CONFESSIONS OF A BLACK INTROVERT: YES, WE’RE “BLACK ENOUGH”
“You’re so quiet.”
“Don’t you ever talk?”
These are just a few of the statements I often hear being an African American introvert. People often seem to form a certain perception of what an introvert “looks” and “acts.” For years and in the media we have been mocked for our features (large nose, lips, etc.) and we’re often perceived as loud, obnoxious and “ghetto.” However, being an introverted African American is something rare in which gives a sense of rebellion against an extroverted society.
By Shaunese Johnson, AFROPUNK contributor
1. We’re not “black” enough according to the community.
Not many African American introverts are recognized especially when it comes time to the media dominated by many extroverts especially when it comes time to the many reality television shows. It’s almost as if men aren’t considered “masculine” enough if they aren’t doing a certain activity such as boxing, football, basketball, etc. If an African American woman participates in activities outside the “normal” perceptions of society (hiking, fishing, drawing, etc.) she is considered “acting white” and therefore becomes isolated and viewed differently by the black community. We should be supporting others for what they accomplish and/or our interests. We already face enough oppression from the media, society, and the world as a whole. A man/ woman shouldn’t feel compelled to defend themselves against their own race, for interests they choose to have.
2. Quiet means insecurity
Often times people are quick to assume we’re quiet because of our lack of self-confidence. Silence often gives off a laid back vibe and maybe even an uninterested personality to some. I’ve even came across a few people who felt “uncomfortable” for the simple fact I was so quiet. However, I have learned to be more aware of my surroundings and self-aware as well. I’ve have simply find pleasure in my own company, and not feel the need to be surrounded by others. Just because a person doesn’t have much to say, never presume them as being weak.
3. We can’t establish meaningful relationships
In a sense people often feel “sorry” for us. We have the friend who constantly wants to take us out to socialize or set us up on a blind date. We’re considered outcast and even “homebodies” just because we enjoy staying in the house reading or catching up on Netflix, instead of going out every weekend. In reality it’s not the fact we hate people, but introverts tend to be socially selective. No, we’re not the life of the party or the popular ones, but we tend to take friendships/relationships seriously especially since meaningful ones can be hard to come by.
As an African American introvert, I have dealt with many stereotypes of other people’s perceptions. We aren’t “black enough,” or men aren’t “masculine enough,” in our communities. Being introverted allows one to have a new light, and various perceptions of the world. Just because we don’t have much to say, doesn’t mean we have less of an impact on society.
Picture credit: YouTuber Akilah, Obviously
I’ve grown up in a white upper-middle class neighborhood all my life. My family has always been the one of the only black families in my neighborhood. Ever since experiencing traumatic teasing and bullying due to having minor cerebral palsy and the death of my dad at the age of eight in second grade, I have always felt anxious in my day-to-day life. I was outgoing and extremely loud as a toddler but became shy after starting school at the age of four. I became a high-strung kid. School became a challenge socially. I rarely spoke in class because that would mean I’d be drawing attention to myself. I automatically experienced an anxiety attack at the very thought of speaking in front of large groups of people. I thought at a very early age that being quiet would ensure safety.
I was completely wrong. I have noticed that my classmates and society in general associates the term “introvert” with being anti-social, arrogant, mean, nervous, weak, and boring. I even once heard an outgoing classmate exclaim, “I don’t wanna be quiet because I don’t wanna be boring” after being asked to stop talking by a teacher. I assume because I am an introvert myself that I see being introverted to be the total opposite.
I don’t believe people expect a black girl to be quiet. Because I grew up being teased for my physical apparence and personality, I began thinking I was supposed to be a certain way and that there was something wrong with me.
I am shy but I have always had friends. My friends have always consisted of nonjudgmental white kids or a small handful of black girls that didn’t give me the side eye when seeing me in the hallway or gossip about me (I do believe that the hatred I endured correlates with my lighter toned skin or European features mixed with colorism within the black community).
Being a quiet, shy black girl has always been hard. People assume that you’re a bitch automatically. If you’re anything but extra friendly and talkative toward people, they automatically assume you “don’t like someone” or “you’re rude.” I have always felt that the same traits that are seen as cute in white girls or romanticized in films such as Twilight are seen as unattractive for a black girl. I’ve had to deal with insults coming from both black and white people. However, I have always felt even more insulted by my own people. My experience with black people has been that I am viewed as something weird, considering so many black people are bold and outgoing. If you don’t fit into that category, many black people will look at you like something is wrong with you; they’ll view you as stuck-up or not black enough. I have always been teased by my own people for being “different”. Not being accepted by my own people has been very painful.
I cannot speak for every single introvert, but I personally feel that we just approach life differently than extroverted people. I tend to be more of an observer of what’s around me or an internal thinker. We do talk, but we don’t engage in small talk but tend to engage in more meaningful conversations.
In the media, we as black women are stereotyped to be loud and full of attitude, accompanied by a larger-than-life personalities. I think the expectation for me to to be loud with a bold personality comes from that stereotype. The stereotypical black woman consists of rolling necks and short tempers. These stereotypes are displayed on reality shows such as Love & Hip Hop and Real Housewives of Atlanta. My personality type is the opposite of the loud, irreverent black woman stereotype. Many people would be shocked if they could listen to the conversations that I have with myself in my mind. I’m constantly asked questions like “Why don’t you talk?” and always hear “you’re so quiet.” I feel that people assume introverts are emotionless robots that need to be given a personality. People assume that being quiet or reserved automatically means you have no personality. Just because I don’t vocalize my opinions all the time doesn’t mean that I have none. I have my own opinions and personality; I just don’t feel the need to talk about them all the time.
