4 Lessons I’ve Learned as an Introverted Black Girl

by Nichole O. Nichols

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 or 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) that are usually strategically and beautifully placed around the room to provide something to munch on while staying nondescript—as not to inhibit the hardcore relationship building, contact adding, and lighthearted social entertainment that such an event is intended for. It’s just that, especially if this event is after five, I’ve been around people at work all day, and 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 extraversion, so I cherish my me time, prefer to observe before I act, and contribute to conversation only when I think I have something that’s relevant and worth saying. Being introverted, female, and black has not been necessarily a difficult experience, but it has provided for some very interesting exchanges and interactions that I have learned from over the years. These are those lessons, distilled into four points. There’s more where this came from though.
1. Regardless of how it may seem, I am not alone and there are more of us out there than I thought.

I think that because of the nature of our personality type, introverts in general are susceptible to feeling very isolated at times. I know I felt this way as a child, especially when recess or lunch time came. 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 either aren’t readily represented on TV, on the radio, or in our favorite publications. Writers like Stacia Brown, who wrote this excellent piece about introversion and anger for Clutch magazine, and Slim Jackson, who wrote a piece that is a favorite of mine about this topic. Being able to read a growing amount of introverted writers work 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 that 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 and don’t know how to deal with us.

I think a lot of 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?”, “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 show out, get loud, or simply have a bold, bigger than life personality comes from the age-old stereotype about black women that characterizes us as such. Through the years, 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 and Hip, 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 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 love to assume that we are blank slates and they like to 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 are rescuing me. From what? I don’t know. I think sometimes people think that quiet or reserved equals no personality, so they try to let you 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 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 the ones who were so gracious to lend their personality become very offended when you don’t absorb their suggestions. How dare we have a personality of our own or turn down their “help”, and ruin a perfectly good Cher and Tai Frasier fantasy.

4. Quiet confidence is still confidence.

Introverts have got to be 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 about that though…it depends on what factors self-imposed confidence evaluators are using to determine whether confidence is present and if it is 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 and nervous, intimidated chatter.

As Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, said in this TED Talk, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” We all have those moments in our lives that we will probably never forget. One of those moments for me happened when I was either a sophomore or junior in college. I was visiting a neighboring university to support one of the sister chapters of my sorority with one of their events. We were all talking and eating cook out food when one of my sorority sisters from this chapter called me to the side. Confused, I went over to see what the problem was. Did she need to make a Wal-Mart run because the ketchup ran 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 because 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 rude to insult someone like that. 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 are to be avoided because they’re liars. And bad actresses/actors.

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