On Successfully Navigating Life As A Black Male Introvert
It’s a story my parents have shared with my friends, their friends, my girlfriends, our family, their neighbors, cashiers, mailmen, telemarketers, people who happen to be pumping gas at adjacent tanks, and anyone else who will bother to listen.
When I was three, my parents took me to the hospital. My mom was worried that I never cried, barely spoke, and rarely showed much emotion, and she was hoping I didn’t have some type of emotional or mental disorder. After running a day’s worth of tests, the doctor came back with the verdict: I was fine. Possibly even gifted. I didn’t talk or cry much because I just didn’t want to.
It’s been three decades since that day. In the time since, I’ve had a version of that scenario repeated more times than I can count. I don’t speak much or show much emotion, someone thinks something is wrong with me or that I’m upset, and they eventually learn that I’m fine.
And, for the first half of my life, I assumed something was wrong with me as well. I mean, I was popular, I performed well academically and athletically, and I was a generally happy person, but why didn’t I feel as comfortable at parties as every one else seemed to be? Why was I fine shooting pressure-filled foul shots in front of thousands of people, but overcome with anxiety if made to change homerooms? Why couldn’t I be as talkative, goofy, and funny around acquaintances as I was with my closest friends? Why did people think I was uncaring when I actually cared so much that it could be paralyzing? And why did it take so much damn energy for me to engage in small talk and flirt?
You have no idea how relieved I felt after learning there was an actual name for people built the way I was. And, the gradual acceptance and embrace of being an introvert actually helped me socially. Ironically, learning that there was nothing wrong with considering small talk, flirting, and approaching women to be arduous tasks helped me get better at doing it.
There was still one problem. I was (and still am) a Black male. And, of the myriad things Black men are expected to be, introverted is not one of them. We’re generally assumed to be uninhibited, gregarious, and sociable—at least more uninhibited, gregarious, and sociable than most other types of people. Basically, we’re expected to be natural extroverts, and this expectation has a tendency to make people uneasy when we’re not. So, while I accepted and embraced the way I am, it’s still an uphill battle to convince others I’m not “aloof” or “uncaring” or even “asleep.”
Anyway, the past several months have seen dozens of introversion-related articles, listicles, essays, and studies circulating the web. Each shared, cosigned, forwarded, and commented on numerous times, but none specifically addressing how to successfully navigate life as Black male who also happens to be introverted.
Well, none until today.
Embrace who you are. Seriously. It’s ok.
Even as an adult, this can be a difficult concept to grasp. For instance, VSB’s three year anniversary/book signing party in 2011 was the first time Panama and I met in person. Knowing that 500 or so people were expected to attend—many of whom meeting us for the first time—and knowing Panama is basically the textbook definition of an extrovert/social butterfly, I convinced myself beforehand that I would match his energy.
After the first hour or so, I was exhausted. Panama, on the other hand, was actually gaining energy. Seeing that convinced me that I needed to stop trying to compete with his personality and just be myself. Sure, me being a bit more laidback and dry may not have been what people expected when meeting “The Champ,” but by being me as I was able to make some legitimate connections and finally have some fun.
Stop being annoyed by extroverts. (At least visibly). They are not bad people. Just different from you. And, when you’re done being annoyed by extroverts, befriend a few. Maybe even date one.
Do all of your friends need to be extroverts? No. But having an extroverted buddy or three—especially one that will happily connect you to people at social gatherings—is a necessity. This is especially true if you’re single. While, again, there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert, a group of solemn-ass Black men all clubbing together will, to put it bluntly, scare the shit out of people.
To that end…
As a Black man, you may have to do a little extra to convince people you’re not slow, shy, stupid, or scary
America—Black America included—just isn’t equipped to deal with a Black man who’s a bit more reserved and pensive than what they’re used to. Seriously, there’s no doubt in my mind that part of the intra-racial criticism Obama receives is due to the fact that he’s not a fire and brimstone type like most of the Black male politicians and leaders we’ve experienced.
Anyway, none of this is your fault. But it wouldn’t hurt you to meet people halfway. And, although it’s antithetical to your nature, doing “a little extra” may include smiling occasionally, starting and engaging in small talk, and even feigning interest in activities you’re not all that interested in. Trust me. Your half way will go a long way.
Being an introvert is not an excuse for being an asshole
***Repeat this five times in the mirror every morning while brushing your teeth. When finished, repeat it five more times.***
You know one of the main reasons why being yourself is so important? If you do it, women will like you.
Actually, let me rephrase that. Being yourself will give you a better chance at women liking you. A much, much better chance.
Since you’re an introvert, I know you’re pretty observant and self-aware. It comes with the territory. And, since you’re observant, I know you’ve noticed that women—Black women especially—seem to be more drawn to the life of the party types. I won’t lie and tell you your observations are false.
What I will say, though, is that you have to resist the urge to emulate those types of men. Sure, it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit less inhibited (repeat this to yourself five times as well, please), but you’re not a social butterfly, and you will look and feel awkward trying to be. Instead, shift the goalposts so that you’re interacting with women on terms you’re more comfortable with. How exactly you do that is up to you.
Why is this so important? Well, here’s a secret. There are many women—Yes. Black women too—specifically attracted to men like you. But, you’ll never get a chance to connect with them if you’re busy playing Fisher-Price extrovert.
Maybe you’ll never be the guy hopping from corner to corner, engaging and entertaining groups of women at a time. It’s okay, though. Everyone eventually sits at the bar.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)