I’m a black woman, who is an introvert.
|What This Means||What This Does Not Mean|
|Every minute I’m around people,|
my energy depletes a bit more
|I’m Shy or Anti-Social|
|I require solitude to recharge my energy||I’m Shy or Anti-Social|
|I prefer written communication||I’m a “product of |
because I don’t prefer
|I’m introspective||I don’t have anything to say|
|I need to “learn” how to be an |
Your misconceptions about what it means to be an introvert, and who gets to be one, is telling. Ultimately, it’s disrespectful and oppressive. There have been conversations on Twitter about Black women’s experiences in the workplace, as introverts. An idea is that folks are uncomfortable experiencing Black women outside of them as entertainment.
Black women are not allowed to be introverts in professional settings and that shit is draining.— Nouma ✨ (@naouma_) June 26, 2019
(I highly suggest visiting the thread)
My favorite book on understanding what introversion REALLY is is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. This was where I learned that it wasn’t me, it’s them. I must say reading this helped me understand my leadership style and in general, changed the way I thought about myself and showed up in life. HIGHLY recommend for introverts who aren’t so sure about how they’re supposed to be, and also for those folks who are not introverted and don’t fully grasp what that means. Grab your copy from thriftbooks for under $5.
Things that have been said to introverted me, in the workplace:
- “I need you to be more engaging”
- “You don’t show excitement for the work”
- “You don’t let people into your process”
I also love the constant interruption whilst I’m in deep brain work mode, having headphones in and trying to concentrate. So, what I gather is that the theme in these statements is the discomfort with not having unrestricted access to my thoughts and feelings.
“You need to be engaging people”
Let me set the scene for you on this one. Picture it, Starbucks, 2019. For work, we were putting on a community event at your local neighborhood Starbucks location. There was a deejay blasting music, about 40 kids ranging from 11 – 22, a few chaperones, police officers, and councilmen. The concept of the event was a community design activity. I’m overseeing the set up and details of the event, my employee manning registration, food logistics, etc. Someone else is facilitating the activity for the evening. As you can imagine, it was loud and bustling in this half of the store.
Let’s be clear, everyone in that room is luck that I did not spontaneously burst into tears. I was overstimulated and anxiously terrified. So many people, so many moving parts, it was late in the workday, and, all I could think about was watching Golden Girls later that not in the safe solitude of my bed in my ONE bedroom apartment.
BUT, because I don’t have a natural inclination to want to be in an overstimulating space, and also because I think the person truthfully enjoyed picking at me, I was scolded for not inserting myself into this crowd of young people for the sake of looking like I was enjoying this. Never mind our conversations about my introvert AND having anxiety, and what that means about how I show up.
This is What I Wish Yall Would Do:
- Respect Boundaries: It is not up to you to decide what my being an introvert should look like daily. Nor is it up to you to decide who gets to indulge. Introverts do not have to network at every company happy hour simply because that’s what you think they should do. Consider that they are depleted and it is enough that they are even present. Because my next thing is, why does an introvert make you uncomfortable?
- 2. Check Yourself, Re-Evaluate: Let’s consider: why does it make you uncomfortable that I don’t engage the way you expect? Is me leaning into more human interaction really going to make me better at the functions of my job? How much of your expectations are rooted in your desire to have unrestricted access to me as a black woman? How much of that is your underlying belief that I am less than as a black woman, and thus, require surveillance? Quietness, introversion, introspection, doesn’t allow for such surveillance, does it?
Folks need to engage in some self-work around why their aspiration of me at my best must be rooted in behavior that is the antithesis of my personhood.
So, What I’m Saying Is:
In essence, I’ve noticed the trend of wanting to have a magical negress be a source of entertainment or a marker of exemplary performance, especially in non-profit work. I also believe it’s why large and in charge, witty black men are being chosen time and time again for leadership because they make the powers that be feel more comfortable. Easier to engage. (Black women are chosen when it’s time to clean something up or whip something into shape, but that’s another blog post for another day).
As I’ve talked about authenticity, my introversion is non-negotiable. Especially considering the inextricable link between me as an introvert and my anxiety, this is never going to be up for compromise. The status of my employment or performance cannot rest in the subjective metrics of black girl magic via extroversion. A QUIET BLACK GIRL? PREPOSTEROUS! (Sidebar, considering the systems work I do, this is extra ridiculous)
Seriously, I want us to consider how oppressive and racist** it is that my reserve is a point of contention because it is alarming and not trusted. Tying my need for introspection to a marker of subpar performance and detachment?
What kind of world are we creating for black women to work in?
**keep in mind that when I say racist, it is with full awareness that you don’t have to be white to uphold it.