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.
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.
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.
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.
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.