Many people see the United States as “a melting pot” comprised of a variety of different cultural, subcultural, and countercultural groups. When the mainstream absorbs these groups, they have undergone assimilation. However, people today increasingly recognize the value of coexisting cultural groups who do not lose their identities.
This perspective of multiculturalism respects cultural variations rather than requiring that the dominant culture assimilate the various cultures. It holds that certain shared cultural tenets are important to society as a whole, but that some cultural differences are important, too. For example, children in schools today are being taught that the United States is not the only culture in the world, and that other viewpoints may have something to offer Americans.
Ethnocentrism involves judging other cultures against the standards of one's own culture. Norms within a culture frequently translate into what is considered “normal,” so that people think their own way of doing things is “natural.” These same people also judge other people's ways of doing things as “unnatural.” In other words, they forget that what may be considered normal in America is not necessarily so in another part of the world.
A potentially problematic form of ethnocentrism is nationalism, or an overly enthusiastic identification with a particular nation. Nationalism often includes the notion that a particular nation has a God‐given or historical claim to superiority. Such nationalism, for instance, was a special problem in World War II Nazi Germany.
Sociologists strive to avoid ethnocentric judgments. Instead, they generally embrace cultural relativism, or the perspective that a culture should be sociologically evaluated according to its own standards, and not those of any other culture. Thus, sociologists point out that there really are no good or bad cultures. And they are better able to understand the standards of other cultures because they do not assume their own is somehow better.