I’ve been talking and writing a bit about the concept of identity labor, where lived experience becomes a commodity. I’m not even sure about the extent to which the concept exists, but it’s a topic/passion point that I will likely fold into whatever my career is. I did a talk at the Women’s Studies Association Conference about it last year in regards to digital publishing and identity labor and published it on TLF.
It’s definitely not going anywhere. This morning I read a call for pitches from an editor of a fairly well-known online publication. I’m paraphrasing it, but essentially it was calling for women and people of color to submit “your angriest personal essays about how hard it is to find advancement as professional woman/woman of color.”
It’s depressing to me that the anger of women and people of color about their oppression has become a “content vertical” for many major publications that still won’t deign to hire people like us full time. I don’t blame the writers, people need to eat. But I keep seeing women and people of color who have expertise in a variety of different fields (tech, law, science, etc.) who are rarely called upon to share that expertise but instead are contacted to remark upon the “diversity beat”, or share personal essays about the opportunities they’re not getting. Neither of these “beats” are super-lucrative.
This is why the identity labor concept is something worth exploring on a broader level, because in publishing, media, and many other fields, it’s disproportionately marginalized people being pushed to “perform” identity for pay, and the energy expended is not at all close to the compensation.