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Emotional Justice

Everyone knows introductions are extremely important; a captivating header to usher in the ensuing speech. Esther Armah’s introduction set the pace for the rest of the conversation. “You know who really has audacity though? Global black women. They have to have because of the history that we’ve lived. So, I don’t need to aspire to be any kind of white man. It is better and badder to be the black woman that I am. So, let’s start there.” 

A “global black chic” storyteller dedicated to telling stories as a strategy to make a structural change in the overall life and living for black women all over the globe and fighting against the marginalisation of black women; Esther Armah’s focus is on “emotional justice”

A relatively new concept; emotional justice is a “visionary change agent framework and a framework for racial healing”. In these days of a global racial reckoning, we see how emotions uphold systems of inequity or “systemic inequity” inspired by history. People tend to underestimate the importance of emotions in our problems. It looks at emotion, not in the light of individuality, but rather in a structural light. 

She gives the example of emotional patriarchy where people cater to privilege and prioritise the feelings of white men ignoring the consequences to everyone else. “We infantilize white men no matter how heinous their behaviour is”. Even the behaviour of mass murderers is rationalised with excuses for their behaviour. “He was having a bad day”, “He had a hard childhood” etc with the press releases having pictures of him looking perfectly lovable; petting a dog, winning something or even smiling in photos with the family he murdered. 

What this behaviour does is shift the responsibility to the person who the violence is meted upon.

The proportional reactions of black women and their general expression of emotion are seen in an entirely different light. Black women are almost punished for expressing emotion as seen with the “angry black woman” trope. She speaks of our constant battle with whiteness even in its physical absence thanks to the after-effects of colonialism. 

Emotional justice evaluates emotions in the context of race, gender, history, trauma and “how they need to be reimagined so that they’re not part of what upholds systemic inequity.”

She also speaks of online gender-based violence and how social media has been weaponized oftentimes to harass women online.

The realisation that we cannot achieve or legislate our way out of the trauma of what it is to be a black person in a world so affected by colonialism and western imperialism set her on her path to fighting for emotional justice. “There’s no amount of education that can transform trauma.” The amount of injustice that black people have faced requires multifaceted deliveries of justice, not just social or legal justice but emotional justice as well.

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