The Gaslighting of Black People

I first heard of gaslighting many years ago and had no clue what it meant, so I looked it up.  The term came from a 1938 play “Gas Light”, where Gregory an abusive husband, manipulates his wife Paula to make her feel as if she has gone mad. He leads her to believe she’s stealing things without realizing it and hearing noises that aren’t really there. Paula begins to question her reality.

“Gaslight” also refers to one of the ways in which Gregory manipulates Paula. Throughout the 1944 movie version of the story, Paula sees gaslights dimming and brightening for no reason. Gregory convinces her that it’s all in her head.  The truth is, he was switching the lights on and off to create the gaslight flickering. He manipulated her belief in her own perception of reality through the gaslights.

Many people have often asked what is gaslighting, so here is the dictionary and psychological definition:

gas·light verb psychologically manipulate someone into questioning their own sanity.

What does it mean when someone is gaslighting you?

Psychologists use the term “gaslighting” to refer to a specific type of manipulation where the manipulator is trying to get another person, or group of people, to question their reality, memory or experiences.

Another definition is:

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group of people, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes including low self-esteem, self-hatred.  Forced Compliant Behavior is a cause of cognitive dissonance.

So now you know what it means, let’s look at this.  Black people are exhausted.  What is happening around the world is inescapable; it is a constant barrage of images in the news on social media, and it is the world over.

Black people are now being “allowed” to express and openly talk about all that they have gone through, and are still going through.  Now being given “permission” to release what has been suppressed, and what has really been felt for so many years.  This is making a lot of people very uncomfortable.

But in doing that, many then have to rethink it, relive it and re-feel it before they can express it.  The magnitude of it is heavy, it is exhausting, and it is depressing yet in a way can be freeing at the same time.

There is a sense of vindication of, “we are not crazy”, “it really happened as I said it did”, with the very sad reality that it is still happening.  Black people have been gaslighted for centuries and now it’s like, “oops my bad, we really were treating you all like you are beneath us, not human beings, here for our convenience and never had a fair shot at anything. Sorry!”

Imagine this, you see people that look like you and your relatives, murdered, abused, discarded, overlooked, belittled, ridiculed, humiliated, the list goes on.  You yourself experience some of this. To then have the very people doing it looking at you, saying oh so patronizingly, “what? What are we doing?”  “I don’t see it.”  “Slavery was ssssoooo long ago.” “Get over it.”  “You have a chip on your shoulder”. “You have the same opportunities just like everyone else.”  And my all-time favorite, “I have a black friend/friends.”  You get my point as the list could go on and on and on.

We are made to feel as though we have somehow been over dramatizing all that we have endured, all that our parents and grandparents suffered and, in some cases, died through.  We have been made to feel as though we have imagined the oppression of an entire demographic of people that has systematically been going on for centuries as though it all happened centuries ago.

Black people have been demonized, systematically villainized as the perpetrators of all the worlds ills. Black men have been labeled as thugs, muggers, rapists, murderers, drug addicts, drug dealers, pimps, baby daddies, deadbeat dads.  The truth is there are a lot of black men in the home and active in their children’s lives.  There are those that are not in the home and are still an active presence in the lives of their children.

Black women are seen and portrayed as loud, uncouth, unhealthy, lazy, brash, vulgar, welfare queens, baby mamas, aggressive, angry “the angry black woman”.  Another person would be called passionate and assertive. So we shrink to make non-black people comfortable, never really being able to express ourselves, to be our authentic selves.  Mentally this is exhausting and demoralizing.

There have been so many negative stereotypes leveled at black people, is it any wonder that mental health issues are disproportionately higher in the black community?  Have those that perpetrate these negative stereotypes for one moment stopped to think of the psychological damage it does? The self-hate that it breeds. Or do they even care?

