Racelighting Overview


In the wake of George Floyd, millions of people have expressed a desire to build a more harmonious nation. This racial reckoning should involve efforts to come to terms with the historical ills of our nation as well as the continued oppression faced by minoritized communities. An understanding of contemporary challenges facing Black, Indigenous and People of Color involves an understanding of systemic oppression as well as how racism manifests at the interpersonal level. In this scholarly brief, the authors offer racelighting as one mechanism among many (e.g., explicit bias, implicit bias, microaggressions, Racial Battle Fatigue) that must be understood in order to fully account for and address how racial manifests in the daily, lived experiences of BIPOC. The interpersonal experiences of BIPOC are shaped by this widely understood, yet underdefined aspect of interpersonal racism. In this brief we offer racelighting as a framework for understanding the process by which interpersonal racism leads BIPOC to question their own realities and sanity.

We conceptualize “racelighting” as a form of gaslighting affecting the daily, normalized experiences and realities of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Racelighting is “the process whereby People of Color question their own thoughts and actions due to systematically delivered racialized messages that make the second guess their own lived experiences [and realities] with racism” (Wood & Harris III, 2021, para. 4). Racial microaggressions are used as a means to racelight people of color. The most common messages reinforce assumptions that BIPOC are criminals, lesser-than, and academically and/or cognitively inferior. When experiencing racelighting, people of color may be led to second guess their experiences, feelings, capabilities, knowledge, decision-making, recollections, and basic humanity.

There are at least three distinctive ways microaggressions can lead to racelighting. First, someone can experience racelighting through microaggressions where there is no intent from the racelighter to intentionally sow doubt and disorientation. We refer to this as “passive racelighting.” Second, someone can experience racelighting as part of a response to being microaggressed. For example, let’s assume someone has been told with a sense of surprise that they are “very smart.” The recipient may bring this microaggression to the attention of the person (or perpetrator) who made the statement. In response, the perpetrator defends their words and actions by sowing doubt and disorientation in the mind of the recipient. This can occur intentionally or unintentionally. We refer to this as “defensive racelighting.” Third, racelighting can also occur with the intention of doing so. Thus, a perpetrator can have the intention of sowing doubt and disorienting the racelightee. This type of racelighting is most closely akin to the form of gaslighting depicted in the original play. We refer to intentional efforts to racelight individuals as “active racelighting.”