A Gaslit Australia

15 Mar 2020

One of the key steps we can take to healing from this sickness, is understanding that gaslighting is a tool of the oppressor that is – and has been for 250 years – weaponised against us in order to keep our people in a perpetual state of disarray, disenfranchisement and disengagement.

“It was a joke, you’re just too sensitive – toughen up.”

“Uh, I’m not racist. You’re racist for calling me racist. Actually, that’s reverse racism!”

“I didn’t do that; I wasn’t even alive then.”

“Maybe it’s just all in your head.”

“We’re all human, aren’t we?”

You would be hard pressed to find a First Nation’s person in Australia who hasn’t seen or heard these statements at some point in their lives. Most of us know by now that these are tactics used by predominantly white people to avoid engaging in genuine and meaningful dialogue about race-based issues, and to further uphold systems of oppression that white communities continue to benefit from.

What we don’t talk about enough though is how these types of responses are also unconsciously grounded in a psychological concept known as “gaslighting”, as well as the collateral damage that occurs in the minds of black and brown people as a result of this type of avoidance and delusion.

Gaslighting, which is a concept that was popularised by a theatrical play called “Gas Light” in the late 1930’s, is defined by Oxford Dictionary as:

“to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity”

As Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, just how many times have we walked away from an encounter with a racially resentful white person, who has just spent the majority of their time denying our experiences as people, and left reeling from the blatant ignorance, contempt and neglect of our humanity and right to exist.

Or how many times, have we thought to ourselves, “this person is clearly harbouring racist attitudes, but they are doing their absolute best to convince me that they are ‘the least racist person you could ever know”– alas Donald Trump.

One of the key objectives for those in possession of this type of gaslighting mentality is to destabilise a person or party, and then ultimately lead them to creating a distinct lack of trust in their own thinking, their own abilities, their own judgement or their own experiences, putting them in a position where they are continuously questioning their own reality.

This can obviously have severe implications for our mental health, both individually and as collective First Nations.

To be told that we “just need to toughen up” or “get over it”, in correspondence with very open and unjustified racism is not okay. To be called racist for identifying actual racist behaviours and rhetoric by their very definitions from members of the white community is not okay. To be told that racism is all in our heads and that everybody is human, despite the plethora of First Nations’ people who are not treated as such by society, is not okay.

These white “innocents”, as James Baldwin called them, are always planting seeds of uncertainty in their victims, always striving for power and revelling in their domination and control over others. Sometimes this occurs in the subtlest ways. Sometimes we don’t know it’s happening at all.

This includes how stories and narratives are interwoven throughout the fabric of history in particular ways so as to conceal or withhold information from those who could be empowered by them. Additionally, it involves control of the portrayal of figures within those narratives in order to maintain a state of dominion and dependency.

From resistance fighters and frontier war heroes such as Pemulwuy, Windradyne and Multuggerah being labelled as “troublesome”, to the direct opposition to factual events such as massacres, cultural genocide and forced removals… and from schools and universities named after perpetrators of extreme and abhorrent acts of violence committed against Aboriginal communities, to allocating $6.7 million to “re-enacting” an event which never even took place.

It’s time to put an end to the gaslighting that occurs in this colony every day.

One of the key steps we can take to healing from this sickness, is understanding that gaslighting is a tool of the oppressor that is – and has been for 250 years – weaponised against us in order to keep our people in a perpetual state of disarray, disenfranchisement and disengagement.

Therefore, we, as the rightful and sovereign owners of these lands, will no longer trust apologies over patterns. We will no longer accept the empty words that spill from the forked tongue of white supremacy. We will no longer allow ourselves to be mystified by white racial resentment.

To draw on the brilliance of James Baldwin once more, “I cannot believe what you say, because I see what you do”.

We refuse to uphold the images of the primary violators of the people of this land. We continue to resist the blood-stained grasp of neocolonialism, and we are taking back our minds, our bodies and our spirits.

Because we are no longer victims of this Nation-wide Gas Light, we are survivors of it.

This article was published by the Guardian, in partnership with IndigenousX, during Josh’s week as our Twitter Host from 5-12 March 2020.

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