How Gaslighting Protects Systemic Racism

“Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man” – George Floyd

“No, I don’t think there’s systemic racism. I think 99.9% of our law enforcement officers are great Americans … but there are some bad apples in there… Where were the local prosecutors and where was the police commissioner? That guy, I’m told, had a long record of this sort of conduct. Why was he still on the force?”

 Said Robert O’Brien, National Security Advisor, with no sense of irony

Richard Nixon, in his ultimately successful bid for the presidency, saw an opportunity to win the elusive southern votes that had so consistently gone to the Democrats. In ‘The New Jim Crow’, Michelle Alexander is clear: “H R Haldeman, one of Nixon’s key advisors, recalls that Nixon himself deliberately pursued a southern racial strategy. He, President Nixon, emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

Ronald Reagan, who remains a darling of America’s conservatives today, picked up the baton of Nixon’s thinly-veiled war on drugs during a time of declining illegal drug use. Again, Alexander is blunt: “the drug war from the outset had little to do with public concern about drugs and much to do with public concern about race” and that it was an“… odd coincidence that an illegal drug crisis suddenly appeared in the black community after, not before, a drug war had been declared.”

Not to be outdone, the Democrats then did more than their fair share of damage. The Justice Policy Institute outlines “The Clinton dynasty’s horrific legacy: How “tough-on-crime” politics built the world’s largest prison system”.

Even so, many today vehemently defend these men and their actions as having nothing to do with race. The perpetrators and defenders of this system say that the exaggerated posturing as “law and order” candidates wasn’t meant to conjure up images of black criminals and affirm the widely held belief that black people were inherently more criminal than whites. They say that the resulting spike in black prison populations wasn’t the intended effect, but might simply be an accurate reflection of a real discrepancy between black and white criminality. They want us to believe that the FBI truly thought that MLK’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime.

They want us to believe that the confederacy wasn’t built on slavery and that the American Civil War wasn’t fought for slavery; that despite similar levels of illegal drug sale and use between black and white Americans, criminalizing black people on a much higher scale only makes sense.

They would have you believe that the life-long disenfranchisement of ex-felons is not modelled after Jim Crow. This is despite the fact that similar restrictions are applied in voting, employment, housing, education, public benefits and jury service.

They want us, black people, to question our own experience. They want us to believe that the panic we feel when we’re pulled over by police is silly; that if you simply follow the law nothing bad will happen; that the videos surfacing over the last few years are rare occurrences that have no wider implications on police departments or the justice system as a whole. They want us to believe that though systemic racism has evolved through slavery, sharecropping, the black codes, vagrancy laws, convict leasing, Jim Crow, lynching and segregation, this evolution inexplicably stopped with the Civil Rights Act.

I can’t help but see how this hits on the hallmarks of gaslighting, an abusive tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality and/or sanity. On the rare occasion that the wrong doing is admitted, gaslighting is applied on the intentionality of the action.

This strategy has shocking effectiveness, even on the targets of the abuse. Alexander notes that “Conservatives could point to black support for highly punitive approaches to dealing with the problems of the urban poor as proof that race had nothing to do with their law-and-order agenda.” This is only possible when coded language affords you sufficient plausible deniability.

However, the real power of this strategy has been its effect on white Americans. Black Americans can directly point to their experience in contradicting these attempts at gaslighting. I believe this is what makes it somewhat less effective on them. White Americans, on the other hand, have no such experience to fall back on. For many, this sows just enough doubt to keep them voting for the policies and candidates that have facilitated and overseen centuries of abuse.

We all saw the knee of Derek Chauvin pressed against George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. We heard Floyd begging for air. “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man”. We saw Chauvin unmoved as Floyd’s pleas faded into silence. We saw the other officers pushing away witnesses who were pointing out that a man was being murdered. Even so, the preliminary autopsy began the usual knee-jerk response of casting aspersions, speculating on the role of “potential intoxicants” and “underlying health issues”.  The reality of what we saw means nothing when the system needs to be defended.

I believe that fighting back against this gaslighting must start with (peaceful) defiance against it. Defy the attempts to rewrite history. Defy their denials of systemic injustice with the overwhelming statistics and by engaging meaningfully with the experiences of those affected.

