Guilaine Kinouani writes at Race Reflections. In “education requests, exploitation & oppression” she discusses the issue of emotional labour, where complete strangers (usually members of the majority) ask someone (usually a member of a minority group), to educate them on things they could easily Google – or often, things they have already Googled and choose not to believe.
Recurrently and increasingly, I am asked to provide the emotional or intellectual labour of educating privileged folks on oppression, racism and (although much, much less frequently) sexism via requests for of ‘debate’, elaboration or information. These demands for education occur on and off social media. Publicly and privately. They reach me almost daily. Simply reading them recurrently leaves me exhausted. Often frustrated. Sometimes angry that so many would expect such a laborious service, from me, for free. Always, I am left feeling heavy.
Often, questions are phrased not as questions but demands – and refusing those demands leads to vicious abuse. How dare you refuse to stop what you’re doing and do my bidding! Debate me now, coward!
But even when the questioners are not aggressive, there can be aggression.
Each time we are asked to educate mindlessly, not only must we re-experience oppression and racism, we must often carry the weight of the privileged’s inability to tolerate their own responses, distress, discomfort and, the disturbance caused to their benevolent sense of self or worldview, which often gets passed on to us via projection.
There’s an attitude I’ve seen a lot of online and in print by people who have enormous privilege: the way things have been is the way things should be.
If you suggest otherwise, the problem is clearly with you.
It is not unusual for example, for those who challenge racism to be called racist, bully or some other persecutory term.
Even when the questions are questions rather than demands, they can be problematic. What may be intellectual curiosity for the questioner is someone else’s lived experience.
All oppressive experiences are traumatic. It hurts. It makes you tired. Sometimes it makes you want to cry. The cumulative effect of subtle and everyday or micro experiences of othering and discrimination is grinding. It is draining. And again, every single time it is hard. But more than that, it wears our health and mental health down. It renders us vulnerable to psychological distress and make us feel unsafe in the world, the very definition of insidious trauma.
Given this impact, the expectation that we should as a matter of course and at the drop of a hat, subject our bodies to such effects is frankly gross in its lack of compassion and consideration.