Lists, Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

On Successfully Navigating Life As A Black Male Introvert

blackmencollege

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.

Bad idea.

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”)

Filed Under:
Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • eyecande

    While The Champ might be a true introvert and Panama might be a true extrovert, let’s not lose sight of the fact that most of us (about 70%) are ambiverts that lie somewhere in the middle. Ok, carry on fighting introvert injustice.

    • http://TripSixes.com/ Trip

      Very fitting username.

      • Sahel

        Yeah it is…dnt you think so Val

        • eyecande

          thanks! got me feelin all introverted and shy and everything haha

          • panamajackson

            LOL. it is a fitting name.

          • panamajackson

            LOL. it is a fitting name.

        • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

          Lol. What am I now, your wing woman?

          • kidvideo

            You know AK was on Wendy 2day…didja DVR it?

            • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

              That was a repeat. I saw it the first time. Thanks though.

          • Sahel

            Your my Batgirl,P.A is Robin

            • Kema

              I call Harley Quinn! Where’s my Joker?

      • eyecande

        @disqus_YUB3pNI39z:disqus @disqus_m3GLWRW08X:disqus ::eblushes:: thank ya kindly

        • http://TripSixes.com/ Trip

          You’re welcome- hope you stick around for awhile

    • panamajackson

      I actually think that while I’m MOSTLY an extrovert, I definitely can appreciate the finer nuances of being alone for substantial amounts of time. But I do gain energy from other people. That’s very true. You put me on stage with the right energy in a room and I’m killin’ the game.

    • panamajackson

      I actually think that while I’m MOSTLY an extrovert, I definitely can appreciate the finer nuances of being alone for substantial amounts of time. But I do gain energy from other people. That’s very true. You put me on stage with the right energy in a room and I’m killin’ the game.

      • eyecande

        Yea, everyone needs alone time (for self-reflection, to trim nose hairs, to perfect the cousin Terio dance). I’ve seen you kill the game at a Reminisce party. I was like uh uh Panama it’s too hot to be that extroverted lol

        • panamajackson

          LOL. It’s a party!

    • The Champ

      you can type with both hands?

      • eyecande

        lol. I see what you did there but actually, no hands ;)

  • Cali

    I dunno – life for all introverts is hard. I’m definitely one, & I don’t fit the mold of whatever Black women are supposed to be. I like the advice about having a few extroverted friends, but not too many – those mofos can be overwhelming! But yea, it’s ok to be exactly who you are. In fact, it’s preferred :)

    • The Champ

      “I dunno – life for all introverts is hard.”

      basically. introverts are really no different than pimps

      • Cali

        well…. LOL

  • BreezyX2

    So Champ basically, you are an inny and PJ is an outtie…who knew! :)

    • Sahel

      BOOM,kudos

    • Oshun

      Breeezy Babbby!! :)

      • BreezyX2

        Hi MAMI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • panamajackson

      Yeah, this kilt me *dead*

    • panamajackson

      Yeah, this kilt me *dead*

    • CNotes

      *snickering*

      • BreezyX2

        CNOTES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have missed you and that glorious fro!!! Why and where have you been hiding?!?!? Did you find a bf and don’t have time for us anymore? :)

        • CNotes

          Breezy!!!!!!! Me and my fro have been busy trying to take over D.C. with my fitness classes. :-) Entered a couple of natural hair contests too. Time for this fro to contribute to the household bills if she is going to be living here. LOL! As for the BF……*sigh*. I miss you guys, though. :-)

          • Deeds

            What are these natural hair contests in DC?

            • CNotes

              The natural hair stuff isn’t in D.C. Just various companies that are nationwide.

              • Deeds

                Oh I see, what companies are they?

                • CNotes

                  2014 World’s Next Top Natural Hair Model is one of the larger ones. Really don’t have the time to list all of them since I’m kind of on a marketing spree. :-)

                  • Deeds

                    Ok thanks

          • BreezyX2

            That is so cool!!!! And I agree make that heifer pay her way :) Amma start believing for a bf for you and Mena….yes that is what I am doing :)

            • CNotes

              :-) You’re sweet.

    • The Champ

      inny deez

      • BreezyX2

        LMBO!

  • Guest

    How old is Damon exactly? Seems like he’s been early 30s for about 10 years . . .

    • HUgrad13

      I agree.

