What is "Extreme Color Arousal" and What Treatment is Available?
The author is editor of the American Journal of Color Arousal.
A Mississippi factory employee who had allegedly threatened black co-workers shot and killed five people yesterday at the aircraft parts plant where he worked, wounding eight others before committing suicide, authorities said. Washington Post, July 9, 2003, via GenocideWatch.Org.
In response to an article I posted today entitled, "Malia O., President Obama's Daughter, Frees Her African Hair", one reader asked me to define and explain the term "color-arousal". Since the definition and examples are longer than the comment format allows, they are posted below as a separate article.
Alvin F. Pouissant, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that the condition he refers to as "racism" constitutes a mental illness if it is sufficiently severe. American Journal of Color Arousal
Most people understand what has been called "racism" as something that is harmful to minorities subjected to "racist" treatment. The American Psychiatric Association says, however,
Most studies and other scholarly discourse on the topics of racism, racial intolerance, and xenophobia have focused on the victim, with particular attention given to the impact acts of racial aggression have had on their lives. Contemporaryscholarship in this area has increasinglyfocused on the strengths, growth, and healing of the survivor. The study of perpetrators as individuals or groups who engage in these forms of aggressive experiences have received less, though significant, attention in the literature. Considerably less attention has been devoted to studying the immediate and extended families of the victim, particularly the emotional, psychological and sometimes physiological aftermath that now challenges their lives
Resolution on Racism and Racial Discrimination:
A Policy Statement in Support of the goals of
The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
To explain color arousal, I will use the analogy of sexual arousal and discuss how the two types of arousal are similar but also fundamentally different. Then we'll take a look at the harmful ways in which Extreme Color-Aroused Disorder (ECAD) can harm or destroy the lives of the lives of those who suffer with ECAD as well as their loved ones and others around them..
When we look at a person of the opposite sex (or the same sex, depending on our orientation) and feel attraction and sexual stimulation, a number of ideational, emotional and physiological events occur within us of which we are hardly aware or sometimes completely unaware. We match that person with our idea of what an attractive person looks like, and we think positively or negatively depending on our outlook and depending on what we see.
If we feel a strong attraction, our heart rates may increase, blood may rush to our nipples or penises, and we may feel tempted to make an effort to sexually interact with the object of our desire (or flee from the object of our repulsion).
Some of what happens when human beings become sexually aroused is hardwired in us, occurring in the most ancient parts of our lymbic systems, while other parts of our reactions are the result of our cultural conditioning, e.g. "What will people think if a date a person who is from a lower economic class than myself?" "That car is expensive and sexy, and my friends will envy me if they see me with him/her"? These thoughts clearly are not genetically hardwired but are the result of culture and conditioning.
With color arousal, there is one component that is hardwired in us, which is our ability to distinguish one color from another. If we could not distinguish color, we might not be able to distinguish a ripe orange from a small and unripe grapefruit. Even people who are color-blind are able to distinguish the color "black" from the color "white". If they could not see hues and also could not distinguish black from white, then their eyes would not "see" anything at all. They would literally be blind.
Our ability to perceive colors is not the problem. Perceiving colors is a natural and useful ability with which we are born. However, the thoughts (or ideation) that are aroused in our brains simply upon the perception of the skin color of ourselves and others are entirely the result of societal training and “nurture”, not "nature.".
A simple empirical experiment proves that our reactions to skin color are not hardwired but are learned. If you go to a supermarket or mall and observe toddlers, you will notice that once they see each other they are intensely interested in each other, regardless of skin color. Given time, they will often approach each other and engage in games. Even hiding behind daddy’s leg and peeking out at the other is a game, called “Peekaboo”. At this age, they are unaware of the many meanings which will be ascribed to skin color as their cultural training “progresses”.
By the time children are ten years old, they have learned have ingrained ideation about others that is aroused simply by perceiving the skin color of others. They learn this ideation from their families, from television, from the fact that the schools they attend are mostly segregated, and even from newspapers that capitalize the word “Jew” but have a hard and fast policy against capitalizing the group name “Black”. This intense and complicated group of thoughts and ideas is the ideational component of color-arousal.
