The Emergence of Racialized Labor and Racial Battle Fatigue in the African American Student Network (AFAM)

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Tabitha Grier-Reed
Alyssa Maples
Anne Williams-Wengerd
Demitri McGee


Although little may be new with respect to the lived experience of racialized labor for People of Color navigating whiteness and white spaces, this study is the first to identify racialized labor in everyday life. Adapting consensual qualitative research methods to a phenomenological frame, we examined 277 notes summarizing weekly discussions in the African American Student Network (AFAM) over a 13-year time period. Co-facilitated by Black faculty and graduate students, AFAM was a space for Black undergraduates to make meaning of their experiences and find community on campus. We defined racialized labor as the ongoing process of navigating hostile environments steeped in a white racial frame and identified six categories: (1) self-monitoring/self-policing; (2) flexing/making adjustments; (3) questioning; (4) affirming; (5) avoiding; and, (6) being the change or standing up for justice. Racial battle fatigue was one outcome of all the racialized labor—primarily anger, stress, frustration, hypervigilance, pressure, and exhaustion along with numbness, shock, sadness and disappointment. Both racialized labor and racial battle fatigue also occurred at the intersections of students’ lives in structural, political, and representational ways. Future studies that capture the ways in which racialized labor in everyday life is enacted by People of Color are needed. The ability to name racialized labor provides an important analytical tool for distinguishing the ongoing process of navigating racism from negative consequences such as racial battle fatigue. This line of research also has implications for creating spaces that facilitate racialized labor and wellbeing for Black people and People of Color.

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