Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Coping With Prejudice

Confront Racial, Religious,
and Other
Bigotry

by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/relate/prejudice.htm

Updated  02-07-2015

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      This is one of a subseries of articles in self-improvement Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. The subseries focuses on improving primary relationships. It includes articles proposing how to make three wise courtship decisions  with and without kids from prior unions.

      This article is for mates seeking to protect their relationship from major prejudice or biases among their kids and relatives. The article...

  • invites you to clarify your beliefs about prejudice and bigotry,

  • proposes common surface marital stressors from family prejudices,

  • suggests how significant prejudice can affect mates' relationship;

  • proposes seven primary causes for any prejudice problems you mates face, and....

  • Offers options for adapting to significant prejudices.

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Website, and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 4 ,

  • these options for improving respect; and,,,

  • the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle that may stress your family
     

      The attractive, articulate black woman sat on my therapy couch and looked resentfully at her white fiancé. “You have to understand,” he said defensively. “My parents are Mississippi river people. They weren’t raised to accept, uh, you know…”

      She glared at him. “You said you told them that if they wouldn’t accept me, they’d lose a son! You say you love me. Now I hear you making excuses about not taking me with you and your daughter to visit them for the holidays. Are you with me, or aren’t you?” He couldn’t look at her, and was silent.

      Four or five combined hazards make building new family relationships hard enough. Biracial, cross-religious, or same-gender partnerships can add more stresses to mates and their family members. This article explores symptoms and causes of significant prejudice partnership stressors, and proposes practical options to master them. It focuses on protecting your marital harmony and your kids in a "significantly prejudiced" family.

      To learn whether this article is relevant to your situation, try this…

Status check - T(rue), F(alse), or "?" ("I'm not sure" or "It depends on _____")

I can clearly define prejudice and bigotry to a typical high-school student (T  F ?)

I can clearly define what “significant (vs. acceptable) prejudice” is now. (T  F ?)

I (a) know what significant prejudice feels like, and (b) I can truly empathize with those who experience it. (T  F ?)

If I have significant racial, religious, ethnic, gender, or other prejudices now, (a) I can name them, and (b) I can describe where I got them. (T  F ?)

I feel my primary relationship is significantly stressed now by prejudice (a) within our multi-generational family and/or (b) in our local religious or social community. (T  F ?)

My partner feels our relationship is significantly stressed by such prejudice now. (T  F ?)

If so, s/he and I have an effective way of responding to this prejudice now. (T  F ?)

If others’ prejudices require it, I’m willing to firmly assert boundaries that clearly put my marriage ahead of family loyalty and other relationships now, without undue anxiety, guilt, or shame. (T  F ?)

My mate is now clearly (a) able and (b) motivated to do this too. (T  F ?)

My mate and I (a) each have defined our Bills of Personal Rights, and (b) we each act on them consistently and respectfully with the prejudiced people in our lives. (T  F ?)

I can clearly define a values conflict, loyalty conflict, and a relationship triangle  now; and my partner and I can (a) spot each of these and (b) resolve them well enough, now. (T  F ?)

I’m confident that (a) significant prejudice is not a major stressor for our dependent kids now, and that (b) my partner will agree on this. (T  F ?)

I’m sure my true Self is answering these questions. (T  F ?)

      Pause and notice your emotions and where your thoughts go now. Did you just learn anything? If you feel you have significant marital stress now because of some form of bigotry or prejudice, let's look at…

colorbutton.gif The Surface Problems

  Typical disputes around prejudice and bigotry have surface symptoms, and underlying primary conflicts (unfilled needs). The core theme is someone believing…

I am or my people are better than (superior to) you and your people, so I am / we are entitled to more (dignity, power, freedom, assets, status, opportunity…). This is an absolute truth, and is not subject to discussion or compromise.

      Premise: as long as you mates focus only on your surface problems, they will recur and may increase. The communication skills of awareness, metatalk, and digging down can help you avoid this if your true Selves guide your personalities. 

       If you and your partner are of different races, faiths, collar-colors (blue vs. white), and/or cultures, your extended (multigenerational) family falls somewhere on a line between "very tolerant and accepting" to "extremely  bigoted and outspoken."

      A second generic surface problem is your family relatives and others accepting (and teaching kids) stereotypic superior/inferior judgments about groups of people without factual validation...

