Don't Expect Black Women to Do Your Emotional Labor

by Stacey Patton for Dame Magazine 

Since the spate of murders by police of unarmed Black men, we are finally engaging in one of the most emotionally charged dialogues in this country, one we’ve long dreaded and therefore shirked: Americans are talking about race, and doing so as honestly as we can. But we can no longer avoid it after witnessing over and over the blatant inequality of policing and the failure to prosecute the officers who murdered Mike Brown and Eric Garner, which has made it painfully obvious that our nation has deliberately failed to uphold its laws to protect all citizens equally.

But even after all these years, ours remains a segregated society. Seventy-five percent of White people don’t have non-White friends, and even on social media, racial segregation is alive and well. But Facebook does provide a refuge for candid, often brutal conversations about racial issues.

And what we’re seeing from this digital discourse is that many White people have little sense of the daily lives of Black Americans: the constant terrorizing and harassment, the fact that police do anything but serve and protect, and Black people’s ongoing fear for their lives. And so the level of insensitivity and cluelessness, defensiveness and outright racist comments may not be so surprising, especially at the outset, and not everyone is going to be open to being enlightened.

Facebook has been dubbed “Racebook” because it provides a platform where people of different backgrounds can gain more intimate access to each other’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. This kind of virtual space offers the potential for greater understanding and empathy for one another’s lives. But one thing that my interracial cohort of friends, colleagues, and I have noticed is that a significant number of White people, especially women—are commenting and sending private messages to challenge and sometimes attack Black people for expressing and speaking truths about our realities.

I’m not talking about the obvious cases of overt racism, but something much more nuanced: the White women who are more or less on our side, but who don’t know their place in the conversation. As a result, their comments are often more presumptuous, who say things like they don’t “see race,” they’re not the enemy, or they’re feeling hurt and attacked.

Now, I’ve had invectives hurled at me by trolls in the comment sections on news commentary I’ve written, on my Twitter feed, and in my personal email box over the last two weeks. They’ve called me a “racist,” “a black cunt,” “whore,” “whiny bitch,” “coward,” “warmonger,” “terrorist,” and about a dozen variations of nigger. And most of that kind of hate comes from White men, some of whom hide behind fake profile photos of George W. Bush or Nazi salutes. They are aggressive, arrogant, and occasionally even physically threatening.

But believe it or not, I find less benign the more subtle stuff I get on Facebook, because of what it reveals. The specter of White denial and hostility troubles me more because I chose to curate my world with White “friends” whom I respect, care about, and whose opinions I value. And racist “friends of friends” who are six degrees of separation from the Ku Klux Klan add an additional disturbing layer. How could you be friends with that person?

When I, or one of my Black friends, write something about race on our walls that gets their panties in a wad, some White women complain, chastise, unfriend, or block us. These acts become another way to assert White power and the privileges emanating from White supremacy. We recognize this as “Whitesplaining”—a microaggression that shows up as an attempt to override our lived experiences with their logic steeped in privilege and entitlement.

Continue reading at Dame Magazine

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