Semantics of DEI Work/Gaslighting the Oppressed (Janan)

I enjoyed the Brian Lehrer show’s interview because it gave me a new framework to engage with the issue of inclusion work in diversity. I’m realizing more how linked it is to the gaslighting of people of color (particularly women of color) working in academic spaces. Lehrer mentions that DEI work often falls disproportionately on faculty/staff of color, even though they make up a minority of positions in universities. This is what I’m connecting to gaslighting.

This pattern effectively treats DEI work as POC issue that needs to be solved by people of color, rather than a pervasive system with history legacy and widespread detriments. I see the connection to language here as well. For example, “cultural sensitivity” is a phrase used by so many professionals, such as academics and therapists, and it’s used to convey a commitment to DEI. However, even the word sensitivity in itself implies a sensitivity (read: over-sensitivity) of those (read: poc/woc) who may comment on their experiences of racism. I’ve seen a switch by critical scholars to push for the phrase “critically conscious” instead. I like how this shift puts the accountability on those in power, demanding a consciousness that is informed and inclusive, rather than gaslighting those who may be “over-sensitive” to racism (and sexism and ableism, etc). 

2 thoughts on “Semantics of DEI Work/Gaslighting the Oppressed (Janan)

  1. Matt Brim

    You’ve picked up on some past conversations in an interesting way by focusing on the language of “sensitivity.” I usually think of gaslighting as an intentional effort by someone, but you’re making me think that gaslighting may be a built in feature of our unequal systems (in addition to an individual practice). When gaslighting becomes a normative systemic practice, we stop seeing it as gaslighting. Lots of layers here…

  2. Katina Rogers (she/her)

    I totally see this, Janan—the way that language around “sensitivity” can so easily be used in such a way as to leave people of color questioning their own experiences in academic spaces. This comes through powerfully in Matthew’s book, as well; you might like digging in more deeply if the interview resonated.

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