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Meet the Nacirema. Nacirema are a group of people from the northern hemisphere who engage in odd cleansing behaviors and “body rituals.”

“[They] insert a small bundle of hog hairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and then move the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures.”

The article describes the Nacirema tribe’s cleansing rituals — and at some point, between the “magic box” and “holy mouth men,” people realize that the so-called rituals Nacirema seem really familiar. Brushing your teeth perhaps. Nacerima are Americans (spelled backwards) — ah ha!

Dowell’s article exemplifies how even the most mundane everyday activity of brushing your teeth can be portrayed in an highly exotic, foreign (and perhaps as an extension, barbaric) manner. If anyone had described brushing our teeth as an insertion of hog hairs into mouth with magical powders, we would laugh. We would laugh at their meager attempt to understand the intricacies of our culture, and we would laugh because their depiction sounds extremely barbaric and primitive.

The article’s main purpose is to give readers perspective. We as Americans are so used to being central to the conversation; the world revolves around our dictated terms. We are the hegemonic empire, after all. Only when we ourselves are subject to the same treatment can we even begin to realize the carefully constructed nature of the stories we are told. Only when we feel the dehumanization of others redefining our culture can we start to understand the limitations and boundaries of our own narrow perspective. Only then can we begin to surrender ourselves to the fact that there is so much about societies and other people that we will probably never understand.

To read the entire article, visit:

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