Public Release:  Sociologists explore 'emotional labor' of black professionals in the workplace

American Sociological Association

BOSTON -- Black professionals make extra efforts in the workplace to fulfill what they believe are the expectations of their white colleagues, according to research to be presented today at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

Sociologists Marlese Durr of Wright State University and her co-author Adia Harvey Wingfield of Georgia State University argue that black professionals engage in two types of "emotional performance" in the workplace: General etiquette and racialized emotion maintenance.

"Our analysis of these aspects of workplace behavior reveals that women and men co-mingle etiquette and emotion maintenance to be accepted in the workplace and to fit white expectations," said Durr. "This emotional overtime in the workplace strengthens race/ethnic group solidarity."

Whether it's stressful, inauthentic or downright draining, Durr claims that emotional labor is "a crucial part of black women's self-presentation in work and social public spaces." These efforts to fit in can, in effect, make African American women feel isolated, alienated, and frustrated.

Durr and Wingfield illustrate emotional labor as performance with a quote from an African American woman who says of her workplace peers, "They...are careful to remember...'that's not professional. Remember they got the s[hit] that'll get you bit! Keep your Negro in check! Don't let it jump up and show anger, disapproval, or difference of opinion. They have to like you and think that you are as close to them as possible in thought, ideas, dress and behavior.'"

Marlese Durr, PhD, is an associate professor of sociology at Wright State University, in Dayton, Ohio, where she has taught for 14 years. Durr's research focuses on the area of organizations, work and occupations, and race and gender. She received her PhD in 1993 from the University at Albany, State University of New York, and is the author of The New Politics of Race: From Du Bois to the 21st Century (Praeger Press, 2002) and Work and Family, African Americans in the Lives of African Americans with Shirley A. Hill (Rowman & Litttlefield, 2006).

Adia Harvey Wingfield is assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University in Atlanta, where she has taught for two years. Her research focuses on the ways race, gender and class intersect to affect various groups in different occupations and workplaces. She received her PhD in 2004 from The Johns Hopkins University, and is the author of Doing Business with Beauty: Black Women, Hair Salons, and the Racial Enclave Economy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), a study of working-class black women entrepreneurs.

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The paper, "Keep Your 'N' In Check: African American Women and the Interactive Effects of Etiquette and Emotional Labor," will be presented on Sunday, Aug. 3, at 2:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Boston at the American Sociological Association's 103rd annual meeting.

To obtain a copy of the paper by Durr and Wingfield; for more information on other ASA presentations; or for assistance reaching the study authors, contact Jackie Cooper at jcooper@asanet.org or (202) 247-9871. During the annual meeting (July 31 to Aug. 4), ASA's Public Information Office staff can be reached in the press room, located in the Sheraton Boston's Exeter AB room, at (617) 351-6853, (617) 351-6854 or (301) 509-0906 (cell).

About the American Sociological Association

The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.

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