  • “All Jews are crafty moneygrubbers.”

  • “Homosexuals are sick and twisted!”

  • “Gypsies are sly and rootless.”

  • “Mexicans are superstitious and lazy.”

  • “Californians are way too liberal."

  • "Orientals never say what they think."

  • “Catholics are superior and intolerant.”

  • “British people are repressed and unemotional.”

  • “Stepfamilies are inferior.”

  • "Southerners are religious bigots."

  • “Blacks are undependable and less intelligent.”

  • “Germans are rigid and arrogant.”

  • “Native Americans are lazy drunks.”

  • "New Englanders are conservative and taciturn.”

  • “Never trust an Irishman or a lawyer.”

  • “Addicts are sick and defective.”

  • "Arabs are violent zealots"

  • “Females are too emotional, illogical, and maternal to succeed in business.”

  • "College graduates are smarter."

See any favorites here?

      A third potential marital and family surface stressor is how major prejudices are expressed - from blatant and arrogant (“People should marry their own kind. You’re making a big mistake.”) to covert and righteously denied (“I am not prejudiced against Chicanos!”) Denial and deceit (false-self wounds) block effective problem-solving.

colorbutton.gif Prejudice and Marriage

      Surface problems with bigotry and intolerance can create divisive loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles between mates. The bigots are the Persecutors, the “inferior” person/s are the Victims, and various family members or others can want to Rescue them.

       The most intense loyalty conflicts are usually with mates' parents and ex mates, because the welfare of the (minor) kids polarizes everyone. The divorced father at the start of this article had to choose between the African-American woman he loved, and his anti-Black parents and relatives. Choosing not to choose displeased everyone.

     And major racial, religious, political, or other biases…

are rarely subject to calm discussion and reasoning. Most prejudices are based on learned attitudes and values, which are intrinsically emotional, not logical. This reduces the chance that your family adults can negotiate and really problem-solve (compromise) effectively together. And major biases can…

block family-member bonding and support. That lowers the nurturance levels in and among your related homes, which probably…

decreases the emotional security (raises the anxiety and uncertainty) in your minor kids, and promotes their forming a protective false self. Major biases can also…

cause your family members social rejection and isolation. This is specially so in biracial unions, if local society disapproves of this and/or one race or skin color. And…

co-parents’ decisions to have an ours child and/or to legally adopt a stepchild can be more complex and conflictual in a biracial stepfamily.

      Combined with other family hazards, the surface problems above can promote years of stress for you and your kids and kin and eventual psychological or legal divorce. 

      The details will vary, but the symptoms and causes of these surface prejudice problems are constant. What are the underlying root problems, and what options do your family members have to resolve them?

colorbutton.gif The Underlying Primary Problems

      Think of the last time you felt disrespected, ignored, pitied, insulted, or discounted. What did you feel, and what did you do?  Now think of the last time you felt or showed major prejudice toward another person. What happened to the quality of that relationship?

      I propose that the root causes of interpersonal prejudice problems are some mix of these:

      Unrecognized psychological wounds in all affected people, specially excessive shame, guilt, distrust, and reality distortions. The thrice-divorced (wounded) Black woman at the start of this article resented and was biased against her (never-married, wounded) fiancé’s (probably wounded) bigoted (wounded, unaware) parents. Another root is…

      The primal needs for acceptance (inclusion), respect, and dignity in each of your family adults and kids. Like hunger and breathing, this elemental need is not subject to discussion, reason, or compromise.

      A third root underlying typical prejudice problems is…

      The instinctual reflexes of hurt, resentment, anger, and aggression or avoidance when any of your adults or kids feels disrespected. This is specially true if prejudicial behavior implies “I believe...

  • you are an inferior person,

  • I am unquestionably right, and...

  • nothing you say or do will change that.

      This is extra frustrating if the bigot feels justified and righteously aligned with God via interpreted words in a Holy book. “In the Bible, God plainly says Jews are His chosen (superior) people, and that women and Black people are inferior.” End of discussion.

      Another primary problem is our training and instinct against disagreeing with and/or rejecting our parents and grandparents ("Honor thy Father and thy Mother.").

