She is an accomplished speaker, award-winning journalist, and author. She is the CEO of The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice. She is Esther A. Armah. In this guest post today, Esther discusses emotional justice and the emotional work each of us has to do to get there. Find out precisely what emotional currency is, the devastating impact of emotional labor, particularly on Black women, and what needs to change for racial healing.
Guest post from Esther A. Armah: Unlearning emotional currency
It’s time for Black women to say goodbye to being an “Emotional Mammy,” to unlearn grind as a mother tongue, to no longer have your value treated as emotional currency, and to begin a practice of Emotional Justice.
Black women in the world of work engage in uncounted, unrecognized, unappreciated, and yet simultaneously demanded, expected, and required emotional labor. It is a historical exhaustion with contemporary manifestations. That emotional labor is being an “emotional mammy” – being expected to take care of the feelings of everyone no matter the cost or consequence to you, your health, or your future. It is being treated as currency – emotional currency.
Emotional currency is one of the four languages of whiteness. It is where a society treats women—particularly Black women— as currency that appreciates or depreciates according to service to whiteness, men, and, centrally, white men. Emotional currency is one of four languages of whiteness that society must unlearn; the other three being Emotional patriarchy, Emotional economy, and racialized emotionality.
The language of whiteness is a narrative that we are all taught about how the world came to be, and our role in it as white, Black, Brown, and indigenous people. That narrative says whiteness is the world, built the world, saves the world; and Black and Brown people are savages needing saving. This narrative shapes a dual deadly delusion: Black inferiority and white superiority.
The challenge with this emotional labor is it connects work, race, and gender to notions of value. It is because of this emotional connection that Emotional Justice for Black women matters. Emotional Justice wrestles with a legacy of untreated trauma from this emotional connection where Black women identify their value solely in connection with escalating levels of productivity that are depleting, exhausting, debilitating – but continue to be engaged. That means ending a journey of being a physical commodity to now becoming emotional currency.
Emotional currency must be unlearned and replaced with an emotional justice love language. The Emotional Justice love language for Black women is “intimate revolution.” It is for Black women to sever the connection between labor, value, and worth by centering rest and replenishment.
Again, because this connection stretches back into a history where labor was life and death, conditioning Black women to see their sole worth as connected to, and measured by, labor, struggle, and servitude to people outside themselves. This connection comes with a parallel narrative of laziness, gender, and race, making it complex.
That complexity makes unlearning the language of whiteness challenging. That’s because it requires wrestling with an emotional connection to labor as a measure of value, not an intellectual, ideological or philosophical. You cannot Ph.D. your way out of this untreated trauma. Severing emotional connections to value that center debilitating labor is Black women’s emotional work to do as part of a racial healing practice.
It’s time for emotional justice for Black women.
About today’s writer, Esther A. Armah
Esther A. Armah is an international award-winning journalist, playwright, radio host, and writer. She is currently CEO of The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice, (The AIEJ), a global institute implementing the ‘Emotional Justice’ framework she created. The AIEJ devises, develops, designs, and delivers projects, training, and thought leadership.
The Emotional Justice framework has taken Armah as a speaker to a range of prestigious venues including Netflix Inclusion Institute, Stanford, NYU, and Kenya’s African Women in Media Conference. She is based in Accra, Ghana, but the majority of her and The AIEJ’s work are in the U.S. She is also the author of Emotional Justice: A Roadmap for Racial Healing.
Top photo courtesy of Esther A. Armah