Oh, The Gaslighting

A white person’s need for comfort does not negate my experience as a Black woman

Dear friends,

I wrote this piece after yet another gaslighting incident. There have been so many over the years. Every BIPOC I know has experienced this. And though we don’t always call it out, this is how most of us feel.

Let’s get something straight: I recognize racism when I see it.

As Rebecca Stevens Alder pointed out in I Don’t See That I am Black, You Do, I’ve had plenty of time to hone those skills.

I’ve seen the surprise when I walk into an interview room, I’ve had my qualifications and expertise doubted, I’ve been offered reduced pay, I’ve been fetishized, and I’ve been targeted while traveling.

So let me say it again: I know racism when I see it, and when I experience it.

That’s why when I read an article on racist phrases to avoid, where Ono Mergen said:

“We know full well when something is racist. Stop questioning us and start challenging the status quo.”

I jumped in with the following comment:

“So tired of well meaning people trying to explain away a racist microaggression. When you experience racism regularly, you always recognize it.”

Several people took exception to that, but one white man in particular saw my statement about recognizing racism as a statement that he was racist. And truly, it wasn’t about him.

(Of course, he tried to make it about him by writing an entire article to support his own claim not to be racist. Which, to be clear, I had never accused him of. I was having a conversation with the author of the piece I’d just read.)

Someone else jumped into the conversation by implying that Black people see racism everywhere.

All I’m going to say here is: we see racism where it exists. You can draw your own conclusions about whether that’s everywhere or not.

I have to admit I’m tired of the gaslighting. For some white people the fact that they were unaware of racist intentions is absolution in their own eyes. However, that’s not enough for most Black people.

It’s the old issue of intention vs impact. Let’s talk about that in relation to parenting. When two kids are throwing a ball to each other, and one accidentally hits the other with it, we teach them to apologize for the impact, even if the intention wasn’t there. It should be the same with racism, which is way more serious.

If I as a Black woman or BIPOC person tell you how your words or actions affect me, that’s enough reason to 1. Apologize. 2. Never do it again.

Gaslighting is not a reasonable response.

I don’t want to hear that I imagined it or I can’t take a joke or any of the myriad comments that minimize my justified pain.

I don’t want to be blamed when I’m actually the victim, and I certainly don’t want my tone policed.

I don’t want to be asked if I’m sure, or told that it’s not about race.

I don’t need people to play devil’s advocate for racists — they’ve already had it their own way for centuries.

I want you to apologize, mean it, and do better.

As I pointed on in my further response to the self-appointed gaslighter:

“Nobody gets to police what seems racist to me, how I respond to it, or whether I have the will or energy to educate people who don’t get it.”

Like most people who identify as Black or BIPOC, I am an expert in racism through decades of lived experience. People who have not experienced racism, and have benefited from a privileged position in society, don’t have the chops to negate that experience.

But here’s a suggestion, the next time something a Black person says about racism triggers you, think before you gaslight.

Then ask yourself why you’re more bothered about being called a racist than being anti-racist. It could lead to a very interesting conversation with yourself.

So, what can you do when your Black colleagues are being gaslit. Stand up, show up and call it out when you see it. Maybe you can make gaslighting an unpopular practice in your work environment and social media spaces.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading,


© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2020. Cover photo courtesy of Canva.

If you find my articles interesting or enlightening, please consider supporting this newsletter with a paid subscription.

Want to really work on anti-racism? Join the LIVE bootcamp Lea Jovy and I are running on November 14th. 

Join the conversation

or to participate.