“If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.” —The Original X-Man First Class, Brother Malcolm.
So for the past few years, I’ve conducted a little social experiment. Much like Jigsaw from the horror films Saw, I’ve played a little game with whites. I would share my firsthand experiences as a gay male and the horrors I’ve endured in terms of homophobia just to see what reactions would result. While all the accounts were true, some were minor while others were major and grotesque. All the same, whites be they liberal or conservatives, be they pro-LGBTQ or homophobic would believe the discrimination I endured was real without question. Yet the second I discuss the racism I’ve endured with those same individuals, my experiences, honesty, and sanity, are immediately called into question.
You see no matter how virtuous you are, how much evidence you provide, if you’re a person of color and you’re discussing racism, your integrity, intelligence and mental health will come under fire.
When PoCs speak on racism, racist whites come out of the woodwork to whitesplain why history, statistical data and firsthand accounts proving the existence of racism is anecdotal. However their fictitious tales about being teased by the mean “black girls” in third grades as scientific fact.
Following “The Dog Ate My Homework,” “The Black/Brown Person Did It,” is perhaps the most cliched and overused lie in western culture:
- Ryan Lochte and his gang of thugs in Brazil got drunk and trashed service station but lied and claimed they were held up by a gunman.
- Susan Smith drowned her kids in her car and claimed a black man carjacked her.
- Bethany Storro hurled acid on her face and claims it was done at the hands of a black woman.
- Rosewood Massacre in which a white woman lied and claimed that she was assaulted by a black man. This leads to the murder of over 300 blacks in Rosewood, FL.
- Charles Stuart who murdered his wife and unborn child and tried to frame an innocent black man, Willie Bennett.
- President George W. Bush claiming Saddam Hussein and Iraq were responsible for 9/11 and had weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to start a war in the Middle East.
Even the HBO hit series The Sopranos had a milestone episode entitled Unidentified Black Males where multiple separate storylines converged on the theme of principle characters lying and using fictional black men as scapegoats.
The reality is whenever you’re a person of color speaking out against racism and white supremacy, it’s a safe bet that you will be on the receiving end of gaslighting. Gaslighting is defined as a form of psychological abuse in which the abuser attempts to manipulate the victim into questioning their memory, perception, and sanity. It is essentially the attempt of one person to overwrite another’s reality.
Gaslighting also occurs every time a white person tells a person of color not to bring race into a discussion or when they accuse PoCs of playing the race card. Gaslighting occurs when whites attempt to justify the use of the N-word to blacks.
Because in society, white supremacy brainwashes us into believing that whites, the demographic who directly benefits from systemic racism, are the only ones qualified to be objective on the issue.
As a speculative fiction author and an equal rights activist, battling gaslighting has become almost as common as breathing.
- Gaslighting is when publisher Steve Berman invites me to be a part of his Civil War anthology for Prime Books because he desperately wanted a token minority author. Only I was instructed not to make my story diverse and not to include any gays or he’d reject it outright. (We Need Diverse Storytellers)
- Gaslighting is not being permitted to buy black superhero comic books during Black History month in a comic book shop less you frighten the racist white patrons. (Never Buy Black Panther Graphic Novels During Black History Month)
- Gaslighting occurs each time white people pretend to be black in order to “win” a debate on the internet. (White People Are Pretending To Be Black Online In Order To Win Arguments On Race)
- Gaslighting is when author Jim C. Hines invites you to do a piece for his diversity anthology, accepts your essay, praises it, only to have him pull a bait and switch where he claims the actual accounts of racism you endured didn’t happen and justifies publishers being able to discriminate against gays. Of course, when he was publicly called out on it, he flounced from the internet to go play Mario Kart. (Beware The White Savior)
- Gaslighting is when game designer Satyros Phil Brucato repeatedly asserts that blacks are more homophobic than whites and then goes irate when a gay black author informs him that his comments are not only erroneous but racist and homophobic. (Geek Culture Is For White People)
- Gaslighting is when author Wesley Kirk claims that Trayvon Martin was a drug dealer who deserved to be murdered and then threatens to sue anyone who exposes his comments.
- Gaslighting is blacks having to work twice as hard just to get a fraction of what we’re owed. Case in point would be my former employer com. Despite being overqualified and going above and beyond on the job, I had the pleasure of being harassed and enduring racial slurs by editor Jim Viscardi. Gaslighting is me being fired two days after reporting Viscardi and then having my paycheck withheld in retaliation because I refused to sign my rights away in a nondisclosure agreement. Gaslighting is watching your employer change their story from I was fired, to I quit to they don’t have an office and I was never an employee throughout the ongoing EEOC investigation. (Tales From Tahiti)
“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” —Zora Neale Hurston.
Gaslighting is presidential candidate Bernie Sanders lying and claiming he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and when Civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis and snopes.com exposes the lie, Mr. Lewis and other blacks are on the receiving end of harassment and attacks from Sanders supporters.
Gaslighting means that shows like The L-Word, Orange Is The New Black, and Unreal, make a punchline out of the horrors of racism while misogyny, homophobia, and other issues white people care about are taken seriously and reflected as grave issues in their narratives.
Gaslighting is waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to white allies who are usually anything but. Grandmasters of conflict avoidance, if forced to choose they’ll condemn an innocent black person rather than call out a guilty white one.
