For the past week, I’ve been reading Fed Up by Gemma Hartley. In her book she speaks about the emotional labor that women are responsible for which is exhausting, invisible, and undervalued. We are the runners of our households, the schedulers of appointments, the cookers of meals and the coddlers of our children and spouses alike. The most exhausting part of our jobs is often the stuff that seems so silly when we speak it aloud. The duties that by default fall to us are cleaning, cooking, scheduling, shopping, planning of all things including: vacations, kids activities, doctors dentist and hair appts, address books, birthdays and holiday prep including gift purchasing, monitoring buying clothes, making the home look presentable and ten million other things. The activities that fall generally to men are often seasonal and/or rare such as car maintenance, repair projects, garbage duty, and lawn care. These are often outsourced first. My family outsources the mowing, and most repairs for car and home. When husbands help us with all of the mentioned things it implies that those things are my responsibility that he is relieving me of from time to time. It puts them on the hook only when we can’t do it. When they demand that we simply ask them for help, it assumes that we have are the managers and must assign them the duties that are just as much theirs as ours. This is the bulk of emotional labor. We are the managers of our children, husbands and homes. We are the noticers, and we need to educate the rest of our household on their roles and duties. When I get together with my girlfriends there’s often a lot of lament about how clueless or lazy their partners are. I am very fortunate to have a partner who knows that the duties in our household are ours, but I hear my fair share of discussion on those who aren’t. One asked her husband to start the dishwasher and he doesn’t even know where the cleaning tablets are, or picking up their clothes from all over the house. For me it’s much more subtle. I get worn out and am not even sure why. I get snippy about being asked to pick a restaurant when I didn’t have a meal planned that night. I get annoyed when my husband asks me if my kids can have this or that to eat. They seems tiny things, nit picky. Saying that they frustrate me when other women face living with an extra child for a spouse seems petty. It isn’t that bad. And others tell me so. Well, just ask him to do this. Well, just tell him to do that. He’s great, I wish I had it that good. It’s why I stop sharing my frustrations with those people.
And that is exactly what we do to people of color about race. We put them in charge of the change that must come about when it comes to race. We don’t see the invisible acquiescence that we require of them daily. We think we’re in a partnership but we’re not. We are the abusive husband who goes to work then comes home and expects just showing up to be enough. We sit on the couch and bitch about how they put our plate together, how they are too loud, how they ask for too much, how they overreact. We tell them they’re crazy when they trust us with their hurt and frustration. We blame them for not speaking to us more calmly, not obeying more quickly, for being disrespectful or hurting our pride. With the whole wide internet and free libraries, we refuse to educate ourselves and instead demand that they educate us, but that’s not enough. We then act as though their remembrance is faulty, we blame them, we gaslight them. We want to pretend that we are partners because we want the benefit of their emotional labor, but we want their work (and ideally them) to be invisible. We even consider it a virtue to blot out their color with the stupid insistence on color blindness. We can’t even treat people of color fairly unless we can’t see their color. “Men are worried women will laugh at them, women are worried men will kill them.” Our race relations are right there. We’re still stuck in rape culture mentality when it comes to race. It’s their fault. It’s in their hands to fix. Some partnership.
What can we do? Educate ourselves. We can listen to the stories that are already available to us. We can delegate the task of empathy to ourselves. We can start to take the emotional labor of educating other white people because people of color are tired of doing it. We can learn to take out our own trash and cleanup our messes, air our own dirty laundry, and quit bitching. We have no idea what it takes to keep the peace and live. We should. We should stop expecting people of color to mitigate our lack of understanding and concern. We should stop expecting so much more from them than we are willing to do. We should step aside, shut up, let them be seen and heard. We should listen. We should really listen. Humbly, without qualifying or disbelieving. We should believe them. They know a lot more about what it is to be melanin heavy than we do. So if they talk, we should listen and try to understand.