Bitch Better Have My Money: Emotional Labor & Women of Color

Men (or white women, for that matter) do not understand the amount of time and energy that women of color expend in acts of emotional labor each day.

Emotional labor in this context refers to the ways in which people (usually women and/or people of color) are expected to constantly expend their time and energy on unpaid and unacknowledged tasks, such as educating others, coddling people’s feelings, providing emotional support without expecting any in return, and even producing art/music/writing (just ask any WOC artist how many times people have asked her to create artwork for them for free). This is especially evident in service-based and highly gendered professions such as waitressing, retail, and flight attending, where employees are expected to not only do their job, but to do it with a smile.

Even outside the professional world, emotional labor puts an undue strain on women of color. Activists, bloggers, grassroots organizers, educators, artists, writers, mothers, caretakers, and countless others have their absolutely essential work go unacknowledged and uncompensated by society at large. Sure, you can claim to love this black feminist blogger or that trans woman activist, but when it comes down to it, are you actually supporting them or just consuming their work without giving them anything in return? The truth is, we all need money to survive, and women of color living in a white supremacist patriarchal society need it more than most.

Many feminists of color have addressed the disproportionate burden of emotional labor that others place upon their shoulders. One of the most brilliant ways in which this issue has been tackled is through the Twitter hashtag #GiveYourMoneyToWomen, created by Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk), an indigenous activist. Unsurprisingly, the birth of this hashtag made men (and some white women) incredibly uncomfortable and even outraged. The thought of paying women for the time and energy they feel entitled to is outrageous to most men.

But why is that? Why is it so ridiculous to even consider compensating women for their emotional labor? This work is devalued but simultaneously expected from us. It is not seen as “real” labor, and yet it is demanded of us by everyone, from our closest loved ones to random strangers on the internet. I can almost guarantee that every woman of color has had at least one obnoxious but well-meaning white person ask us to teach them about racism, only to get defensive when we tell them it’s not our job.

As a whole, white people love to consume the pain of women of color. They will listen to us perform slam poems about racism and sexism and snap vigorously in the audience, they will “like” and “retweet” our rants on social media, they will watch documentaries (made by other white people) about suffering brown people in “Third World” countries and shake their heads about how tragic our plight is. They will consume and commodify our sadness for their own gain, and they will give us nothing in return. When we ask to be paid (or even just appreciated!) for the work that we do, we are derided for being entitled and greedy.

Women of color demanding rightful compensation for their time and labor is inherently radical and divisive. Just look at Rihanna’s already iconic video for “Bitch Better Have My Money” and the anger it provoked in white viewers: a young black woman violently push back against economic exploitation at the hands of rich white people was immediately condemned, especially by white feminists who didn’t understand why Rihanna would place white women in the same oppressive class as white men.

I’m not even necessarily asking for money, although that would certainly be nice. I just want the emotional labor of myself and other women of color to be acknowledged, appreciated, and reciprocated or compensated as it deserves to be. I’m tired of having to play the role of the educator without getting paid a salary and without even receiving an acknowledgement of the time and energy I am expending in doing so. From now on, I will gladly educate you on issues of race and oppression–as long as you pay me.

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