Some weeks ago, author Elizabeth Gilbert hosted Mikki Kendall on Instagram Live to talk about Mikki’s NYT bestselling book Hood Feminism.
Mikki reads this quote from her incredible book that I gobbled in a single day:
“Respectability requires a form of restrained, emotionally neutral politeness that is completely at odds with any concept of normal human emotions.
The emotional labor required to be respectable, to never ruffle anyone’s feathers, to not get angry enough to challenge much less confront those who might have harmed you, is incredibly onerous precisely because it is so dehumanizing. Respectability requires not just a stiff upper lip, but a burying of yourself inside your own flesh in order to be able to maintain the necessary facade. It requires erasing your memory of how it felt to be hungry, cold, scared, and so on until all that is left is a placid surface to mask the raging maelstrom underneath.”
I’m glad to be at a point in my life where those words resonate. But that was not always the case. A few years ago I wasn’t on social media, but I was the manager of a small team that was fairly diverse along lines of race, gender and sexuality. If it wasn’t for the diversity of my team I could have remained completely oblivious to the protests happening against police brutality in Oakland at the time. After all, nobody at work was talking about race back then.
My team was affected by several things that did not affect me due to my various forms of privilege: they were helping a friend who had been sexually harassed at work, they were struggling with anxiety or depression aggravated by the political climate, they were turning to alcohol or sex to cope with the fact that HR wasn’t going to take action against people who had bullied or doxxed them.
I tried to be supportive and kind, but I know that my calm and my own lack of similar vulnerabilities made me seem cold and unempathetic anyway. I did not cry when they cried. I let them exorcise their anger with me (even if it was towards me) so they wouldn’t sabotage themselves in front of more senior people who wouldn’t understand. I thought that was the right response. The leader’s response. I never wanted to police the tone of their anger, because I knew it was justified. But I…