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 minority’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 stupidity, 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…
Ive never related to a post more in my life.
oh and psa?
i didn’t grow up loving chinese culture
i grew up LIVING it. i grew up as PART of it. i grew up with it IN ME. i never had the option of choosing whether or not to love it because IT’S ALWAYS BEEN A PART OF ME.
i grew up hating chinese culture. i grew up thinking it was the stupidest thing in the world but it is STILL a part of me a part of the way i was raised a part of the way i eat and talk and see the world and celebrate.
I never grew up loving chinese culture
I still don’t love it
I still struggle to love my roots
I still struggle to pay attention to my heritage
growing up loving something is in no way synonymous with growing up LIVING something
Chinese culture isn’t something you can love like some little trinket or your favorite dress or that really comfortable pair of gorgeous heels you just slide out of and toss in the back of your closet when you’re done.
Chinese culture is inescapable if you are Chinese.
It doesn’t matter how Americanized your family is, how little Chinese you speak, how you were actually born here, have a southern drawl, and English was your first language.
None of these things matter.
What matters is family and food and love and filial piety and absolutely fucking never expecting your parents to apologize because all debts are paid by the fact that they brought you into fucking existence.
What matters is eating noodles on your birthday even if you’re not quite sure why. Your grandfather telling you all about what you zodiac sign means. Your grandmother singing to you in her native dialect and then cutting your hair on your first birthday.
What matters is a priest coming to bless your house with a freshly killed chicken and coins; your mother never letting you wear white on your birthday; your father sternly telling you that although you’re not old maid material, he doesn’t want you out with the boys either.
What matters is your older siblings becoming more like the parents you tell everything to, your kitchen becoming the shrine where homage is paid to all the eventful moments in your family mythology, and being told that you have to try so damn hard to even be noticed by the white folks.
What matters is dim sum and roast duck and chrysanthemum tea and glasses at a young age.
What matters is growing up every single day, realizing that there is something sacred and special about your family versus the world.
What doesn’t matter, and excuse me for saying so, you dumb white bitch, is the fact that you know how to use chopsticks.
Shut the fuck up.
Thousands of years of human history went into my family’s nightly dinner.
How many years of ignorance went into the statement that “I grew up practically chinese”?
I mean that said re: anon, the thing is that I blog from my experience and I feel far more oppressed by western imperialism and colonization than japanese imperialism and colonization
which is not to say that japanese imperialism and colonization didn’t have an impact and that the japanese didn’t do some majorly fucked up things to us, because WOW JAPANESE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN REALLY FUCKING AWFUL TO CHINESE PEOPLE and according to my dad at least, the japanese government hasn’t issued any apologies and apparently actively attempts to remove those atrocities from their textbooks
but I mean
I’m a chinese-american living in the united states, surrounded by white people, feeling the oppressiveness of white privilege that marginalizes my existence, feeling the effects of a system that prioritizes whites over anyone of any other race, emphasizing white culture as being superior than any other culture
so white imperialism and colonialism is just far more immediate to me and while japanese people have done some fucking god awful twisted shit to chinese people
the fact of the matter is that I have been forcibly divorced from identifying with china and chinese history because of white colonization and american racism that pressured me for years and years to be white-identifying rather than any sort of chinese-identifying
so while I may feel some latent anger at japanese imperialism and colonization
the fact that I am chinese-american in a USian context that forces me to choose between being PoC or being white-identified means that the way I relate to japan is different than how a chinese-born chinese-raised chinese would relate to japan
I am likely to band in pan-asian solidarity and defend japan, japan-japanese people, and japanese-americans from white oppression and racism and such because that’s more immediate to me
that said it’s not a blind unity
basically I’m thinking about how the term “asian-american” was coined BY asian-americans as a way to gather together a bunch of really disparate groups into one political power
so that’s where I approach japan from my experience
which is not to say that I excuse japanese atrocities against china or japanese imperialism or any of that
and like I said I don’t talk about it because I don’t KNOW about it
just like how I’ll be quick to defend china from white western exotifying and otherizing viewpoints, but that doesn’t mean that I excuse the fact that china has human rights violations, fucks up its minorities, fucks over its people, etc. etc. etc.
I guess the moral of the story is
don’t treat me like any kind of authority on anything
because I’m not
I’m still learning
my experience shapes the way I learn and what I prioritize and how I want to understand myself in relation to the world
the only thing I can really be an “authority” on is me and my experiences alone and I truly cannot speak for anything else, not american history, not chinese history, not chinese-american history, because the more I learn, the less I know, and unless you want an answer drawn from my own experience, you are truly better off asking someone else if you want highly informed answers about… anything, really