However, anyone who has ever imagined that their mate is cheating on them, or that mommy has given someone else the larger piece of cake, knows that thoughts often lead directly to emotions. It is virtually impossible to believe that someone has harmed you or might harm you without at least initially feeling anger or fear. What we believe determines, at least to initially and to a large degree, what we will subsequently feel. Virtually everyone in America has at least some ideation aroused by the perception of skin color of themselves and others which, to one degree or another, leads to emotions.
Just as we are tempted by sexual attraction to act on our emotions and thoughts, even when it would be inappropriate to do so according to the dominant rules of our culture, (e.g. endeavoring to have sex with a niece or to our best friend’s fiancée), many of us also have strong ideation that leads to strong emotion aroused simply by perceiving the skin color of another person. (E.g., “He has white skin (perception of skin color) and so he will not accept my job application (color-aroused ideation), that MF (color-aroused emotion), I’ll punch him in his mouth!” (temptation to illegal color-aroused behavior).
And yet, we know by the number of hate crime complaints recorded by state and federal governments each year that this pattern of ideation, emotion and then behavior plays itself out all over America, every day of the week. (We must also keep in mind that hate crime complaints are usually filed only when illegal aggression is coupled with words expressing hate or animosity toward a particular group. Most people who feel animosity toward others based on their skin color are able to control themselves sufficiently so as not to express color-aroused animosity while simultaneously engaging in an otherwise illegal act, and so it is likely that most hate crimes are not prosecuted as such.)
Not all color arousal constitutes a serious mental disorder, but some does. Take for example the case of Doug Williams, a Lockheed employee who constantly and angrily confronted white and Black co-workers who showed friendship for one another; was physically aggressive at work even after being warned by his supervisors; and failed to change his behavior even after several official interventions.
A Mississippi factory employee who had allegedly threatened black co-workers shot and killed five people yesterday at the aircraft parts plant where he worked, wounding eight others before committing suicide, authorities said.
Workers ran for the exits as the gunman, identified as Doug Williams, walked through the Lockheed Martin plant firing a 12-gauge shotgun at them shortly before 10 a.m., Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said. Williams had stepped away from a workplace ethics training session only minutes before. He returned with a semiautomatic rifle, which he did not fire, and the shotgun that he turned on employees at their work stations, authorities said.
The death toll at the military aircraft parts plant outside Meridian, Miss., was the largest in a U.S. workplace rampage since late 2000, and it chilled this city of 40,000, which bills itself as the safest in the state. Washington Post via GenocideWatch.Org.
One morning, when Doug Williams arrived at a sensitivity training that was mandated because of his behavior, he went out to his vehicle, returned with a gun, and shot and killed several of his co-workers while leaving others critically wounded.
Doug Williams had color-aroused ideation (Blacks and whites ought not associate with one another and should be severely rebuked if they violate this rule) and he constantly showed color-aroused anger at work, as well as explicitly color-aroused behavior, and finally he engaged in a color-aroused murder-suicide.
If anyone ever had an extreme mental disorder, it was Doug Williams. His mental disorder harmed not merely others, but also threatened his job, his income, his reputation, and finally led to him ending his own life. His mental disorder was “extreme color-aroused disorder” (ECAD). Had he been referred to a psychiatrist competent in diagnosing and treating ECAD, the psychiatrist might have recommended that Mr. Williams take a different job in the plant, where he would spend more time alone and less time in bichromatic interactions that set him off.
Let us discuss “dangerousness” in the context of color-arousal, using Doug Williams' color-aroused ideation in response to bi-chromatic couples as an example along the spectrum of dangerousness in color-arousal. In Practice Guidelines for the Psychiatric Evaluation of Adults, the American Psychiatric Association says, in a paragraph entitled “MENTAL STATUS EXAMINATION,”
The purpose of the mental status examination is to obtain evidence of symptoms and signs of mental disorders, including dangerousness to self and others, that are present at the time of the interview. Further, evidence is obtained regarding the patient’s insight, judgment, and capacity for abstract reasoning to inform decisions about treatment strategy and the choice of an appropriate treatment setting. Thus, the mental status examination is a systematic collection of data based on observation of the patient’s behavior while the patient is in the psychiatrist’s view during, before, and after the interview. During the mental status examination, the patient might also mention past symptoms and signs, but these should be recorded under the history of the present illness.
