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The Emotional Labor of Being a Black Woman in America

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In the New York Times, emotional labor is defined as, “The duties that are expected of you, but go unnoticed.” Gemma Hartley describes in her book, based on her article from last year:

Emotional labor, as I define it, is emotion management and life management combined. It is the unpaid, invisible work we do to keep those around us comfortable and happy. It envelops many other terms associated with the type of care-based labor I described in my article: emotion work, the mental load, mental burden, domestic management, clerical labor, invisible labor.

For Black women struggling with mental illness, these duties can feel endless. It can feel like you are carrying backpack full of concrete blocks with no way to unpack them. For many of us, we are expected to manage our homes, careers and roles within the community. We are bombarded with daily images of domestic and community violence, and with the residual impact of historical and racial trauma. All too often, we find ourselves frozen or propelled to action due to collective grief, systemic racism, systematic racism and systems of oppression. We experience daily paradigm shifts, having to mask our true selves in the workplace for fear of being labeled as “an angry Black woman” or too aggressive when speaking about microaggressions, unfair work practices and lack of cultural competency within the workplace. Meanwhile, inside, we are silently screaming and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) like systems due to racism.

While many well-meaning advocates and allies are creating anti-racists book clubs and rushing to educate themselves about life for Black Americans, those of us living this experience are exhausted. We are tired of answering questions about race. We are tired of fighting. We are tired of begging others to see our humanity. We are tired of white fragility. We are tired of silencing our voices out of political correctness and politeness. When you add mental illness to the mix, it’s easy to be consumed with anxiety, grief and depression when watching the constant barrage of the new Civil Rights’ Movement.

The emotional labor of Black women is marked by struggle related to class, gender and race. Just last week, Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR, found a noose hanging in his garage at Talladega after coming out in support of Black Lives Matter. This came at the end of a week of several Black men being found hanged throughout the Nation. We are well aware that these events can happen to our brothers, fathers, husbands and friends at anytime and it is exhausting. No matter our exhaustion, we know that we must continue to stand firm and to fight for justice; however in the midst of this, we must take care of our emotional, physical, and social well-being.

If you find that you are struggling to maintain emotional balance or to unpack your emotional labor, I offer the following:

1. State your intention: Start the week by setting goals and intentions. Start off small to create quick wins.

2. Make time for self-care: Carve out five to 10 minutes a day to focus on your own needs. Take a quick walk around the block, do breathe work or take a nap even! I’ve listed some additional strategies below that may be helpful.

Resource for People of Color:

Resource for Allies:


3. Detox from the news and social media: I recommend taking a 24-48 hour social media and news detox. This allows you to refocus your energy and to refill your own cup. You can find some tips to accomplish this here.

Can you relate? Let us know how you’re taking care of yourself in the comment below.

Photo by Joanna Nix-Walkup on Unsplash

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