Labor of…love?

If you’ve been “social media-ing” for a while, and been privy to conversations that involve race – you’ve probably seen many mentions on the incredible amount of emotional labor that Black people and POC put forth to explain their experiences, racial nuance and racism.

In the dichotomy between those who wield racism and those who it is wielded against, individuals who occupy groups of privilege and power expect, even demand sometimes, that those impacted by racism, freely put forth tremendous effort to teach them the whos, whats hows and whys of racism.

There is an entitlement present in this that is damn near palpable. It stems from a society that always has certain people front and center, as the default, as those valued more and generally built around them being takers and someone else being the taken from.

This assumption of labor often happens with utter disregard for those having to do the actual work.

Racism itself has real, tangible physical and mental health consequences. Depression, PTSD, heart disease, anxiety, illness susceptibility and insomnia are just a few of the effects it has on people. 

But what isn’t talked about, at least not in any significant way are the effects of putting forth emotional labor. And “emotional labor” has become somewhat of a buzz word that’s easily dismissed as having no basis in reality.

 But imagine, for a moment, trying to constantly explain your humanity, your worth and your oppression to those who benefit from, and/or are actively responsible for your oppression. Having to explain why you shouldn’t be mistreated or the ways in which someone contributes to your mistreatment, when it oftentimes is common sense, can be exhausting.

And truly, most people should be able to envision this, because whether it’s sexism or another “ism” (or phobia), many of us have had to explain in some form or another. Now, consider having to incessantly describe the complexities of systemic racism, patriarchy, misogynoir, sexism and the intricacies of how it all relates.

Psychologist and co-founder of diversity consultancy, Professor Binna Kandola says that the depression and self-esteem issues that result from this are significant. Professor Kandola also notes how subtle, covert racism (or polite/passive racism as I’ve called it) plays an enormous part in mental exhaustion, as it is so much harder to call out and explain. 

If you read last week’s post on polite racism in terms of politics, then you should have a general sense of the covertness of it, and with that comes the problem of having to “prove it” to people who only think racism is water hoses and pointy masks. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, polite racism is insidious in nature and just, if not more, damaging than overt racism. The mad real.

Research suggests that it also leads to imposter syndrome – intense feelings of inadequacy or a fear of being viewed as fraudulent and external/internal loss of control – having lost the sense of control over one’s own circumstances. Both of which, greatly impact mental wellbeing. The denial of your lived experiences creates an inability to control your own narrative and instability is born. 

The possibility of harm is real and enormous. When you see friends, family or strangers online make a point to let someone know that they will NOT put forth any (or anymore) labor, they are protecting their health and sanity.

You see the emotional toll it takes on Black people and POC with platforms -like news anchors and political pundits ( who some are now refusing to “debate” the validity of racism as it’s become tiring ), bloggers and social educators who often have to engage in a lot of self-care. Its impact is felt, deeply. 

I need y’all to remember that when you ask for your friends, family, coworkers or anyone else to put forth strenuous emotional labor to continually explain racial issues on your behalf.

This also isn’t to get anyone to feel pity or to do (what I think is probably the natural reaction) and try to get those who bring awareness to racial disparities to stop -but rather to let you know what exactly people are enduring. Most people, in these kinds of platform capacities, pick their battles carefully, and those who are choosing to educate the masses, and endure the effects, are doing so in an attempt to make the world not be quite as shitty.

And there’s a lot of shittiness to contend with.


When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at

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