Responses to specific questions are an important part of the mental status examination (71, 72), particularly in the assessment of cognition. Consequently, in recording the findings of the mental status examination, it is useful to include examples that illustrate the clinical observations. For example, it would be preferable to note that the patient exhibited poor judgment in precipitously attempting to remove his intravenous line rather than simply describing the patient’s judgment as impaired. Practice Guidelines for the Psychiatric Evaluation of Adults.
Certainly, had Doug Williams seen a psychiatrist, and had the psychiatrist known that Mr. Williams had a gun and an intention to use it, the psychiatrist would NEVER have imagined that a one-morning “sensitivity training” would be an appropriate, sufficient or safe intervention for Doug Williams and his co-workers.
Unfortunately, too many of us are still in denial that color-aroused ideation, emotion and behavior, when it is extreme, constitutes a mental disorder. Although the American Psychiatric Association has acknowledged that extreme color aroused ideation, emotion and behavior harms others and society, the APA has not focused on the dangers that ECAD presents to the persons who are color-aroused, like Doug Williams.
Extremely color-aroused persons often end up in trouble with the law, because they are unable to control color-aroused aggressive behavior. These criminal processes prevent them from working, limit their ability to find future employment, and lead to civil liability for themselves and their employers.
They often engage in behavior that makes their employers liable in discrimination cases that distract corporations from their core business, lower share values in expectation of civil awards, and distract workers and management from their duties.
Extremely color-aroused people miss opportunities for promotion and higher pay because their employers cannot risk the civil liability they risk by putting such people in management positions.
Color-aroused people may sell their homes quickly and for less than their market value because people of another skin color have moved into the neighborhood. If this behavior becomes generalized within a neighborhood, then many people in the neighborhood may find themselves selling their homes out of color-aroused fear, with each seller receiving a lower return on investment than the last. Color-aroused fear can cause people to make unwise and costly business decisions.
Extreme color-aroused ideation, emotion and behavior can even break up otherwise loving families. A friend in Brazil recounted to me something that occurred with one of her childhood friends: A girl with white colored skin and a boy with brown skin were attracted to one another throughout grade school, but never acted upon their mutual attraction because the girl's father had forbidden her to date boys with brown skin.
When they went away to college, however, they went to the same college and began dating. When the girl's father was informed by friends of the bichromatic relationship, he had a violent argument with his daughter in which he told her never to come home again.
Several years later, when his wife had died and he was living completly alone, his daughter and her husband were living across town, with three grandchildren whohad never met their grandfather. When the man became too ill to care for himself, the daughter sought him out again, offering the love which he had rejected for so long. Her husband had become a successful engineer and now they were able to help shoulder some of the costs of the father's medical care.
The grandfather met his grandchildren and played with them for the first time. He needed and accepted the help and care of his brown-skinned son-in-law, but they never discussed skin color, preferring so sit together and watch soccer matches. Had the father been able to seek psychiatric help for his aversion to others aroused by their skin color, he might not have missed the ten years of his daughter's life, and of his grandchildren's life, that he spent with color-aroused ideation, emotion and behavior as his only companions.
Another example has yet to see a happy ending. One reader of my blog, a Black woman, reports that she believes Black men should date and marry Black women. This is her color-aroused ideation. As a result, whenever she sees a Black man with a white woman she feels humiliated, jealous and angry. This is her strong color-aroused emotion. Her ideation and emotion are so extreme that sometimes at clubs she angrily and physically confronts white women who are with Black men, and gets into arguments with them.
This behavior obviously has the potential to result in fights, criminal charges of assault and battery and even hate crimes, since her motivation is the skin color of the man and the skin color of the woman. Worse still, even when she is not in the presence of a bichromatic couple, her self-esteem and self-image suffer. She has a problem that she cannot control by separating other people. She needs a psychiatric evaluation and cognitive behavioral counseling if she is to overcome the Extreme Color-Aroused Disorder that is making her life unliveable.
Has any doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker or other professional ever asked you how you feel about your own skin color and how you feel around people of your own or different skin colors? Has anyone else whom you know ever been asked these questions by a professional caregiver? If not, then in spite of all of the color aroused ideation, emotion and behavior, in our society, you have never been screened to determine whether color aroused symptoms are making you less effective than you could be.