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August 2012
30

The Black Introvert Struggle

There are times when I am in public and even if a man isn’t engaging in street harassment and in fact looks like Shemar Moore or something, wearing a t-shirt that reads “I Am A Feminist” while holding a bell hooks book, it isn’t sufficient for me to want to talk to him. I don’t care. I want to run my errands, photograph, visit the library or read in a park without being bothered. I rarely want to have conversations with…anybody.

When I feel like laughing, tossing around ideas or even debating, I use Twitter. When I want to talk to people in offline life, I talk to family and friends. Sure, there are times of quick hellos to strangers (which I never  initiate). There are times (often) when whatever baby magnet spirit I have attracts babies to me and they try to talk to me and play with me. That’s fine. I talk to them and play with them. (I really am a baby magnet. I don’t get it. I’m fair game for any baby 6 months to 6 years old.)

But…for the most part, I want to navigate public space without harassment, without microaggressions and primarily without conversations. Every time I have to open my mouth without wanting to in the first place, I feel energy being zapped from my body. Every time conversation is directed at me when I am not interested in listening or replying to, I feel energy being zapped from my body.

I am an introvert. INTJ. (For those unfamiliar with MBTI and introversion/extroversion, all introverts are NOT shy, not afraid of people or anti-social, nor does sending tweets change one’s MBTI. American society does prefer extroversion and rewards people for being extroverts even when they have no other discernible talents and abilities, so most introverts are insulted or even shamed.) I’m not afraid of people, but I hate most in-person small talk. (An exception I make is for service people i.e cashiers. I am as friendly as I can be with them. Their jobs aren’t easy.) I am not shy and I speak up for myself, make eye contact etc. I can tolerate tweets about meals online. I can’t tolerate minutes of my time offline being used up by someone who’s desperate for an audience for small talk. I prefer the physical company of no more than 1-2 people, and genuinely prefer alone time. I do use social media, as most introverts do. We can interact with many people, but by our own choice, in a room alone and turn it off when not interested. I recharge my energy and feel energized when alone, not around people.

I think there are additional challenges when a person is a Black introvert or a Black woman introvert.

1) People (including other Black people) already assume you’re an extrovert because you’re Black (even if by the characteristics of extroversion if they are unfamiliar with the terminology). Because Black communal gatherings are often expected, if not demanded (i.e religious ones in some circles), Black people expect other Black people to be there and enjoying it. During mixed or primarily White events, many Whites expect Black people to be “entertaining” and it’s worse if those Whites are intoxicated. (I…don’t like to be around drunk people.) For a Black introvert, the microaggressions and demand by Whites for extroverted behavior is doubly exhausting.

2) People assume Black introverts are just “uppity.” Try working in a corporate environment and telling Whites that you aren’t interested in going out drinking after work. Reject them twice. Three times. Everything from being perceived as purposely separating self from the company to possibly missing out on promotions or inside information (that they’ll only share in after-work environments) to even being threatened of being fired, is a price to pay. And, if you do go, there’s again, the expectation to be “entertaining” or the “Black coworker.” (Check out Baratunde Thurston’s hilarious and satirical book How To Be Black for more on this.) While still racially insulted, a Black extrovert may do better in these horrible situations than a Black introvert. This is doubly physically draining for us. (I am not saying that microaggressions don’t impact Black extroverts at all. They do. So does stereotype threat.)

Further, how do I explain to a Black man who’s already entitled and think that I don’t have an option to reject his advances or conversations that sometimes it’s not even the sexism or male privilege deterring my responses, it’s simply being a tired introvert and not interested in dispensing the energy needed to reply?

3) White privilege means that there’s already an assumption of “service” where Black women are concerned. Whether it be at the library (I wrote about how random Whites expect me, not actual library employees, to assist their every need anytime I visit a library), at a store (and being mistaken for an employee or dealing with other microaggressions that often require a verbal response and subsequent loss of energy for an introvert), mistaken identity (i.e the corporate or school conversations that drained energy when I had to explain that no, I am not the help) or being expected to laugh on demand/indulge in pointless conversations with White women.

For example, I was in the elevator at a library. Two middle-aged White women were on it. A third one stood alone. They asked me “what floor,” yet seem to be unable to figure out what button to press. I finally reached over to press the correct button myself. One made a joke (something about her pressing the button to send me to the basement) but I tuned out and went back to tweeting my Twitter buds. Then one replied “I see social media has reduced some people’s social skills” with a snide tone. I continued to ignore them. Apparently, I was required to laugh at her joke and fawn over her every word. People who cannot operate an elevator but can make smart ass comments aren’t the type of people I want to have conversations with anyway. Of course, they had nothing rude to say to the other White woman on the elevator.

Microaggressions tend to involve some sort of verbal, energy-reducing response on the person of colour’s part. Not only am I navigating the space of White privilege and microaggressions, I’m doing this as an introvert, a person who is physically exhausted by ignorance, small talk, and unwanted conversations. At times, it’s genuinely suffocating and I can’t wait to get home where the proverbial armor that I feel like I’m wearing to navigate among Whites (microagressions), Black men (street harassment) and extroverts at large, can come off and I can breathe.

One of the reasons that I like social media is that from the superficial to the deep, I can have conversations how and when I want to, no one cries if I don’t reply to every tweet and I can turn it OFF. Offline life interactions, conversations, harassment and microaggressions can’t be turned off.

And so the Black (woman) introvert struggle continues…

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