'Gaslighting' is the Word of the Year, But the Concept is Far From New for Black People

Photo:  fizkes (Shutterstock)
Photo: fizkes (Shutterstock)

‘Gaslighting’ is Merriam-Webster’s 2022 Word of the Year, but it is the word of a lifetime for Black people. White people are just now consistently using the word. But if we look throughout history, Black people have truly felt the impact of gaslighting for decades.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of ‘gaslighting’ is, “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”

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Merriam-Webster explains they chose the word because its use has increased as a result of the post-Trump era, and maybe even as a result of his 2024 presidential campaign announcement. His use of the phrase “Fake News” is an example of his dangerous gaslighting tactics. Now that America is gearing up to hear the empty promises and lies from Trump, people can pinpoint a specific word to identify the actions of politicians and other powerful figures.

However, the Black community’s experience with gaslighting goes all the way back to slavery. Slaves were gaslit in tragic conditions to think what they were going through wasn’t as bad as it was, and forced to suppress their anger, sadness, and pain. They were gaslit into thinking that they were inferior to white people and that what was happening to them was meant to be.

Black women have historically been gaslit into thinking their pain isn’t real or not unbearable enough to treat in childbirth, while other Black folks across the country are gaslit by law enforcement, workplaces, and educational settings.

For centuries Black people have been conditioned by institutions to believe that what they are experiencing isn’t all that bad. This has caused the lives of Black people to be neglected because of fear that they won’t be heard, taken seriously, or helped. Now that Merriam-Webster has chosen this word and white people have helped increase its popularity, will Black people be able to use it and have their experiences accepted too?

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