© 2015 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Right now I’m on vacation in France before I speak in Vienna in July. Perhaps because of the distance, I’ve been thinking about America’s race problem (after the shooting deaths of nine African-Americans in Charleston, North Carolina) in terms of an alienation problem. Here’s some random thoughts and suggestions, written on my cell phone.
DYNAMICS OF ALIENATION
It may seem strange to use the term “alienation” with racism or racial prejudice. However, before a hate crime – or any act based on racial hostility – is committed, hatred for the target group must be developed – a general sense of alienation from that group. After working with the dynamics of alienated children in high-conflict divorces for over twenty years, I have noticed strong similarities between the development of racial prejudice and the development of alienated children (which I now also call “parent prejudice”).
Parent prejudice/alienation occurs when a child grows to fear and hate a parent, and resists or refuses to spend time with that parent for no good reason – usually related to an angry separation or divorce.
The dynamics include lots of all-or-nothing thinking; disparaging remarks; intense emotions (which can include crying as well as anger) about the hated parent; by the favored parent, often including his or her angry family members as well; on an almost daily basis; with little direct contact with the hated parent; and ambivalence about or acceptance of the child’s negativity toward the hated parent by people in positions of authority, such as therapists, evaluators and judges.
The way this alienation is most commonly overcome is for the child to have substantial exposure to the hated parent, and significant behavior change or reduced contact with the alienating messages of the favored parent. (For more about this analysis of child alienation, see my book: Don’t Alienate the Kids.)
IT’S NOT MUCH ABOUT HISTORY
Some say that our problem today is our racial history. However, my theory is that racial alienation has little to do with history and more to do with present behavior. This fits with the alienation dynamics above, because with child alienation there was usually a positive, loving history with the now-hated parent before the separation or intense conflict of the parents began. History doesn’t cause alienation – its present day behavior.
If you think about groups of people who have been discriminated against and hated in the past, there are many. In the United States, there was significant prejudice against Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans and other groups a hundred years ago when they were immigrating to the U.S. in large numbers. Yet now few people even think about that and census forms don’t ask about those groups.
Jews have been discriminated against for hundreds of years, yet since World War II official barriers have disappeared, anti-Semitism has significantly reduced and even conservatives now embrace Israel.
Gays have also been discriminated against for hundreds of years, but currently in America the tide is turning in support of total equality, including gay marriage – as approved just this month by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even conservatives talk respectfully about the gay people they know (although many still oppose gay marriage).
On the other hand, historically we have every reason to hate the Germans and the Japanese – who killed millions of our relatives and friends in World War II, less than 80 years ago. Yet Germany and Japan are close allies of ours today, and German-Americans and Japanese-Americans have been considered ordinary citizens for decades.
So why do we still have an alienation problem in regard to African-Americans? In Part II of this 3-part blog) I will explain my thoughts on the role of the “dominance hierarchy” in today’s violence against African-Americans.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high-conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.