Jordan Hall, Tesfaye Cooper, Britanny Covington, Tanishia Covington, John R.K. Howard and Dylann Roof. Some of these folks are more familiar to us than others but all of them have done something quite horrible. Of course Roof is well known for his murderous act of killing the Charleston Nine. Howard, along with two companions, raped a disabled teammate and the others videotaped themselves torturing a disabled young man whom they held captive.
What do they have in common? What is different? How are they related to the practice of gaslighting, the act of turning a set of facts into something that creates a desired reality whether it’s true or not. Presently, we are witnessing a great amount of gaslighting behavior around the way in which the black perpetrators on this list are being characterized.
Of course, all of those listed have committed horrible crimes. They all need psychological help and they need to be held accountable. But it is quite unfair to single out the four African Americans named at the beginning of this list as being the worst of the worst and generalizing to other African Americans such as those involved in the movement for Black Lives who had nothing to do with their crime.
This is the historical narrative that has played out over the centuries in America. Unfortunately, it continues to be quite alive and well. For instance when Jack Johnson became the first heavyweight boxing champion in the early 1900s, some white folks went out and lynched several innocent black men.
There is not a single person who has their head and heart in the right place who is not horrified by the behavior of all of the folks on my opening list. But it is equally as horrifying to hear the generalizations that are made about African Americans who had nothing to do with the incident while very little is being said in general about whites. White people are not being seen in disparaging ways as a result of their crimes. No particular group of whites are being held in contempt because of the perpetrators’ behavior as is happening with Black Lives groups.
This is a challenge for us as a nation. We need to turn ourselves around. In many circles such turning around is called repentance. As a nation we have many challenges before us, but one of the biggest ones is moving beyond our oversimplified way of seeing people with black and brown skin in this country.
As of today, there are too many reports of the kinds of expressions toward African Americans that are reminiscent of the 19th century. It is difficult not to be baffled by this kind of behavior though bafflement is not an acceptable response. Courageous folks have to take a stand that will not allow gaslighting to create a false reality which aims to legitimize racism.
White people who engage in the behavior of gaslighting need to be held accountable both by other whites as well as black and brown people. Each time someone goes on a merry round of generalizing and trying to alter reality with a story that distorts the facts, it is necessary to stand against that behavior. The stand needs to be unapologetic and clear.
Distortion of the truth is an intolerable act and can do harm in ways which would never result from telling the truth. The truth today is this, four misguided people tortured a young man. It happens that they were black. They need to be held accountable. End of story.
There is no need for all of the commentary around trying to link other black folks or any movement for justice and liberation to them. There is no connection. Let’s stand against gaslighting. Let’s stand together in truth telling. Let’s turn our country around by being careful about all of our words.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.