The self-hate that colorism was born from. Self-hate to the point where many are practicing unsafe methods to lighten their skin, as to be dark skinned is seen as unattractive and ugly, but many spend hundreds in tanning salons.  The self-hate of having and being ridiculed for having full lips, yet millions is spent around the world on lip plumber lipsticks, or lip augmentation and lip implant surgery, or lip collagen injections. The self-hate of having a full figure yet people are undergoing dangerous procedures to have butt implants.

The Tuskegee “Experiment” from 1932-1972, 600 black men were used as guinea pigs.  600 hundred men were recruited with the promise of free healthcare.  Injected with syphilis, studied and left to die untreated. In some cases, the disease was passed to their wives and children.  The men were monitored by health care workers but only given placebos, even though penicillin was the recommended treatment for syphilis in 1947.

Given no real treatment, just so that the effects and progress of the disease could be tracked.  The researchers provided no useful care as the men died, went blind or insane, while others experienced severe health problems due to the syphilis going untreated. This was not that long ago.

Or the images that come out of Africa, of starving and dying people with flies swarming around them.  We are not told of the very affluent and wealthy African countries like Botswana, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland to name a few.

Granted some of the world’s poorest nations are in Africa. However, some African countries have the fastest-growing economies in the world. The largest elements of the African economy are agriculture, trade, and natural resources.  The African economy is expected to reach a GDP of $29 trillion by 2050. Why are we not shown or told that part?

We are very rarely told that as of 2019 1 in 4 children live in poverty in the world’s richest countries or that also as of 2019 25% of the children in the UK are leaving primary school (approximately 11 years old) unable to read or write properly some actually unable to read. And these are not all black children, they are from every ethnicity. But the focus is that black children are poor and uneducated.

The 13th amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”  But then along came the Black Codes.   Black Codes abolished in 1964 were laws specifically designed to limit the freedom of black people, ensuring their availability as a cheap labor source after slavery was abolished during the Civil War.

Though the war had given approximately 4 million slaves their freedom. Under Black Codes, many states required black people sign yearly labor contracts.  If they refused, they were arrested, fined and forced into unpaid labor, essentially back into slavery but now as a criminal.

Black men go from the sex deranged, animal instinct savage, violent black man wanting to ravage the poor innocent white woman, as seen in the early silent movies.  To the simpleton, submissive, lazy Sambo waiting for his master to give him his instructions or the Uncle Tom, the singing and dancing house slave.  Black women, are either Aunt Jemimah, Mammy or a video vixen with nothing else going for her than T & A to be “shaking what her mama gave her.”

Black people have to work twice as hard, only to be seen as half as good, to still only get half as much, and in some cases less than half.” Black people are not seen as intellectual equals.

For all those that say, “get over it, it was so long ago”, I think of Ruby Bridges born in 1954, who is still alive today and is only 65 years old. Younger than my mother. She was the first African American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis on November 14th 1960, making her six years old at the time. 1960 that was only a few years before I was born and not that far from today.

Can you imagine your six-year-old child having to have a police escort and barricades for protection as they endured mobs of adults and children lining the streets shouting racist abuse, being spit on and taunted just so they can go to school?

Or how about Dorothy Counts born in 1942 who is now 78 years old, born in Charlotte, NC. who was one of the first black students permitted to attend Harry Harding High School, in Charlotte, NC.  After just four days of abuse and harassment that threatened her safety, her parents forced her to withdraw from the school.

In 2019 there were articles written in The New York Times titled “The Decriminalization of Black Hair”. States passed laws to stop natural hair discrimination.  We can’t even wear our natural hair without having to have laws passed?  California and New York were the first states to enact laws last summer forbidding race-based hair discrimination. Cincinnati, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Wisconsin, and Montgomery County, Maryland, are following suit with proposed legislation.

All just so that we can do our jobs that we are more than capable of doing I might add, without worrying that we will be called in by HR about our appearance for wearing our hair in its natural state.

