Emotional labor is often defined as unpaid labor done to appease others. But when it comes to emotional labor by Black, Indigenous, and other Women of Color in the workplace, it often refers to the uncompensated diversity work that deals with microaggressions, trauma, and biases of others—sometimes called the “emotional tax.”
I’ve had a lot of experience being one of the few Women of Color in my day-to-day life, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve had to learn to cope with being one of the few BIPOC employees in my job. This past year, I have worked as a contributing writer, freelance podcaster, author, and creator. These jobs made me realize how my view as a multiracial woman impacts my work.
When I look back on past experiences at work, I am reminded that not only have I experienced the emotional tax, but I also did not value all of the emotional labor my fellow BIPOC coworkers did as well. We don’t often discuss the extra toll on BIPOC, so I wanted to share a few ways emotional labor as a BIPOC at work has impacted me personally and coping tools I’ve learned that hopefully help others.
My identity can be an advantage but also a disadvantage, depending on the day
When my job is looking for impacts on Latinx in the media or perspectives from a marginalized person, I am often the first to volunteer to cover these topics in my work. This allows me to fill a needed viewpoint but also can be emotionally taxing if I sign up for too many vulnerable assignments.
While I love to advocate for other marginalized people, I can often feel responsible and take on too much in my attempt to do good. I know how hard Latinx and other BIPOC are working and fighting for equality, and it can be harmful to myself if I forget to pace myself and just dive endlessly into projects without a pause.
People sometimes second guess my authority
For many BIPOC, we find that it can become a challenge in the workplace when we need to complete certain aspects of our job, communicate with other peers, or hire others for services that need to be completed. Having our authority questioned can be really hurtful and stressful when we know other employees are not being asked, for example, why they speak English so well.
I have more to lose
While working hard has helped me achieve many of my goals, I have a nagging voice at the back of my head reminding me how much I have to lose. While I am a published author, I know if my books were to flop or my articles stopped doing as well, statistically, I am a lot less likely to get another chance.
Women of Color at work are more likely to be expected to be emotionally vulnerable yet maintain a stable viewpoint so we are respected. This can be exhausting. When our work becomes dependent on us utilizing our trauma or having coworkers ask us questions they feel they have the right to ask, we can easily experience burnout from our jobs. Some jobs I’ve had in the past have not respected my boundaries and have pushed me to share things for views rather than valuing and respecting my right to privacy for sometimes very traumatic situations.
How I Cope With Emotional Labor at Work
Create Workplace Boundaries
It is important for BIPOC women in the workplace to create boundaries on what they will or won’t do in the workplace and how much emotional labor they will do—and for how much. Emotional labor is work. Having honest conversations with yourself or friends who are in similar situations will help you create personal boundaries to protect yourself from giving too much and hurting yourself in the long run.
For many Women of Color, we come from families who expect women to give and give, and when we grow up seeing our mothers, aunts, and female relatives worked to the bone to give everything they have to those around us, we can feel guilty for wanting to break that cycle. Going to therapy can be instrumental, especially for Women of Color who need to learn how to break away from generational trauma that can lead to us feeling like we must take on that emotional labor at work too.
I enjoy discussing difficult topics in my writing for my job. And while providing that emotional labor is something I enjoy doing, it can be exhausting. Now that I understand the weight it puts on me, I have been prioritizing taking care of myself after and sometimes even before I have to work. Taking the time to relax, eat, or even chat with a friend can help me stay healthy and in the right headspace when I choose to discuss trauma or other emotionally taxing subjects for work.
For those who want to continue providing emotional labor, ensure you have a healthy outlet to take care of yourself mentally and physically after the fact.