Racialized Emotional Labor: An Unseen Burden in the Public Sector

AuthorNicole M. Humphrey
Date01 April 2022
Published date01 April 2022
Subject MatterPerspectives
Administration & Society
2022, Vol. 54(4) 741 –758
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997211037583
Racialized Emotional
Labor: An Unseen
Burden in the Public
Nicole M. Humphrey1
Discussions of race have often been on the periphery emotional labor
scholarship. This piece considers the link between race and emotional labor,
arguing that racial bias in public organizations creates disparities in emotional
labor among employees. To make this argument, this piece explores white
normativity in public administration and the implications this has for people
of color when managing their emotions at work. Following this discussion,
the article identifies key themes from the literature, before providing a
framework for future research on emotional labor and race.
emotional labor, race, public service
With the events of 2020 and calls for action to address racial disparities in the
United States, discussions of race have come to the forefront of public admin-
istration scholarship and practice. Although some scholars have questioned
how race underlies common ideals and procedures within the field of public
1University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Nicole M. Humphrey, Department of Political Science, University of Miami, 1300 Campo Sano
Ave, Coral Gables, FL 33146, USA.
Email: nhumphrey@miami.edu
1037583AAS0010.1177/00953997211037583Administration & SocietyHumphrey
742 Administration & Society 54(4)
administration (see Alexander & Stivers, 2010, 2020; Portillo et al., 2020),
race often remains a topic on the margins of our scholarship, practice, and
teaching (Gooden, 2014; Starke et al., 2018). This article aims to bring race
in from the margins and incorporate discussions of racial bias into an area of
public administration where it is notably absent, emotional labor research.
In organizational scholarship, emotional labor represents “the effort,
planning, and control needed to express organizationally desired emotion
during interpersonal transactions” (Morris & Feldman, 1996, p. 987).
Through formal and informal means, employees learn how to control and
display their emotions in a manner that aligns with the expectations of their
job. Scholars have connected emotion labor to questions of employee well-
being (Hsieh, 2014; Hsieh et al., 2012; Jin & Guy, 2009), performance
(Meier et al., 2006), and social identity (Guy & Azhar, 2018; Guy &
Newman, 2004). Research on identity often emphasizes the disparate emo-
tional labor requirements between men and women (Guy & Newman, 2004;
Hochschild, 1983). While gender is often the focus, emotional labor research
can also serve as a means to study racial disparities at work. In the same way
that scholars have suggested emotional labor is gendered (Hochschild, 1983;
Meier et al., 2006; Guy & Newman, 2008), we should also anticipate that
emotional labor is racialized (Wingfield, 2010). Although some have taken
up this area of research (Evans, 2013; Wingfield, 2010), theoretical and
empirical scholarship exploring the intersection between race and emotional
labor remains in its early stages.
Race is a socially constructed concept that guides how individuals interact
with their environment (Carroll et al., 2019). Specifically, race acts as a
means of categorizing individuals that shapes behavior and creates power
relations (Starke et al., 2018). Individuals and the institutions they create hold
perceptions of race that create racialized experiences for every other person
in a society (House-Niamke & Eckerd, 2021). The United States has a long
history of racial bias with lasting impacts on the public sector (Alexander &
Stivers, 2020). However, race often goes undiscussed in scholarship and
practice because it represents a “nervous area” in the field of public adminis-
tration (Gooden, 2014). With implications for the everyday interactions of
public servants, it is essential that we, as a field, consider how race influences
the emotion work of public-sector employees.
Similar to how emotional labor is gendered, it is also raced, and racialized
emotional labor is an unseen burden among public-sector employees.
Although all public employees can experience racialized emotional labor,
this analysis specifically focuses on people of color. The discussion begins
with an analysis of white normativity in public administration and then
explores how racial bias stemming from white normativity creates unique

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