“Venmo me for my emotional labor” reveals that the cult of individualism and the commodification of empathy are rampant on our campus. Research shows how children from suburban high schools are conditioned to view every social interaction as a transaction. In this frame of mind, every conversation, text, cup of coffee, and like on social media is supposed to manifest itself in the initiator’s securement of an acceptance letter, job offer, sexual gratification, monetary gain, social capital, etc. One is then forced to approach every interaction with the question: How can this person advance my status? Empathy for the sake of human connection is completely out of the question.
Yes, women of color, especially Black women, are expected to supply emotional labor to ensure that white people and men are comfortable. However, the term “emotional labor” does not apply to the social interactions that the author is referencing. In “The Managed Heart,” Arlie Hochschild coined the term to explain how women, mainly service workers, are expected to suppress their own emotions in order to perform their jobs. As stated in “The Concept Creep of ‘Emotional Labor’” by Julie Beck, Hochschild gives the example of “Flight attendants, who are expected to smile and be friendly even in stressful situations.” While not explicitly mentioned in the book, an important example is the emotional support black and Latinx domestic workers are expected to supply to the white families they work for. Emotional labor is not synonymous with basic human empathy.
Yes, it is important to warn someone before you unintentionally dump your trauma on them. Also, yes, men do often rely on the women in their lives to help them navigate their emotional minefields. However, our patriarchal society also forces men to suppress their emotions. More importantly, this is a conversation that the author should have had with her friend, not in the opinion section of a newspaper.
This article, frankly, makes me terrified of the lack of compassion on this campus. How could someone so easily convert the traumatic experiences of their peers into a punchline? The stigma surrounding mental illness already prevents people from seeking help. Mental illness and the processing of trauma is messy; people will not always be able to digest and articulate their struggles in a neat manner. Healing often presents itself in rapid mood shifts, confusion, frenetic behavior, etc. People will often blurt out their struggles or joke about them in an attempt to get somebody to listen and validate them—to bear their pain with them and tell them that they are not alone. Isn’t that what it means to be a friend?
Although it shouldn’t be, empathy is a radical act in a society governed by a cult of individualism. You don’t have to heal people, but there are some ways you can help. To people who have read the previous op-ed and are disheartened, please know that you have a community on this campus.
Heven Haile is a junior at Columbia College majoring in American studies and a University Senator. Please reach out to her if you need literally anything. She finally got her fluffy boi, Coffee, approved, so swing by if you need someone to talk to.
To respond to this letter, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.