Racial Gaslighting BBC THREE/EMMA LYNCH

'Racial gaslighting made me feel like a foreigner in my own home'

Writer Tasnim Nazeer describes her experiences of "racial gaslighting" and suggests five ways to stop it.

Tasnim Nazeer
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As a woman of colour, racial gaslighting has been a painful experience that many people like me have had to deal with at some point in our lives.

You may already be familiar with the term gaslighting, which is a form of psychological abuse. 

This was defined after the 1944 film Gaslight, a thriller about a young woman whose husband slowly tries to convince her she's going insane.

However, racial gaslighting is related specifically to psychological abuse surrounding racism.

Racial gaslighting often comes about when a victim is led to doubt and question their own sense of reality with regard to racism, says Seattle University's Angelique Davis, who's carried out a lot of research on the subject.

"Abusers will make them question their own judgement through victim blaming, policing their tone of voice, denial, dismissiveness and manipulation."

Angelique says that some of the techniques used to racially gaslight include: countering someone's memory of events, withholding "understanding" or refusing to listen, conveniently "forgetting" or denying that something happened, playing down a person's feelings as unimportant or irrational, diverting to focus on credibility of what someone is saying and victim blaming.

'I will not be conflicted into compromising my identity'


I remember being called derogatory names by a man in Glasgow because of the colour of my skin.

"Go back to your own country," he shouted, along with other statements suggesting I don't belong in Britain.

When I spoke to a friend that night about the incident, she questioned whether the person was really racist or had "other issues" that may have led him to act the way he did.

"I wouldn't worry too much," my friend said. "It's probably an isolated incident. I don't think racism exists anymore really."

She probably felt it would reassure me but racism does exist and it's people like me that have to bear the brunt of it.

"One comment I hear often is 'I don't think that was racist,' which again questions the victim, and also invalidates the victim. Both of these instances are a form of trauma," says trauma therapist Diana Anzaldua.

Speaking on the Black Lives Matter protests, Diana says, "we're hearing comments like, 'if you protested more peacefully, more people would listen.' This comment is essentially blaming the victim based on race."

My friend's dismissiveness and unwillingness to address the underlying problem is a prime example of racial gaslighting - and it can have implications for a person's mental health.

I remember feeling extremely low after this incident and like I wasn't accepted for being who I am.

It knocked my self-esteem to think that people want me to compromise my identity and be something I'm not.

I will not be conflicted into compromising my identity as a woman of colour or as a Muslim in hijab and change myself to meet the expectations of others.

'I am not allowed to be who I am'


Filmmaker and art director Ezekixl Akinnewu remembers being racially gaslighted while working in the art sector and being "tone policed" by a colleague for his flamboyant personality and for being "too loud."

"When you are like that around people of different races, they come and say, 'why are you so loud?' And when I say that it is just the way I am, they take it [that] you are being 'aggressive.'"

This is just one example of racial gaslighting that has happened to Ezekixl. He describes feeling like, "I am not allowed to be who I am".

"It made me feel low, unwanted and a foreigner in a country that I call home. It's like you are always reminded to stay in your place if you are a person of colour but nobody should have to feel that they don't belong because of the colour of their skin.

"Being loud in my culture and as an African man is seen as a form of love and trust and where you can be yourself."

'You are left to feel like you are the person with the problem'


"The environments have always varied, but one thing is for certain that as a black person your thoughts and feelings are rarely listened to or validated by your white counterparts," adds Ica Headlam, founder of We Are Here Scotland.

Ica works with vulnerable teenagers and occasionally he has to challenge young people who use racist or offensive language. In cases like this, Ica says, "usually it's downplayed by your colleagues or you end up engaging in this debate about racism and why it's wrong, which in itself becomes more frustrating.

"Or you are faced with this awkward silence from people who clearly struggle with talking about this with their black colleague. So, you are left to feel like you are the person with the problem."

Five ways to stop racial gaslighting

Inspired by tools from Everyday Racism (a project dedicated to the experiences of racism), here are five ways to stop racial gaslighting:

1. If someone who is BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of colour) shares their experience of racism with you, learn to listen carefully to what they have to say and acknowledge their feelings.

2. Educate yourself on racism and understand the issues related to white privilege.

3. Ensure that you offer support and empathy and don't question a person's lived experiences of racism.

4. Recognise if you have internal defensive responses to racism.

5. Call it out and be an ally to those who have suffered from racism and the forms that it manifests in.

If you recognise that you are being racially gaslighted, Angelique suggests:

■ Collect and document the evidence. This can include making notes, voice memos, photographs or email.

■ Reach out to your support networks and have the "did I hear that?" or "did that really happen?" conversation with others present.

■ Take care of yourself and do things to nurture your wellness. "Racial gaslighting is designed to tear us down, so making sure you stay mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy is of utmost importance," she says.