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I met a boy from a different college in Poughkeepsie, and he’s literally the nicest man, but as I’m learning more about him, I’m realizing he’s pretty ignorant about the world, though very open to learning more. That’s hard because I don’t want to push someone away for not being as socially aware when I could instead educate them, but it’s also a lot of emotional labor for me, as a POC who doesn’t really want to explain the entire history of their identity. What should I do?
Shocked and Confused
Quite frankly, most people with marginalized identities wrestle with this issue, so your conflicted feelings are totally valid. Before I get to my advice, I want to emphasize that I’m not a POC, so I can’t speak directly to your experience. Listen to your intuition if it differs from what I tell you. I do know a fair bit about emotional labor, so hopefully I’ll be helpful.
In this kind of situation, remember that you are, above all, a person and not a token of lived experience. If you have the mental energy and knowledge to educate someone who’s ignorant on POC issues (or any issue), you should.
Having a given identity qualifies you to comment on the experience of that identity, but it doesn’t obligate you to educate any ignorant person you come across. You’re not a museum curio; you’re a human being.
Because he’s open to learning more, he would likely appreciate any time you take to educate him, but you shouldn’t do that at the expense of your own mental health or happiness. Ultimately, the energy you put into this interaction is up to you. There’s no right amount of effort for which you’re responsible. As long as your new off-campus compatriot remains receptive, and interacting with him doesn’t overtly drain you, you’ll be doing the right thing.
If he actually is “literally the nicest man,” he should be accepting of the knowledge you want to impart and of your need to be seen not as a representative for your social identities, but as a holistic person with an experience just as valid as his own.
You might consider looking for resources for him to educate himself. Providing links to online resources and stories from other people with experiences like yours can be just as effective as your first-hand experience—with less emotional labor for you. Many people have already devoted time to this project. Curating a few of these that resonate with you and sharing them with your new friend might be a good step. You could even help him unpack what he’s learned if you want to lend more of your personal perspective.
P.S. Good intentions don’t equate to non-harmful actions. If interacting with him stresses you out, there’s nothing wrong with taking a step back.