Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

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Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Gaslighting of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Yet Health Disparities Don’t Lie..

October 22, 2020 · 1 Comment · BLM, Uncategorized

What is gaslighting?

Many have heard this term but may not understand exactly what it means. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation as to control the narrative of victims to gain power. Through deliberately and systematically feeding victims and those around the victim false information, gas lighting is used to make people question what they know to be true, leading to doubts of their perception of reality. Gaslighting usually targets one’s sense of identity and self-worth. Read more about gaslighting here.

In the United States politicians, officials, and the media have been gaslighting both black and white Americans about the traumas and tribulations of black people and the reality of racism in the country as a means to delegitimize the truths of systemic racism and anti-racist movements.

Racial gaslighting: “the political, economic, and cultural process that perpetuates and normalizes a white supremacist reality through pathologizing those who resist”

Gaslighting Black Americans through History:

Gaslighting tactics have been used since the beginning of slavery over 400 years ago. Early supporters of slavery in the 1800s used riots and rebellions as evidence black people were “inferior barbarians who needed slavery to discipline them, leading to tighter controls to limit their education, movement, and assembly.” White anti-racist activists in the past, as evident from the case of Commonwealth of Kentucky v Braden 1955 where the state of Kentucky declared that black people were satisfied with the racial apartheid, so the white couple who tried to stand up against white supremacy, were labeled as communists and race traitors aiming to pit blacks against whites: ignoring the feelings and voices of black Americans. After the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, a new attempt to use gaslighting to criminalize black people was put into effect: The War on Drugs.

Former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman states: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black [people], but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities; We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.” 

The history of gaslighting minorities in the United States is immense, read more here.

Gaslighting examples used against the Black Lives Matter movement:

            Slavery, Systemic racism, and Black Experiences:

                        “Slavery is ancient history, you have the same rights as everyone else,” minimizes the reality of slavery, the fact that the civil rights movement was only 50 years ago, and continued discrimination that occurs today.

                        “Stop playing the race card,” blocks and diverts the conversation, alluding to the idea race is used as an excuse for black issues rather than an actual systemic problem. Its not a card game.    

                        “It is better now, than in the past,” deflects the current problems by comparing the policies of the past and diversity of the current world to show “how far we’ve come” as justification that racism isn’t that big of an issue anymore.

“I don’t think that was racism, you probably misinterpreted it,” calls into question a person’s memory and perception of what they’ve experienced as a means to change their perception of reality.

                        “It was a joke, don’t take things so seriously,” tries to manipulate the person into believing they are being too sensitive, minimizing racist comments as jokes.

                        “Show me proof.” The constant demand of black people to highlight specific material proof of harm and racist language to prove racism actually exists “diminishes the lived reality of blacks.” 

Eerily similar to rhetoric in Kentucky v Braden, anti-BLM proponents have accused and blamed radical white leftists of instigating a race issue where one does not exist. Once again, ignoring black voices.

Police brutality and racial profiling:

            “What about black on black crime?” is used to divert attention from police brutality against black Americans.

“When someone commits an act of terrorism against in the United States, which rightfully leads to anger and sadness, no one asks, “Well what about how many Americans kill other Americans each year?” Because that would crazy, now wouldn’t it?”

            “What about white people shot by police?” trivializes the fact that black people experience significantly more police brutality and killings than whites.

            “It’s just a few bad apples,” makes racism an individual issue rather than a systemic problem within the whole police force.

            “Choke holds and no-knock warrants should be banned!” deflects public outrage to specific practices while not systematically addressing racial profiling and unequal treatment.      

            “The police response was lawful. He should have followed their orders.” Police can deny wrongdoing, hiding behind the guise that their actions were legal. This ignores the fact that even if their actions may have been technically legal under the law, that doesn’t explain the unequal use of such force tactics against blacks compared to whites.

            “Well, he had a criminal background,” diverts the conversation again, to delegitimize the victim, placing blame on their mistakes of the past, which is rarely seen when the criminal is white.

            Protests and riots:      

                        “If black lives matter, why are they burning their own cities?” is an example of using the few instances of rioting to undermine the overwhelming amount of peaceful protests, pushing the narrative that BLM is a violent movement.  

“Commentary shifted from mourning the wrongful death of Floyd to critiquing the method and timing of protests with unsupported claims that Black Civil Rights leaders would somehow disapprove of protests”

                        “All lives matter:” the ultimate modern gaslighting of black America. By saying all lives matter in response to black lives matter disguises the prioritization of white lives by creating a false narrative of colorblindness. It also undermines years of black social justice work, insisting all lives in the U.S. are valued equally and treated equally, erasing centuries of violence and trauma experienced by black Americans. The phrase is also used to deny white supremacy and systemic racism by omitting the specific targeting of black lives by state institutions such as prison and police.            

These are only but a few examples of gaslighting directed at the Black Lives Matter movement and systemic racism in general, the list could go on for pages. The psychological effects of gaslighting on POC leads to a sense of alienation, distrust, and disenfranchisement from the community.

After 400 years of gaslighting black Americans’ feelings and experiences, now with better technology, healthcare, and health outcome statistics, that won’t work anymore. The only way to combat such manipulation is with hard facts, and the public has become fully aware of the abundant evidence of disparities due to systemic racism.  

Racism: a Global Health issue:

The fact that Covid-19 is disproportionately affecting black communities has only brought more attention to how health disparities effect health globally. “What affects the most vulnerable will affect us all.” Also, with over 30 countries and all 50 states participating in Black Lives Matter protests, highlighting the systemic racism in their country as well, its evident the problem is not solely an American one (check out this map).

Global health must find ways to address and combat such disparities—changing it from a “political issue” which it isn’t (that’s been gas-lighted) to a human rights issue. We must hold officials accountable to answer the question of why the disparities exist (though we already know the answer) without allowing the gaslighting blame game to ensue.



One Comment

  • ktroka1

    I have heard about gaslighting before, but through your blog I learnt the first time about racial gaslighting

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