Thoughts on Ending Racial Alienation ~ Part II
© 2015 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
In Part I of this 3-part blog, I wrote some random thoughts about how America's race problem has more to do with present-day alienating behavior than with history. In Part II, I explain why this may lead to violence.
THE DOMINANCE HIERARCHY
All mammals have dominance hierarchies, including humans. These help groups work together and are necessary for group survival. This generally includes deferring to those at the top and accepting where you are down the line - for a while. Of course, those at the top get more resources and protection, while those at the bottom get the least. So part of the dynamics of a dominance hierarchy is to fight for a higher position and to resist losing one's position to those below. In America's drive for greater equality and democracy, many groups have moved up to a more equal position - such as disabled people, Jewish people and gays - who now have legally equal status. For lower middle class people (especially relatively-unskilled young white men, such as the Charleston shooter), this loss of people "below" them may feel like a blow to their status in society.
For example, there has never been a logical threat to any heterosexual marriage by allowing gay marriage. The only "threat" has been a loss of status "over" gay people by allowing them to be equal now. The fight against it appears to have been driven more by this fear of loss of status than by religion. Many religious people support gay marriage and it's even legal now in Spain and supported by a majority in polls in Italy, both traditionally catholic countries.
But what about equality for African-Americans? Even though national political, legal and personal efforts have diminished racial discrimination over the past 60 years, we are seeing an apparent resurgence more recently. Why is this? Is it still possible to discriminate against them and not the others? Or did something change over the past decade?
The Presidential election of Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 appears to have been surprisingly threatening to Republican leaders for political reasons - they became concerned about their shrinking future role in American politics and agreed that their best strategy was to stay united in blocking any of his initiatives. However, this overlapped with the sense of loss of status and fear for many young white men after the financial crash, who easily transferred those fears onto what an African-American President would do to them. These fears ripened into a belief that Obama would have the federal government somehow take over their lives, so their only hope was to buy guns - lots of guns. Keep in mind that gun buying was on the decline for decades prior to his candidacy, but has become a huge issue since then - both in terms of making an African-American president the scapegoat for our nation's problems and in terms of shooting African-Americans.
DAILY REMARKS AND EMOTIONS
Since Obama's election came immediately after the financial crash, it wasn't hard for political leaders to associate the crash with him. Many middle class people lost their homes, their jobs and their sense of identity and security in today's America. While the national economy has improved, most of the benefits have gone to the top 1% while the lowest income families are still significantly struggling.
At the same time, since the crash, our nation's news reporting has focused more than ever on the "bad behavior" of isolated individuals: child-kidnappers (yet there's been no increase in 50 years); repeated images of young black men in hoodies; images of young black men rioting. During the last Presidential election there was a lot of talk about: "those people" on food stamps; those teenage mothers; and those irresponsible people who took out mortgages they couldn't pay. Each of these comments strongly implies African-Americans. For example, programs like food stamps are seen by the public as primarily used by black families, when in fact the majority are white.
Also, since the crash, the political news quickly shifted focus to disparaging discourse about "ObamaCare" - as though it was worse than a ruined economy, the loss of homes and loss of jobs. It appears that ObamaCare became the new "N" word. For the past six years, people could publicly say they hated Obama as long as they said ObamaCare.
Remember, with alienation, there is all-or-nothing thinking and intense emotions on an almost daily basis. This fits with ObamaCare, as the battle cry became: "it's got to be totally thrown out." Despite the recent Supreme Court decision upholding its constitutionality, the battle cry seems to have remained the same. Alienation isn't based on logic - it's based on intense emotions which are repeated endlessly. This accurately describes today's daily cable, Internet and mainstream news - constant repetition of emotional statements, rather than rational analysis of important subjects.
Further, alienation is more powerful when it comes from important official people. In terms of disparaging remarks about our African-American President, some of the worst offenders are our other political leaders such as the Speaker of the House, the Senate Majority Leader and at least one Supreme Court Justice known for his vitriolic speech. It's hard to recall any President in our lifetimes who has been treated so disrespectfully.
Does race have anything to do with this? It's hard to imagine anyone missing that message - especially a young man with easy access to a gun looking for someone to blame for his problems in life.
In Part III of this 3-part blog, I will share some thoughts on what we can do.
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.