When this administration frantically tries to talk about anything and everything except the issue of police brutality, defy that and talk about police brutality. When they dismiss these occurrences as the actions of a few bad apples, defy that and explain the storied history of police departments being used to enforce racist laws. Explain how this new Jim Crow has descended directly from exploitation we’ve seen in the past. Explain how we can see that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When the president expresses an understanding for the people at a racist protest in Charlottesville and nothing but disdain for black people protesting for their lives, call it what it is. Don’t sugarcoat it. He is a racist defending his fellow racists, being protected by the same system and empowered by the same politics that has been such an effective tool of oppression.

When the president waxes nostalgic about the “good old days” when protestors were treated roughly, let’s not pretend that it is devoid of historical context. Let’s stop pretending that bringing back the “law and order” rhetoric of the 80s is not a calculated appeal to the same segment of the population it was devised for originally. When he specifically quotes avowed racists with phrases like “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, don’t fall for it when he denies knowing how the phrase was originally used. When his staunch defenders say his words were “ill-chosen and historically fraught” and immediately pivot into attacking the protests, resolve to see through this ruse. When these same defenders assume credit and pat themselves on the back for the achievements of the protestors they malign, such as the arrest of Derek Chauvin, resolve to see through the dirtied turbulent waters.

When the president praises the bloodlines of Henry Ford, an anti-Semite and Hitler supporter, let’s not pretend he doesn’t know what he’s doing. When he says “I have a certain gene, I’m – I’m a gene believer”, don’t let the ensuing confusion distract you the fact of this racism. Don’t allow the gaslighting to work.

Keep in mind Iris Marion Young’s bird cage metaphor, as quoted in ‘The New Jim Crow’:

“If one thinks about racism by examining only one wire of the cage, or one form of disadvantage, it is difficult to understand how and why the bird is trapped. Only a large number of wires arranged in a specific way, and connected to one another, serve to enclose the bird and to ensure that it cannot escape. Any given wire of the cage may or may not be specifically developed for the purpose of trapping the bird, yet it still operates, together with the others to restrict its freedom”

#Blacklivesmatter

Notes:

  • To be absolutely clear, this article in no way endorses violence as a method of defiance. My goal was simply to try and provide some historical context for the ongoing struggle for human and civil rights.
  • This article borrows heavily from Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow”. For me, it proved crucial to understanding the enduring legacy of the exploitation and disenfranchisement of black people in the US. You would do well to pick up a copy.

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A Place of No Return

My Commentary on the Book Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking affected me so deeply that the words to express it seem insufficient. I will do my best to explain. Didion writes, “grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it”. She continues by saying that we anticipate death and we expect that when it comes, we will be melancholic. We however fail to see past the few days following a death. We think only of the loss in the moment it occurs and the ritualistic events that follow like the gathering of guests at the home, and the funeral. Didion suggests the mourning and grieving process after the demise of a loved one does not follow the ideals we have bought into. You do not necessarily mourn their death, then grieve for a month or so as you gradually heal. We are incapable of imagining or understanding wholly, “the unending absence that follows”, “the void” when we lose those dearest to us.

The Year of Magical ThinkingAt the risk of revealing too much of myself and altering Didion’s work as I apply her memoir to my life, I will share a personal experience. Until 2018 I had been fortunate in my adult life not to experience the loss of a close family member or friend. I specify adult life because there were deaths in my childhood, but I was too young to make sense of them.

My grandmother was in and out of hospital leading up to her eventual passing at the end of January 2018. In the earlier days of her illness after discharge from hospital, she returned to her home in Kericho, Kenya. She called me a day or two later. It was just before midday. I was staring at the computer screen at the office when my cellphone light started to flash, signaling an incoming call. Batiem the screen read. I hate to admit this: I took a second or two debating whether to answer it then or to return her call later. I answered it. At the end of the call my Batiem said, “Don’t be so quiet Chelang’at. I love you.” I remember musing at her modernity in expressing her love for me. Kenyans do not openly express affection. We demonstrate our love through actions like preparing a steaming flask of strong milk tea or hugging. That was the first time I heard my grandmother use those words. It was also the last conversation I had with her. Months after the funeral when I returned to Winnipeg I reflected on that conversation. “Did she know what was to come? Is that why she said it? Was she making certain that I knew that she loved me?” 

