I’ve been planning to do a blog about race, more specifically racial gaslighting for the last couple of months but have stalled at every angle. But by George I think I’ve got it at last.
Fear has been the problem—fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of being misunderstood, fear of being condemn. Fear, fear, fear!
Often people who speak out about their racial experiences, particularly if they are public figures, are harshly judged and dismissed for lacking credibility. Shame, because no one knows what happens in someone’s personal life. And since we live in a racially fuelled society, we need to recognise the importance of listening as well as talking with a view to making progress.
Still, at the risk of being ostracised, folks are afraid to speak out about any form of injustice, including race.
Anyhow, not sure where all this fear has come from so suddenly, as I have not only written about race a few times in my career, but I have podcasted and talked about it, too. It is just this new kid, well actually rather old kid, on the block—racial gaslighting has a way of muddling the head.
In case you haven’t experienced it yet or know someone who has, it is all about undermining your experience of racism, ensuring that you call into question the validity of the experience. This not only discounts unconscious bias and dismisses racism as real and destructive, and we all know it is, but it also feeds into systematic racism.
Racial gaslighting has been around for a long-time but here is the thing: I can’t remember it being so blatant yet tolerated in my lifetime.
Thinking back to my first few memories of when I felt that someone dismissed my experience of racism, the majority, regardless of race, seemed to come to terms with the dismissal and in some instances join with me to campaign for change.
Like, for example, way back in college/university, some White classmates didn’t particularly understand why the two Black students in a class discussion about revisiting the old south felt out of sorts when folks wanted to go back until we reminded them that they were not happy days for our ancestors.
Though my memory is hazy, (it was nearly forty years ago, after all) I think the discussion ceased at least in our presence and the door was ajar for moving forward.
Fast forward a few years later, I had an ever so heated discussion with a White male colleague/friend about reverse discrimination and though we finally agreed to disagree, he could not discount the facts.
Ah ha! Stick to the facts. That is my advice to anyone who experiences racial gaslighting—hurtful phrases such as I or they didn’t mean anything by it, it is just a joke, you are too sensitive, it is nothing to do with race, all lives matter and a rather popular question: why do Black people have to always play the race card?
In my experience, we don’t put the card into play most of the time. It is usually already there when it is pointed out such as the time, I was asked to take my backpack off when entering a museum somewhere in England, as was every other Black person but I watched my stepdaughter walk in freely without any instruction, as well as other non-Black individuals. Perhaps the door holder had no mal intent but did look a bit sheepish when she saw us fraternising.
It doesn’t sound right, does it. And it isn’t but here is the thing, unconscious bias can wreak havoc all over the place.
Could it have been the catalyst for 84-year-old Andrew Lester shooting Black teenager Ralph Yarl, who mistakenly went to the wrong address to pick up his younger siblings. Lester opened fire on the lad without any exchange of conversation and in a probable cause statement told investigators he was “scared to death” by Yarl’s size and his inability to defend himself at age 84.
While there is plenty of debate about the case, the facts remain the facts. And facts cannot be dismissed but of course, experiences and opinions can. The same can be said of less publicised and traumatic encounters in everyday life.
So, if you are standing on the precipice of fear about talking about race, don’t jump into it, the fear that is. If you do, it is likely to paralyse you. I should know. Face the fear and stick to the facts anyway.