. This is problematic, first and foremost, because it can lead to xenophobia and racism. But beyond these obvious problems, it obscures a massive pool of unique individuals. Whether it be in terms of academic research (which only focuses on a small, majority-American percentage of the world’s population) or seeking out another individual’s experiences, we should not surround ourselves only with people who think like we do. No one should be disqualified from consideration because of where they were born and how they were raised.
In order for substantive changes to be made, there needs to be institutional shifts. Education, politics and individuals themselves need reform. With respect to the first two, a comprehensive plan for institutional change is slightly above my pay grade. Yet, when it comes to the individual, I have some ideas. Take a moment to reflect on your western-bias. I hope it’s less prominent than mine, but either way, consider it and why you might possess it. And the next time you read an article or meet someone from a different area of the world, remember that it is composed of people like you: people with strong convictions, unique perspectives and a desire to grow and to flourish.
Patrick Condon is a sophomore living in Siegfried Hall. He currently serves as the Director of Marketing for BridgeND.
BridgeND is a student-led discussion club that is committed to bridging polarization in politics and educating on how to engage in respectful and productive discourse. BridgeND welcomes students of all backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences who want to strengthen their knowledge of current issues or educate others on an issue that is important to them. The club meets weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in the McNeill Room of LaFortune. Want to learn more? Contact [email protected] or @bridge_ND on Twitter and Instagram.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.