Didion returns to a similar question many times in her memoir. She writes about a time John asked her to jot something down for him to use later in a book he was writing. When she handed the note to him, he told her she could use it in her writing if she wanted. Didion finds herself wondering if perhaps he knew he was going to die. “Did he know he would not write the book?”, “Was something telling him that night that the time for being able to write was running out?”. On one of their many trips from visiting their daughter Quintana at the hospital, John said to Didion, “I don’t think I’m up for this”. She responded to him saying he did not have a choice in the matter. That was the week he died. “I have wondered since if he did” she says. The most striking example of this question of whether the dead know before it happens, occurred (as Didion says) either three hours or twenty-seven hours before John died. John expressed his regret for having wasted time in New York and his dissatisfaction with a lot of his work. Didion writes that, “he believed he was dying. He told me so, repeatedly. I dismissed this”.   

The documentary The Center Will Not Hold (available on Netflix) directed by Griffin Dunne profiles many scenes of Joan Didion’s family life intersecting with her writing life. It is a revealing documentary because both Dunne and friends of Didion echo some of the experiences she shares in her memoir. It brought Didion’s question of John’s knowledge of his upcoming death to life. Dunne shared a story where Didion was staring at John’s clothes in the closet. He assumed they had the same thought, to get rid of John’s clothes. When he said this to her, Didion asked him “but what if he comes back? A question to which Dunne confesses, “at that moment, it didn’t seem farfetched at all. In fact, it seemed plausible”. I listened to Dunne’s confession and recognized his voice was still raw with emotion. I thought back to my Batiem’s funeral when the men with their big shovels began pouring heaps of dirt into the grave. I had panicked as I watched the men working, “but what if she wants to come home?”. 

Didion’s memoir depicts mourning and grieving in the most pragmatic manner. She makes it clear that grieving is not a forward progression to healing but rather a jumbled mashup of good and bad days and random triggers. Her memoir affected me deeply because I could relate so well to her grief. A day or two after we learned of my grandmother’s passing a lady from our church visited. My mother was in her room when this visitor arrived, so my friend and I sat with her in the living room. After a few minutes of small talk, she said to me laughing, “you aren’t crying, you’re taking it so well”. I stumbled for words then turned to my friend who immediately changed the topic. I have never been one to cry in front of people so I did everything I could to hold back the tears. I did not listen to the rest of that conversation; my mind was racing. “It’s okay” the social worker said about Didion to the doctor, “she’s a pretty cool customer”. Didion later pondered to herself, “I wondered what an uncool customer would be allowed to do. Break down? Require sedation? Scream?”. I asked myself similar questions after that visit.  

Didion is careful to preserve the memory of those she lost while at the same time sharing fairly intimate details about their lives. She does not neglect her ethical responsibility to John. The memoir was particularly enjoyable to me because she gives room to the reader to imagine the emotion. Didion does not tell us how she feels but rather demonstrates it. The truth of the matter is one does not understand grief until you are in it. As Didion said, “time is the school in which we learn”. Only experience gives you the opportunity to find the mourning or grieving that works for you. There is no one way, there is no right amount of time and there certainly is no self-help book that will teach you to do it well. The Year of Magical Thinking is a memoir that says it is okay to be where you are and to feel as you feel. 

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The Year of Magical Thinking

 

Nice Guy Syndrome?

A Self-professed Nice Guy Grappling With Self Image

I have subconsciously constructed an identity around the belief of my niceness. It is the only quality that made me feel exceptional with any consistency. Sometimes, I feel exceptionally clever. This perception doesn’t usually survive daily interactions. Sometimes, and this is rare, I feel exceptionally funny. The very next attempt at a joke will almost always bring me back down to earth. Feeling exceptionally nice, however, has proved a very tricky perception to shake.

Continue reading “Nice Guy Syndrome?”

Love, 6-feet Apart

Hello ladies and gentlemen! I hope you are all doing well despite the current state of things. Today, I have the pleasure of introducing my mother who has been kind enough to write the following article for us. She is Meg or Maggie. She was born and raised in Kenya then raised us ‘young ones’ there for a while. She moved to Winnipeg, a city she has come to love. She loves the outdoors ‘even in winter’. Becoming a writer is one of the things in her bucket list. ~Enjoy the read, Valerie. 

Successful businessmen and women say there is an opportunity in everything. When the Market is up. When the Market is down. We have all heard the adage ‘there is a silver line to every cloud’. This is what I decided to adopt for this season of enforced home stay during the Covid19 pandemic. But I am getting ahead of myself.