      I agree with Dr. Abraham Maslow's premise that two basic human needs are to feel  accepted, then recognized and valued by a group of respected people. We adults and kids need to belong, for since infancy, aloneness is terrifying. 

      If belonging (acceptance and inclusion) depends on agreeing with relatives' core beliefs, then minor and grown kids risk loss of family status and inclusion if they openly disagree with ancestors' prejudices. They risk clan rejection, scorn, ridicule, expulsion and "aloneness."

      An overarching root problem here is the inability to think and communicate effectively with bigoted people. A common symptom of false-self wounds and unawareness of communication skills is a semiconscious fear of interpersonal conflict and confrontation. People led by their true Selves who are fluent with the seven skills see respectful confrontations as potential relationship builders.

      Before personal recovery, typical survivors of traumatic childhoods rarely believe that without major self-doubts (“I don’t like conflict; or “I don’t do well in confrontations.”) They often equate confrontation with aggression, vs. healthy assertion. Know anyone like that?

      A related problem is ignorance about resolving loyalty conflicts, value conflicts, and relationship triangles. If that’s true in your situation, you're focusing fruitlessly on blaming, debating, justifying, and fighting, (trying for superficial changes instead of mutually-respectful  problem-solving. In other words, you're not aware of focusing on surface symptoms vs. underlying primary problems, and you see no alternatives.

      For example, let's say you're an African American-Caucasian couple with prior kids. The white partner's parents show clear disdain for, and aversion to, the black partner and their relatives. This creates a loyalty conflict with the white mate in the middle, defending his/her relationship choice and partner against his/her own parents That conflict is likely to polarize the both extended families, and promote some relatives to distance or deny (pretend), rather than choose sides and confront. 

      The white senior parents' bias automatically creates a relationship triangle with them in the Persecutor roles, the black mate and any kids in Victim roles, and the white mate and supporters playing Rescuer roles. This dispute also probably promotes a concurrent loyalty conflict with the kids in the middle, defending their parent against "those other people."

      That may cause their other bioparent to take sides, which may put the black mate in the middle (Rescuer), defending her/his Victimized partner against the ex mate's criticism and scorn (Persecutor).

      If you think that's complex, note that we didn't include the inner-family conflicts that are happening at the same time - e.g. the white mate feeling "torn" (guilty) about judging, resenting, and confronting his/her own parents, yet feeling compelled to. Each person in a family loyalty conflict or relationship triangle usually has one or more inner conflicts like this to add to the ruckus.

      As long as you partners remain unaware of the primary problems like these, and ignorant of how to resolve them, then your complex web of prejudicial stressors will probably ferment and cause increasing secondary conflicts in and between you.

      We just surveyed seven common primary problems that can promote typical "prejudice problems.”

colorbutton.gif Options

  Racial, religious, gender, ethnic, or other biases can add stress to your relationships. There's a lot you mates can do to overcome and/or adapt to this! Specifically:

      1) Commit to doing Lesson 1 together. This will help you all make optimal use of these next options, and help you protect your kids from wounds and unawareness. Also, you'll better appreciate if the biased members of your family (and others) are controlled by false selves and don't know it. If so, that makes it easier to see them with compassion, vs. scorn, resentment, and hostility.

      2) Evolve your Bills of Personal Rights and help each other affirm them. They are the basis for effective assertion of your values, dignity, and boundaries.

      3) Study and practice the communication skills in Lesson 2 together. Over time, this will empower each of you mates to assert your specific personal rights and boundaries respectfully, and resolve values conflicts and relationship triangles effectively.

      Option 4) Identify, validate, and assert your personal and marital boundaries together. They specify what behaviors you will tolerate without taking some specific action. Behaviorally, boundaries are defined by "no," "yes," and "If you chose to do ‘x,’ then I (or we) will do ‘y’.” (an assertive 'I'-message).

      This option manifests as you and your mate intentionally list specific prejudicial behaviors in other family members that one or both of you will no longer tolerate without confrontation or other specific reaction.

      This brief YouTube video offers perspective on effective confrontations. It mentions eight lessons in this self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that to seven.

      5) Learn what values and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles are; and how to spot and avoid and dissolve them. Your success will increase if you mates both get clear on what your personal and marital priorities are.