Just because I am quiet and shy doesn’t mean that I am any less of a person or any less black.
I am an introverted black girl.
The thought of an after-five networking mixer exhausts me. It’s not that I don’t like meeting new people. It’s not that I’m an anti-social hermit. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate the slick ambiance, Lalah Hathaway and Ledisi singing in the background, or the myriad of saditty finger foods and drinks (no shade; I love saditty food. It’s actually my favorite type of food). It’s just that I’ve been around people at work all day. Before I douse myself with another dose of social stimulation, I need to recharge and say the word that Martin Lawrence made famous in Bad Boys: WOO-SAH.
On the personality continuum, I lean much more toward introversion than extroversion. I cherish my me-time, prefer to observe before I act, and contribute to conversation only when I think I have something relevant to say. Being introverted, female, and black has not been necessarily a difficult experience, but it has made for some very interesting exchanges and interactions over the years. I’ve distilled these lessons into four points.
1. Regardless of how it may seem, I am not alone. There are more of us out there than I thought.
Because of the nature of our personality type, introverts are susceptible to feeling isolated at times. I know I felt this way as a child, especially at recess and lunch. Sometimes I still feel this way as an adult, and I’ve often felt somewhat “punished” for being less outgoing and more introspective. One thing I love about the blogosphere is the ability it gives us to read perspectives that aren’t readily represented on TV, on the radio, or in our favorite publications: perspectives from writers like Stacia Brown, who wrote this excellent piece about introversion and anger, and Slim Jackson, who wrote a piece that is a favorite of mine about this topic. Reading a growing number of introverted writers’ works about introversion, along with the numerous comments from other readers who share these frustrations and observations, lets me know that I am not the anomaly I felt I was back in grade school.
2. Since our personality type is opposite of the loud, irreverent black woman stereotype, many people are perplexed by us.
Many people would be shocked if they could listen to the conversations in my mind. They’d probably be even more shocked at the responses that I swap out at the last minute with more appropriate quips when I’m asked questions like “Why don’t you talk?” Or when I hear, “You’re so quiet.” Or my favorite one, “You’ve got to watch out for those quiet ones.” Maybe it’s just a theory, but I think that part of the expectation for me to get loud—or simply have a bold, bigger-than-life personality—comes from the age-old stereotype about black women.
We’ve all seen images in the media of the sista girls with the rotating necks, shrill voices, and tempers that go from zero to 100 in two seconds. As hard as it is to believe, in a society that is more diverse than ever, there are still people whose only exposure to black women are shows like Love & Hip Hop, Basketball Wives, and Real Housewives of Atlanta, which seem to never showcase an introverted black woman. I guess they don’t cause enough drama. Thank God for “Awkward Black Girl” Issa Rae.
Stereotypes persist because they remove the need to get to know people as individuals, at least in the minds of those that like to use them. People usually hold on tightly to their stereotypes, and they don’t take kindly to them being dismantled, even if the stereotype has always had plenty of examples that prove it wrong.
3. People assume we’re blank slates, and they fill in the perceived blanks as they see fit.
They call it “fixing” us, among other things. There’s this “shell” that I’m supposedly in, and it seems to bother people if they think that I’m too far into it. It’s as if they’re rescuing me. From what? I don’t know. Maybe people assume that quiet or reserved equals no personality, so they try to let me borrow theirs. They like red patent leather stilettos worn with tight blue skirts, so maybe I’d like to wear that too. After all, I’m not vocalizing what I like, so that must mean my taste influence is open for the taking, right?
Only it’s not. I have my own preferences, opinions, and personality; I just don’t feel the need to constantly reinforce them, over and over and over. Introverts who have discovered this have to be particularly careful because sometimes those who were so gracious to lend their personalities become very offended when you don’t absorb their suggestions. How dare we have a personality of our own or turn down their “help,” ruining a perfectly good Cher and Tai Frasier fantasy.
4. Quiet confidence is still confidence.
Introverts are some of the most self-aware people on the face of the earth. We get plenty of opportunities to evaluate ourselves, especially because we have so many people who are concerned about our confidence level and let us know that they don’t think it’s quite where it should be. Here’s the thing though: which factors are these self-imposed confidence evaluators using to determine whether confidence is present and if it’s at an acceptable level? Many times these evaluators link silence or a laid back disposition with a lack of confidence. This could not be further from the truth. There exists quiet confidence, just as there’s nervous, intimidated chatter.
As Susan Cain said in her TED Talk, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
We all have moments in our lives we’ll probably never forget. One of those moments for me happened in college. I was visiting a neighboring university to support one of the sister chapters of my sorority at one of their events. We were all talking and eating cookout food when one of my sorority sisters from this chapter called me aside. Did she need to make a Wal-Mart run because the ketchup had run out? Was someone sick? Nope and nope. She pulled me aside to tell me that I was “too quiet” and I needed to be more lively. She was concerned about the sorority developing the stereotype of being the organization of choice for quiet, anti-social girls. That wasn’t the last time that I’ve had someone tell me something like that without a blink or a thought that they just might be out of line and insulting.
Just to be clear, I am like any other human being who has varying levels of confidence depending on what’s going on in my life at the time. People who act like they are beacons of self-assurance at all times just may be liars. Or bad actors.
The above post previously appeared on Nichole O. Nicol’s personal blog.
This article originally appeared on.
You can find more insights from Quiet Revolution on work, life, and parenting as an introvert at QuietRev.com.