When the lock down commenced, the first few days were exhilarating. It was the impromptu holiday I always wanted. I could sleep in, watch videos till all hours of night, eat whenever and whatever I wanted. That was back when we could still run to the store as often as we wished :). Well that lasted for about three days. Continue reading “Love, 6-feet Apart”

Home is Where We Are

When I was a child, my father worked for the land arm of the Kenya Defence Forces. As a military member, he was relocated to different parts of the country every few years. This meant that there was never one specific place I called home. Continue reading “Home is Where We Are”

Any is Better Than None

There have been many dashing, funny, loving, thoughtful men whom I have crossed paths with who would have loved to have me in their lives.

There have been men whose voices mesmerized me. Whose romantic gestures blew me away. Whose undoubtable desire for me would have caused me to throw caution to the wind and fly away with them.

There have been men, incredibly loving men who looked at me like Continue reading “Any is Better Than None”

DEER + ALMOND, MY SUMMER TREAT

I was at Dear + Almond sometime in the summer and was pleasantly surprised. My girlfriend and I had often walked or driven past their establishment without giving them much thought. The clean white exterior with Deer + Almond in black did not do much to lure us in. We were curious, but not enough to take than next step until one day Saturday afternoon we decided to drive to the Exchange to try something new.

Looking at the menu was like reading Greek to me. Thanks to my able assistant Mr. Google, I settled on grilled romaine with feta, sikil pak and pumpkin seed vinaigrette. Sikil Pak, Google told me, is a delicious thick pumpkin seed dip used in place of guacamole. Google wasn’t wrong to call it delicious. It was a smooth, smokey  and sweet thick paste-a delicate taste. I would choose it any day over guacamole. Although I should probably learn how to pronounce it.

When the chore of ordering was done, I sat back to enjoy Deer + Almond’s ambience. The restaurant has an air of elegance and warmth with a hint of quiet buzzing from conversations around our table.

Most of the tables in the small room were occupied. The diners seemed to be enjoying their meals and conversations. Some were sharing while others ate only from their own plates. It was interesting to observe the meal sharing as I had never been to a Tapas Bar before. Our waiter brought us a bowl of cinnamon popcorn on the house to enjoy while awaiting our meal.

When my food arrived I was a little confused. I mean, I knew it was going to have some lettuce in it. I just didn’t realize lettuce would be the entire meal. I should have known, I suppose. It was a starter, under the title “smalls” on their menu-plus it literally said ‘grilled romaine lettuce’.

I hesitated to take a bite.

After analyzing the food I equipped myself with fork and knife bracing for that first bite. I was transported to another world. That was definitely the best first bite of anything I have ever eaten. The romaine letters were just right, well grilled but crunchy. The thick sigil pak and pumpkin seed vinaigrette added a sophisticated sweetness to the grilled vegetables. The feta added that nice tangy salty taste that brought everything together. It was delightful. And quite filling. For a plate of lettuce I was a rather stuffed. I had no room for the main course or dessert. My girlfriend and I ordered some drinks to wash down our meals. And that was our lovely evening.

Deer + Almond turned out to be a treat. I will certainly pay them another visit!

Budgeting As a People Pleaser

Over the weekend I went to a cabin in riding mountain, Manitoba. It was fantastic.

My family, along with some of our family friends made plans for this trip and travelled together for the weekend. We planned on having dinner at the cabin, going to a concert and having a bonfire later that night. Then going to Clear Lake for the day the following morning. Continue reading “Budgeting As a People Pleaser”

Birthday Month, A Day from Hell & Banking Fees

February is my birthday month. I’m turning 30 in nine days people. I’m so excited. I’ve been on this earth for three whole decades and yet there’s still so much to learn. When I was kid I remember looking at adults and thinking ‘must be nice to know and have everything’. Ha! Little did I know. Continue reading “Birthday Month, A Day from Hell & Banking Fees”

2018 in Review

Last year today, I published an article that highlighted the lessons I learnt through the year 2017. As I went through 2018 I carried those lessons with me. My instincts became my best friend. I made a point of listening to them. I took each day in completely and lived it without holding back or focusing on the day after. Everyday became a new adventure. When I faced challenging situations I remembered to keep on breathing. I made an effort to keep most of those lessons in my mind each day. Because of it, 2018 was a very productive year for me. Continue reading “2018 in Review”

