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The emotional labor

May 28, 2018

It takes a lot of emotional labor to read about slavery. It really is different from reading theoretical stuff about oppression (which is what I am used to). Reading bell hooks, Frantz Fanon, and James Baldwin will make me laugh, cry, and snap my fingers like I'm in a poetry club but it won't have me distraught. 

 

Just take this exert from Angela Davis book Women, Race, and Class: 

 

On other plantations, the women left their infants in the care of small children or older slaves who were not able to perform hard labor in the fields. Unable to nurse their infants regularly, they endured the pain caused by their swollen breasts. In one of the most popular slave narratives of the period, Moses Grandy related the miserable predicament of slave mothers:

On the estate I am speaking of, those women who had sucking children suffered much from their breasts becoming full of milk, the infants being left at home. They therefore could not keep up with the other hands: I have seen the overseer beat them with raw hide, so that the blood and milk flew mingled from their breasts. 17

 

Pregnant women were not only compelled to do the normal agricultural work, they could also expect the floggings workers normally received if they failed to fulfill their day’s quota or if they “impudently” protested their treatment.

 

A woman who gives offense in the field, and is large in a family way, is compelled to lie down over a hole made to receive her corpulency, and is flogged with the whip or beat with a paddle, which has holes in it; at every stroke comes a blister. One of my sisters was so severely punished in this way, that labor was brought on, and the child was born in the field. This very overseer, Mr. Brooks, killed in this manner a girl named Mary. Her father and mother were in the field at that time. 18

 

On those plantations and farms where pregnant women were dealt with more leniently, it was seldom on humanitarian grounds. It was simply that slaveholders appreciated the value of a slave child born alive in the same way that they appreciated the value of a newborn calf or colt.

 

I was going to insert a meme here to show my feels on this shit. I won't because I feel like it may trivialize the situation. And trust, I am not tryna do that. But I'm sure you feel the same way I do in reading this. It's a mixture of shock, wtf'ness. Wait. I'm explaining this wrong. That makes sense though. I once read that the deepest emotions can't be communicated via language. 

 

Look, all I know is that I recently read a post. It was of a Malcolm X quote. He was saying something like he will spend every moment of his time reading so that he could help liberate black people. This quote has captured the reason why I stay motivated and the reason why I stay feeling so guilty all the time. Malcolm X's  desire to learn as much as he could to help people is a sentiment that I've had. This is why I applied to graduate school. This is why I will probably never quit graduate school, despite the BS that comes with being in the establishment. But also, while I do share the same sentiments, a lot of my free time (and I feel like I rarely have free time but I sort of do) is spent sleeping, watching Wendy Williams, Jess Hilarious, and Desus and Mero clips on YouTube. I also spend mad time on fb. So when I ran across the post I felt bad because I was made aware, yet again, that I have been spending my time on dumb shit as opposed to learning to help people. 

 

So anyways, in the past few weeks (I started this before the post.) I have been reading about slavery. And well- actually before I really get into that I want to say something else.

 

I've never liked horror films. I stopped watching when I was like 10 because I didn't like how it made me feel. I've also never liked watching sad movies because, again, I didn't like how it made me feel. I also don't like reading about sad shit. I'm more of a YA/romance reader. I like reading shit with realistic happy endings. As many of you know, the YA/romance industry is racist. They have a plethora of ghetto romances which relies on bs sterotypes for the plot and they have fictional slave stories. While I have craved diversity in my reading, I have refused to read these slave tales because it's about slavery. I've always associated slavery with sadness. And really, why would I want to deliberately make myself feel sad? Even though the stories are fictional, the fact of the matter is that slavery was a thing that happened in real time. I honestly don't like to think about it. I hate that people endured that.  I've pretty much distanced myself from reading about anything that will make me sad and now I have decided that I want to spend my life learning about the shit so that I can help people. I didn't really realize that this was what I was signing up for. I'm not saying I am not going to do it. I am not saying that I don't want to do. I am not trying to complain. I am not saying that I don't feel blessed to have the opportunity and the capacity to learn from reading in this way.

 

But.. back to my point about reading about slavery...

 

The shit is sad. I think using the word sad is wrong in this case. Allow me to describe how I feel. My heart hurts and it won't stop after I read about it. I also can't stop thinking about what I've learned from reading the words on the page. I can literally imagine it and.. And I feel like I want to numb my whole soul after reading the stuff. I'm not over-exaggerating either. And now I have this thing where I am almost afraid to read the stuff. I don't know if fear is the right emotion to explain it but it's like when a little kid sees how hot a stove is when it is turned on and then becomes afraid to touch it. That's how I feel about reading this shit- reading about how white people treated people who look like me has taken so much emotional labor that a huge part of me wants to avoid doing it again. 

 

I feel like I'm whining. I feel like I sound like a privileged snowflake. I don't like myself for that.I wonder if this will get easier with time. 

 

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