Many black women have felt pressured for decades to use chemical relaxers, weaves, wigs and excessive heat, to conform to European beauty standards of straight hair. The pressure for black women to alter their appearance has mainly come from employers, who don’t view natural black hairstyles such as braids and locs as being professional or neat. A black woman wearing her natural hair is often taken and seen as she is making some sort of political statement or that it makes the black woman come across as aggressive. Can someone please explain to me how my natural hair is a political statement?  The hair that non-black people regularly ask to touch and call you unreasonable when you say no.

Because of this, in an effort to fit in, globally every year millions of dollars are spent on hair care products and bleaching creams.  This can cost any individual black woman hundreds of dollars every month and hours spent at hair salons. As only black people are shamed when they choose to wear hairstyles for their natural hair texture. According to The Nielsen Corporation, black women spent $473 million on hair care in 2017 alone.

And with all of that, we are still told that we have a fair shot and are treated as equals, because #AllLivesMatter right.  Another form of gaslighting in an attempt to minimize and almost trivialize the ordeals of the living while black experience. Just to be very clear we are not for one moment saying that only black lives matter. What we are saying is, how can all lives matter until black lives do?

I have read and heard many comments that George Floyd was a criminal, so his death was his own fault. If that is what it is based on, then Dylann Roof should not have been taken to Burger King in a bullet proof vest after murdering 9 African Americans in a church at bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. Or James Holmes who murdered 12 people in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. Or Nikolas Cruz safely taken into custody after murdering 17 people in Parkland, Florida. Yet we see time and time again men and women of color who have committed far lesser crimes and in some cases no crime at all murdered because they were, “resisting arrest” or “the officer feared for their safety”.

Black people can’t go about their everyday lives with being followed, questioned or accused.  The Central Park incident is a prime example of this.  A black man asking a non-black woman to follow the rules, and her response, to become hysterical while calling the police screaming that an African American man is threatening her life and her dog’s life.  I wasn’t that surprised when I read the comments and saw how many non-black people were more concerned for the welfare of the dog.

So now that the rose-colored glasses are being demisted and the tint fading.  Please don’t think that black people are now falling over themselves to share their experiences, sit in a circle singing kumbaya to now appease and console the abuse, hatred and microaggression we have been shown. There are many that are not willing or ready to relive some of the humiliating, painful and traumatic experiences they have either endure or witnessed. There are many that are not willing or ready to reopen the wounds that have cut so very deep.  There is a lot of healing to be done and it will take time.

The psychological effects and damage of this gaslighting may for some never be undone.  Some may never recover from this form of deliberate, systematic method of making black people question their reality, sow the seeds of self-hate and distrust among each other.

Hopefully, future generations will only know of this when reading it in history books instead of it being their lived experiences

Change is happening.  But we still have a ways to go.

6 thoughts on “The Gaslighting of Black People”

  1. I left this comment on your other blog as well.

    Feeling like you have to be strong all the time because black men aren’t allowed to show emotion or that these things affect us is hard. To have the constant feeling of being watched and followed and made to feel like you can only be successful if you are in sports or entertainment, or that we all have kids all over the place starts to wear us down. There are a lot of us that are honest, hard working, businessmen, husbands and fathers. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

  2. As a black women, reading things like this makes me feel as though I am not going crazy, that I’m not imagining what is being done and said to me.

    Thank you Alison!


  3. My goodness, this was such a powerful blog to read. As a white man, I like how you wrote this without making it an attack, but a compassionate and heartfelt piece that can open honest dialogue.

  4. Reading this was quite upsetting. This needs to be more widely spoken about. Until recently, I really thought all the racial problems ended with slavery. I am ashamed of my ignorance and will really try to do more and do better.

  5. I love this post. Thank you for taking the time to write this blog, it seeks to so many of the experiences I have faced. The experiences where no matter how much I am trying to help, the experiences where I am simply giving my opinion or raising my concerns, the experiences where I am the ‘victim’, where all that I am seen as is the “angry black woman”, I seem to always be in the wrong. We truly have a long way to go!!! Yvonne

  6. This really moved me. Why are people like this? We just need to be understanding and love each other. Carol

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