Black Women Are Not Your Emotional Dumping Ground

by Mewe Okoh

Dominating a conversation isn’t natural for me. Instead, I listen. I enjoy listening – the inflections, the animation, the ebbs and flows that comprise the art of storytelling. It explains my major in English, my (seemingly) quiet demeanor, and my ability to attract folks with the gift of the gab. I got comfortable in that role—my role—of being The Listener. It was my way of asserting my true self without having to reveal too much. I doled out subtle rebuttals and “damn right!”s and shot the breeze – but at some point I stopped doling and shooting. The breeze turned to stagnant, stale air.

Zora Neale Hurston wrote in Their Eyes Were Watching God that “de nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see,” and upon my first read through, I didn’t understand. I’d never carried anyone or anything on my back. When I carry hurt, I divide it between the heart and the brain; furthermore, I have no dependents. No one depends on me, but me. Five years and a rereading of the novel later, I understand.

There’s a difference between wanting to be heard and exploitation. When you want to be heard, you recognize the energies that are being exchanged and the consent on the part of the listener to invite that energy into their space. When and if there isn’t that recognition, you venture into the territory of exploitation with the potential to do harm.

As a Black woman, the propensity for others to recognize my humanity is underwhelming. As I do not exude femininity—as it has been characterized throughout history both past and present—people do not see me as a sentient human being, and thus, it is easy use me and throw me away. As of late, in conjunction to wanting to exploit me sexually, people (both men and women) have wanted to exploit me emotionally.

A man I thought I could trust took me for a ride. He promised reciprocity, and in a way I had expected it as I had stuck with him as he “sorted himself out.” He pined about lost love, the one that got away, his past vices and his ghosts, his depression, and suicidal thoughts. I had no problem. I was there. I was searching high and low for myself, I thought he understood, and he did… until it was my turn to talk. He shut me down and carved me out of conversations I laid the foundations for. He gave me nothing, and when I needed him the most, he left. He had gotten better, and didn’t need me anymore.

That’s when I started to set boundaries. I set boundaries for me and the people around me. The more boundaries I set, the easier it became to see the signs: Are they trying to silence you? Are they unpacking unsolicited emotional baggage? Have they even asked your name or about your wellbeing? If not, walk away. No one who genuinely cares about you will Sparta kick you into their emotional tornado and then leave you to play the role of caretaker and nurturer without returning the favor.

This has happened countless times and has manifested itself in different ways. People take us and use us as if we are wells of advice, support, and love that needn’t be replenished. This is untrue and detrimental to our psyches and souls. It is violence. I would advise us all to be mindful of whom we allow to access our wells. I would also advise that we hold those who harm us accountable. We are neither the cause nor catalysts of our exploitation.

Black women aren’t your emotional dumping ground.

Photo: Shutterstock

Mewe Okoh is currently studying English at a university in Massachusetts. You can catch her reading graphic novels at the local sushi buffet. Follow her on Twitter: @MaeOkay.

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