Tag: fear

Casting Fear Aside: Let’s Talk About Race and Stick to the Facts Anyway

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.






The Right To Remain Silent Or Not

You have the right to remain silent. Actually, you don’t unless you are in a sticky situation in which you have been read your rights, or are in extreme circumstances that risk invading your privacy, although there are some personal situations such as rape, bullying and so on that require speaking up, even if they are private.

Otherwise, silence, when misused, preserves atrocities such as the ones above not to mention the likes of apartheid, slavery, xenophobia. It also breaks deals, starts wars, ruins marriages, separates families and so on. In addition, the misuse of silence can lead to both physical and mental-health problems.

Let me be clear: this is not about freedom of expression in the name of hate. No one has a right to do that, but we all have a right to speak out in the name of healthy resolution.

If you have ever hung up on someone, had it slammed down on you or ignored important correspondence, evaded phone calls, or stewed on the receiving end of the silent treatment, then you get my heart-hammering, pulse-racing drift. This is anything but a healthy resolution.

It is no surprise then that silence is anything but golden at times such as these. So why then do so many people resort to silence in the face of conflict, or difficult or awkward situations?

I know people who would not speak up about poor service in a restaurant, a hotel, any place, or to a service provider, even if their life depended on it. Then there are some who won’t open their mouth in a potentially contentious situation at work or at home until it’s gone too far. Then they fly off the handle.

Now that is the other side of silence, which can also lead to health hazards and a dead end. So, how do we exercise our right to speak up? There are some simple measures to take, but why do so many people misuse silence?

Many researchers agree that fear is one overriding factor that drives people to silence. Whether it is fear of isolation or rejection, fear of simply being misunderstood, or fear of negative consequences, most people would rather witness or stay in an untenable situation than speak up.

Furthermore, some of us think our opinion doesn’t count or nothing will change anyhow, or worse yet, we will be labelled as a difficult person, even if we don’t come waving a red flag. So, why bother?

It’s simple. There are times in life when silence is not an option. Over the last five years, I’ve had a lot of experience in the area of speaking up. A few years ago when my mother-in-law fell ill, I found myself speaking up all the time; then again, a few years later, when my own mother got sick; and now, on behalf of my father.

To this end, I have learned a thing or two about speaking up:

  • First, it’s futile to pitch a fit, have a temper tantrum and so on. Best to stay focused on the issue. That means ignoring personal attacks and not handing them out either. Think of them as distractions. In a recent health-care situation, I listened to a group of patients consistently attack the provider over and over again, and then admit to themselves that nothing would ever change. Sure enough, weeks later, nothing has changed. All the complaints were attacks on character, rather than focusing on the relevant issues. And the few relative complaints were lost in rage – the other side of silence – which likely lead to a dead end. Best to stay on an open road.


  • Next, I try to remember my responsibility to communicate and remind people of theirs if necessary. Whether a personal or professional situation, people have a right and a need to know what is going on. Recently, while making a connection in a busy airport, I rushed to the gate to find that my flight had been delayed. The gate agent remained silent until a couple of us gently reminded her that people had a right to know what she knew, even if her announcement was inconclusive.


  • Also, I’ve learned to consider the incentive for communicating, even if fear is threatening to engulf me, or breaking the silence is the last thing I want to do. Often when it comes to talking to a health-care provider, for example, I take a deep breath, air out my dirty laundry on paper and put it aside until I can call or send a correspondence, thus focusing on the issue. Never mind the rest. The person on whose behalf I am communicating stands to gain if I succeed. But if I don’t, my loved one might lose out.


  • Another tip is to sidestep the red tape; don’t get caught up in it. Again, in a recent situation, I was told that the company’s policy prevents staff from emailing or responding to my emails, which is as red as red tape gets since I am in England and the other party is in Georgia, USA … not to mention that we live in the Technology Age. Anyhow, whether this is correct or not doesn’t absolve the company’s responsibility to communicate and my right to receive some communication. Thus, it has occurred to me to toss the tape aside, at least for now, until there is time to unravel it. In short, all I need to know is how we will communicate moving forward. That’s the only thing that matters.

Never mind what I think of the policy, the bottom line is that sometimes silence is simply not an option.