The Fisherman’s Gift

A long time ago when I was maybe six or seven years old  an old toothless neighbour passed by our house on his way home from an evening of fishing at a nearby river. He often passed by to say hello to my father who was his tribesman. Onyango was not concerned about his appearance. His clothes were often tattered as if to represent the passing of time. On his feet he wore akala sandals made from old car tires. Continue reading “The Fisherman’s Gift”

Mothers Are a Gift

The past couple of weeks I haven’t written anything because burnout. I am working two jobs, day and night. So yeah. But I doubt you’re interested in hearing all about that. That’s my problem, not yours. Here goes a little something…

***                           ***                                   ***

Many years ago there lived a girl in a small little neighbourhood in Nairobi, the capital City of Kenya. We will call her Trish.

Trish was a lovely happy little girl. At the time she must have been about nine or ten years old. She longed to play with her friends after school although her mother was quick to reprimand her for roaming about the neighbourhood. Continue reading “Mothers Are a Gift”

Don’t Feel, Calculate and Other Sunday Thoughts

womenThe other day I was talking to one of my closest friends, I call him my voice of reason. I was ranting, actually. I was not happy about how some things turned out. I was also afraid of what was going to happen. I told him that I had a potential solution to the problem. When he asked me why I thought my solution would help I said that I kept feeling like my current situation was contributing to the issue. He then said three very simple words to me.

‘Stop feeling. Calculate.’ Continue reading “Don’t Feel, Calculate and Other Sunday Thoughts”

I’ve Caught the Winnipeg Jets Bug

Winnipeg Jets

I Admit it.

I know nothing about sports. Like zip, nada. Not. A. Thing.

There, I said  it.

I’m not particularly proud of this but I stopped trying to figure sports out years ago. Honestly, it bores me to death. Sports. All sports, are a total bore to me.

Winnipeg Jets

Now enter the Winnipeg Jets and the current Stanley Cup playoffs. Continue reading “I’ve Caught the Winnipeg Jets Bug”

Winnipeg Is Definitely A Lovely Place to Live

I have lived in Winnipeg for eight years now. The one thing that I hear people say literally every single day is how this place sucks. If we are being completely honest, I too have said that on several occasions. Many times, in fact.

Winnipeg is small. I find that most people live in their little cocoons connecting with only the people they’ve known all their lives. I am guilty of that too. I mostly stick with my family, and friends that I met when I first arrived.

But when I go out to explore different events and interact with people outside of my usual circle, I find that Winnipeg has so much to offer. I have decided that the reason why a lot of us complain about this cute little town we live in is because we don’t give it a chance. And we definitely don’t go out  to explore it.

Lucky for y’all I connected with an amazing photographer @gyk26 who is bringing Winnipeg right to your screen. The Peg is beautiful and it is full of life. Enjoy these incredible photos today. Tomorrow, step out and explore for yourself -after all the winter is behind us. 

Also tell us about your favourite spots at the Peg in the comments section.

Credit Card Debt Could Take Over 50 Years to Be Fully Paid Off

For the past little while money has been on my mind. I want this year to be the year that I focus on saving, growing my emergency fund, completely getting rid of debt and investing more than I ever have before. So far its going really well. The other day I was reading up and learning about credit card debt and stumbled about a very simple detail that got me super excited.

 

Did You Know…

 

…in Canada, banks are required Continue reading “Credit Card Debt Could Take Over 50 Years to Be Fully Paid Off”

A Horrible Tragedy: The Humboldt Broncos Bus Crash

The Humboldt Broncos Bus Crash

In Saskatchewan, last Friday, a tragic accident occurred that led to the loss of 15 lives. There were 28 passengers on the bus. The crash involved the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos and a semi-trailer.

10 players and five team personnel, were killed in the crash. Yesterday, the Globe and Mail published an article sharing specific information about each of these people.  Continue reading “A Horrible Tragedy: The Humboldt Broncos Bus Crash”

Assiniboine Park Conservatory is Now Closed

Assiniboine Park Conservatory
Photo by @gyk26

The Assiniboine Park Conservatory has officially closed today.

The Conservatory has been a part of Winnipeg since 1914 (yikes!). That is a long time.

It was certainly not easy to say goodbye to Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Conservatory this past weekend. Continue reading “Assiniboine Park Conservatory is Now Closed”