The ‘Emotional Labor’ of Being Black At Work

Sociologists Marlese Durr and Adia Harvey Wingfield presented research on the ’emotional labor’ black professionals endure in the workplace at the American Sociological Association’s 103rd Annual meeting Monday in Boston.

The study, entitled “Keep Your ‘N’ In Check: African American Women and the Interactive Effects of Etiquette and Emotional Labor,” finds that black professionals undergo two types of emotional performance: general etiquette and racialized emotion maintenance as they fulfill the expectations of white colleagues in the workplace.

They illustrate their point with this quote from a black woman in the workforce: “Keep your Negro in check! Don’t let it jump up and show anger, disapproval, or difference of opinion. They [white co-workers] have to like you and think that you are as close to them as possible in thought, ideas, dress and behavior”

Durr explains that emotional labor is “a crucial part of black women’s self-presentation in work and social public spaces” and these efforts to fit in can make black women feel isolated, alienated, and frustrated.

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