How (and why) to compensate people of colour for their emotional labour

There’s been a lot of conversations about anti-racism recently, between individuals, in organisations, in the media, on the street. We ourselves have talked to a lot of people – of all colours – as we love to connect and support. But we’ve noticed something that perhaps needs more light.

For Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC), there is a huge emotional toll in speaking up about anti-racism. They are being expected to educate white people about racism as if it’s just a normal, everyday conversation. In fact, these conversations require a huge amount of emotional labour and can be intensely triggering. We’ve written a little about this in our article Listen to the voice with your heart.

Here is some guidance on how you can compensate a BIPOC person for their emotional labour.

If a BIPOC person approaches you to share and discuss racism:

  • Close all windows on your computer and put away all distractions
  • Listen and give them the floor to talk
  • Be respectful and do not interrupt
  • Check in when you can – affirming their points
  • Be genuinely curious about what they say and how to help
  • Do not white center and think about your own experiences
  • Be genuinely grateful you’ve had this opportunity to learn
  • Share your actions at the end – tell them what you will do – this conversation is not just ‘for your interest’.

If you as a white person are engaging a BIPOC person on racism, in addition to the above:

  • Before approaching anyone, reflect: do you really need to speak to someone about your questions, or can you learn what you need to learn from materials already published by BIPOC voices (blogs, social media, news articles, documentaries, podcasts etc.)
  • Before approaching someone specific, find out if they are generally willing to discuss racism publicly (e.g. on their social media platforms)
  • At the same time, don’t assume they will want to engage with you*. Don’t put any pressure on them to do so
  • Find out if they are providing services and be clear that you will pay them for their time – do not expect emotional labour for free. Don’t put them in the uncomfortable situation of having to ask for payment
  • Be clear and respectful about why you are contacting them
  • Do your own homework before – don’t ask questions that are easily google-able
  • If they are not offering support services, ask about how you can help immediately either for them, or more broadly – show you are an anti-racist
  • Ask how much time they have and respect that limit.


* Many BIPOCs do not want to talk about racism with white people. This quote from a research paper ‘Impossible Burdens: White Institutions, Emotional Labor, and Micro-Resistance’ from 2015 (yes five years ago), sums up why – because the organisational culture makes it really bloody difficult to talk about racism properly:

‘White institutional spaces create a complex environment where people of color must navigate racial narratives, ideologies, and discourses, while simultaneously attempting to achieve institutional success to reap the material rewards of these elite institutional settings’.

If you’re white and you’re reading this, it’s brilliant that you’re working on being anti-racist – just be aware that it’s your responsibility to start educating yourself, and be aware of the emotional cost to BIPOC people you might engage with.