Lawrence Hall’s DEI Committee strives to ensure Lawrence Hall is a diverse, equitable environment of belonging and inclusivity. Having “brave conversations” about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is a necessity for healthy company culture and requires honesty, compassion, and self-reflection of all involved. Our Brave Conversations Series highlights topics not normally discussed but that have deep, personal impacts on our staff, youth, families, and communities.
February is Black History Month and presents an opportunity to have brave conversations about the Black experience. Our next conversation is around racelighting, or racial gaslighting.
Gaslighting is defined as manipulating someone into thinking they’re wrong even when they’re right. The term gaslighting has its origin based in domestic abuse and originated in a film from the 1940s. Use of the word has increased in usage over the past few years, thanks to social media and public consumption of political tactics. But what is it when this tactic is used in terms of race?
Gaslighting can be as simple as telling you that you were the one who started an argument—when in reality it was the other person—or saying that you are being “hysterical” or “overreacting,” even when your response is reasonable.
A classic example of racial gaslighting is where a person of color describes a racist interaction, only to have it immediately questioned:
These responses undermine the lived experience of racism that the person of color has just described. The purpose of these questions is to make the person who has experienced racism second-guess what they remember and how they interpreted the event.
Some other dismissive statements you might hear include:
Racial gaslighting frequently happens in the workplace, particularly in a workplace that is predominantly white. “For women of color, gaslighting takes the form of colleagues doubting or outright denying their negative experiences,” write researchers Michelle A. Rodrigues, Ruby Mendenhall, and Kathryn B. H. Clancy in a research paper on gaslighting of women of color who work as scientists.
Like many of the other side effects of systematic racism in the United States, racelighting has a psychological toll on those who experience it. To feel like your life and experiences are invalidated can cause anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
First and foremost, take a self-inventory. Do you use these gaslighting tactics to justify your actions or undermine someone who has pointed a racist thing you said or did?
From there, you can take these steps to improve yourself and stop racelighting:
Kindred (2020) directed by Joe Marcantonio
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) directed by Barry Jenkins
13th (2016) directed by Ava DuVernay
When They See Us (2019) directed by Ava DuVernay
Nice White Ladies: The Truth about White Supremacy, Our Role in It, and How We Can Help Dismantle It
Gaslighting America : Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us
This Is Why I Resist: Don’t Define My Black Identity
Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu
Racism: A Culture of Intolerance Developing Cynical Mindset
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