“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
And just as we are quick to come up with any excuse to demonize and victimize blacks, we are just as quick to do Olympic-level gymnastics to justify the racism of whites and “prove” they can do no wrong. After all, “racially insensitive” infractions made by those “lone wolves” are simply the result of their upbringing, “white mental illness”, lack of education or course influenza. In any event, we’re obligated to see the bigot as a three-dimensional person and recognize their humanity. In essence, do the very thing they couldn’t be bothered to do for people of color in the first place when they were engaging in said racism.
So for people of color, self-care (Battling Depression: A 12-Step Alternative) is paramount as we navigate through systemic oppression that whites ultimately have no interest in acknowledging much less dismantling. For people of color, we have to make sure our circle is comprised of a loving and healthy support system. We must make sure that our media passes the right litmus test (Gamechanger: The Upkins Litmus Test On White Privilege in Media).
Because sadly rarely if ever does anyone ever stop to think about the ramifications that racism has on people of color. No one thinks about the financial strains that are placed on a family when a parent is murdered by a racist cop during a “routine” traffic stop. No one stops and considers that nearly one in 10 blacks suffer from PTSD due to racism and abuse in our society
“Racism-related experiences can range from frequent ambiguous “microaggressions” to blatant hate crimes and physical assault. Racial microaggressions are subtle, yet pervasive acts of racism; these can be brief remarks, vague insults, or even non-verbal exchanges, such as a scowl or refusal to sit next to a Black person on the subway. When experiencing microaggressions, the target loses vital mental resources trying figure out the intention of one committing the act.
These events may happen frequently, making it difficult to mentally manage the sheer volume of racial stressors. The unpredictable and anxiety-provoking nature of the events, which may be dismissed by others, can lead to victims feeling as if they are “going crazy.” Chronic fear of these experiences may lead to constant vigilance or even paranoia, which over time may result in traumatization or contribute to PTSD when a more stressful event occurs later (Carter, 2007). In fact, one study of female veterans found that African Americans scored higher on measures of ideas of persecution and paranoia, which the authors attributed to an adaptive response to racism (C’de Baca, Castillo, & Qualls, 2012).
While most of us can understand why a violent hate crime could be traumatizing, the traumatizing role of microaggressions can be difficult to comprehend, especially among those who do not experience them. One study of racial discrimination and psychopathology across three U.S. ethnic minority groups found that African Americans experienced significantly more instances of discrimination than either Asian or Hispanic Americans (Chao, Asnaani, Hofmann, 2012). Non-Hispanic Whites experience the least discrimination (11% for Whites versus 81% for Blacks; Cokley, Hall-Clark, & Hicks, 2011). Furthermore, those African Americans who experienced the most racism were significantly more likely to experience symptoms of PTSD as well.
Make no mistake, Asian and Hispanic Americans receive their unfair share of racism too, and research shows that it may even be harder to manage for individuals in these groups. But each ethnic/racial group has its own package of negative stereotypes that impact the form of racism experienced, so it’s not surprising that PTSD prevalence differs by race and ethnicity. Findings from large-scale national studies indicate that, while African Americans have a lower risk for many anxiety disorders, they have a 9.1% prevalence rate for PTSD, compared to 6.8% in Whites (Himle et al, 2009). That means that almost one in ten Black people becomes traumatized, and I think these rates may actually be higher since diagnosticians are usually not considering the role of racism in causing trauma (Malcoun, Williams, & Bahojb-Nouri, 2015). Studies also show that African Americans with PTSD experience significantly more impairment due to trauma, indicating greater difficulty carrying out daily activities and increased barriers to receiving effective treatment.
Research has linked racism to a host of other problems, including serious psychological distress, physical health problems, depression, anxiety, binge drinking, and even disordered eating (Williams et al., 2014). A strong, positive African American identity can be a potential protective factor against symptoms of anxiety and depression, but this is not adequate protection when the discriminatory events are severe (Chae et al., 2011; Williams, Chapman, Wong, & Turkheimer, 2012).”
Dr. King was right when he said that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. It sets a precedent. It allows systemic societal corruption to take root.
Most sociopaths harm and gaslight often just to test the waters. They want to see what they can get away with. Which is why it always starts small. It never starts big. A racial slur here, a fridging of a woman of color in a tv show there. Little vandalism, a hate crime, and then a murder. A dozen murders. Genocide. Before you know it discriminatory and oppressive legislation is passed and before you know it, they’re coming for you in the night. Or in the middle of the day.
At the core of bigotry (be it racism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, antisemitism, anti-blackness, Islamophobia, etc.) it means some lives matter more than others. The core of white supremacy is that in order for one to rise, it must be at the expense of others. Which is why whenever there’s one ism, others are often present. How many conservative politicians have also been racist, homophobic, and pedophiles? How many mass shooters in the last year have been members of white hate groups?
So when we as a society are silent and complicit when it comes to calling out police brutality against PoCs, it’s inevitable that oppressors will target Planned Parenthood or the rights of trans people when it comes to using a restroom.
And that is the twisted irony and beauty of bigotry. It is as irrational as it evil and it always comes back to haunt the privileged and the bigoted.
What is it like to be a PoC enduring the madness and malice that is white supremacy? It’s living among a race of Veruca Salts gone Lord of the Flies in this Animal Farm known as these Disunited States.
So what can people of color do when facing gaslighting and other forms of evil? Adhere to the wise words of one Margaret Carter and take a firm stand:
Compromise where you can. And where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right, even if the whole world is telling you to move. It is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say, no. You move.