The Cost of Emotional Labor, Even When It’s Shared

The hardest part about the past four years is not knowing when someone is truly malicious about insensitive comments or if they are truly hateful. For me, it takes a lot of effort to figure out one or the other and I lack the patience. When thousands of people are dying in concentration camps and from the pandemic, you do what you can to figure out who you can trust.

Emotional labor has many definitions, and one is taking the time to explain why little actions and words can be hurtful and insensitive.  It can be someone asking “where are you from?” and not accepting the response when you say Miami. Or it could be someone dismissing your sentiment that you don’t want to die and that’s why you don’t like fascists. Either way, it’s exhausting and unwanted. You also get into the habit of blocking people because they don’t see you.

A few days ago, I saw various publishing houses calling for submissions from black and indigenous POC, or BIPOC. My policy is to share these opportunities so that my friends can write. One person Z responded. They said that skin pigment wasn’t an indicator of quality.

First, rude. Second, hurtful. They also didn’t realize that I was a POC even though my username on the website is derived from my Indian middle name. I got shirty and told them I was a POC, which led them to apologize.

Other people stepped in to explain why the comment was hurtful. I just said “apology accepted” and resisted the urge to tear the person apart because I consider them an acquaintance. Even so, I’ve been brooding for the next couple of days. That person expressed a blatant ignorance of the barriers in publishing for black and indigenous writers, especially when white writers receive second chances for gross misdemeanors. The year before, I wrote a piece for Strange Horizons about this, about which I am pretty proud but also disappointed that this is still a thing.

I resent that my attempt to be nice and pass on an opportunity encountered a blatant sentiment. While I know I’m a decent writer with several stinkers under my belt — those have thankfully been lost to the Internet or remain in Google docs — I also know that the barriers I face are not the same that other POC encounter when they try to get an agent.

Emotional labor is exhausting, even when you’re not doing most of the heavy-lifting. I don’t know when I’ll be able to see if someone is just ignorant or truly malicious. With that said, I hope that changes for all of our benefit and that people learn when what they say is hurtful or insensitive. It would make my Internet interactions easier so I can focus on writing for y’all.


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