      6) Avoid taking responsibility for other able adults' emotions, beliefs, or needs. True maturity includes accepting that every able adult is responsible for managing her or his own needs,

      7)  Learn how racial, religious, gender, and/or ethnic tensions are affecting each of your dependent kids; and tell them how such tensions affect you, (within limits). Then help your kids understand with compassion and empathy why some shame-based, unaware people need to judge others as inferior.

      Help your young ones learn to identify, assert, and defend their human rights and boundaries, and show them what that looks and sounds like! Generations of unborn children are mutely depending on you to do this for them all. There lives will be easier if you do.

      How might these options sound, with the couple this article began with?

Options in Action

      There are lots of variations. Let’s call the woman who began this article Layla and her fiancé Ed.

Option: Clarity on personal rights and needs, and a clear, respectful assertion:

Layla: “Ed, I appreciate how hard it is for you to be in the middle of this loyalty conflict. I need you to ask you parents to sit down with you and me in the next two weeks and discuss their racial attitudes honestly, and how they affect us. This is a demand (“no” or “maybe” are not OK responses), not a request. Will you do that for us?

Option: Lesson 1 and relationship- priority awareness and work:

Ed: “I’ve read about inner wounds in Lesson 1, and I really am run by a false self on this bigotry struggle we have. When you ask me to confront myself and my parents on their prejudice, I get taken over by a gang: my Catastrophizer, Inner Critic, Shamed Kid, Guilty Kid, Procrastinator, and some fearful subselves.

      My Self gets paralyzed, and I waffle, procrastinate, and give you double messages. I really do love you and want to be with you, and I see I have to choose between you and my parents, if they can’t change their attitudes. I need help to do this, starting with putting my Self in charge  of my inner crew. I affirm your right to dignity, and to demand that I work on my inner-family problem and confront my parents. This is hard!

Option: Respectful dialog, if Layla and Ed confront his parents:

Layla: “Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, I know you were raised in a family and society that passed on the belief that Black people are inferior. I was raised with the belief that biased white people are ignorant and should be pitied or reviled. I sure don’t want to feel that way about you two, or your kinfolk. Am I on track, so far?

Mr. Jackson: “Look, we don’t want any trouble. We just feel that if you and Eddie join up, you and our grandkids are going to have a world of trouble because of, uh, how some people are.

Layla, calmly: “You’re really concerned about Ed’s and the kids’ happiness, long-range. (empathic listening)

Mr. Jackson: “Yeah. We don’t hold anything personal against you, Layla.” (he feels heard, not attacked)

Ed: “I don’t want Jeannie and Billie (his kids) to get hurt either. And I need you to balance my happiness with yours and theirs. I need you both to accept Layla and me as a committed couple, and to help us confront other people who don’t understand and approve. I think the kids will be OK if our three families (including his ex wife) can pull together. Will you do this for us?” (Affirmation, and clear, respectful assertion. This is a request, not a demand – yet).

      If the senior Jackson’s still had reservations or ambivalences (their inner families were conflicted), Layla and Ed would use respectful empathic listening and re-assertion of their needs – and perhaps problem-solving - until they reached some acceptable resolution or confirmed they had an impasse.

      This conversation would be best initiated after Ed and Layla had (a) put their true Selves in charge of their personalities via Lesson-1 recovery work, and then (b) resolved their respective inner conflicts and relationship triangles. The couple could also benefit from role-playing this difficult confrontation first, and helping each other refine their assertions and responses to the Jackson’s expected resistances.

      Can you imagine doing some version of this in your situation? You can learn to do so if you really want to! Review the spirit, wisdom, and power of these timeless guidelines. Then quiet your thoughts, and listen carefully to your inner voice now. S/He knows the next right thing to do...

colorbutton.gif Recap

      Human history is spattered with tragic examples of people needing to judge others as inferior, bad, unworthy, or evil. This can manifest in your marriage as spoken or covert bigotry and prejudice among your family members and neighbors who judge one or both of you mates as inferior, and/or believe that you should marry "your own kind."

      This article outlines common surface symptoms of such prejudices, and suggests seven underlying primary problems beneath them. These apply to prejudices about gender-preferences, religious faith, education level, power, wealth, social status, "collar color," and nationality. The article closes with seven options couples can take to protect their union against significant biases.

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need? Is there anyone you want to discuss these ideas with? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or ''someone else''?  

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