    • The Champ

      LOL. In dog years I’m about to turn five.

      • Guest

        Haha cool. Been reading your stuff since you were writing over at d.theroyalyoungs. There should really be an archive of that site’s content btw. I seem to remember a blog entry comparing Tim Duncan to Tom Hanks? Way back in the day.

        Happy almost birthday dog.

        • The Champ

          Thanks, man. That was actually one of my favorite posts, ever. Too bad it doesn’t exist on the internet anymore

          • Guest

            Shame. You still write poetry these days? Your old stuff was dope

    • sincereluv4life

      hilarious! lol

  • Soula Powa

    “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. ”

    As a fellow Black Male Introvert, I can’t wait for Black America to learn how to deal with us. Our own people should know that we aren’t a monolith and that being reserved doesn’t equal being a punk. We just gotta accept ourselves as Champ said and hand out late passes as needed.

    • Kema

      Is it really just Black America? Extroverts are celebrated in America period.

      • Soula Powa

        Champ said that in his quote. My though was that we should love us and learn how to deal with us as well as others.

    • The Champ

      “As a fellow Black Male Introvert, I can’t wait for Black America to learn how to deal with us.”

      perhaps we should start a movement. #introversionisneverforblackmen

      • Soula Powa

        LOL. We could try but most of our demographic probably would have private Twitter profiles anyways. We’d have to find other means.

  • ghettoS

    This is really a good article. I relate to this on so many levels. As an introverted Black man myself, I find it to be the case that I often have to make allowances for people’s perceptions of me. No, it isn’t right, but its just how it is. It also does not help when people tell you that you are “too serious” But hey, that’s just part of the Black male struggle. Always having to offset how uncomfortable we may make someone else feel. Thank you for addressing this topic, Champ.

    • Oshun

      ya’ll introverted men need to hug it out today!!!!!! sheesh.

      • ghettoS

        Ah yes. Trivialize a brotha’s feelings. That’s a great way to foster understanding.

      • The Champ

        hug deez

    • The Champ

      Thank you for addressing this topic, Champ.

      no problem

  • Oshun

    An introverted black man is very attractive in my books, I can match your energy. But, the only thing is I am easily excitable and introverts are sometimes sooo emotionless, it’s like, dang dude are you not human?

    • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

      Actually I find introverts to be very emotional. We just usually aren’t as animated as extroverts. And, we tend to like to avoid drama.

      • LMNOP

        Me too. I actually thought being emotional and liking to talk about/ think about feelings was characteristic of introverts.

      • http://daratmathis.wordpress.com/ dtafakari

        That’s me all day.

    • SuperStrings

      ” introverts are sometimes sooo emotionless, it’s like, dang dude are you not human?”
      I can be this way, and being a Libra probably doesn’t help. I try to check my emotions, so as not to lose sight of the objective. Sometimes emotions can get the best of you and cause you to lose perspective, and I fight like he!! against that.

    • The Champ

      “But, the only thing is I am easily excitable and introverts are sometimes sooo emotionless”

      introverts actually tend to be more sensitive/emotional than extroverts. just don’t show it as often

  • Sunrise Jackson

    “stop being annoyed by extroverts (at least visibly).” easier said than done lol.

    • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

      Extroverts only annoy me if they try to push me into being extroverted in a social setting. Otherwise I’m kind of fascinated by them.

    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

      im not annoyed by them, im fake embarrassed for them, like she doesnt give a damn what hes talking about…wait shes still smiling…oh. eph that ninja

    • The Champ

      it takes some practice.

  • ghettoS

    Oh, also, don’t you love it when people see that you are “standoffish” and are quick to use the word anti-social to describe you? Gotta love it.

    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

      anti social is the most outta context used phrase ever

      • ghettoS

        Yes, indeed.

  • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

    This speaks to me. I get physically drained from being in the presence of extroverts for an extended time. I’m good for the most part because I can be sociable when need be and hold my own. However, when I’m done interacting with people I just shut all the way down and go find a corner somewhere to chill. Great post!!

    • Oshun

      I’m able to match people’s energy depending on my mood. But when it’s the end of the month, please show yourself out the door with your extrovertedness, I don’t have the time, energy, nor patience for any of that.

      • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

        We are >>>HERE<<<< I straight up decline invitations to any and all social outings if I don't feel like being around folks. People don't understand that though and they are quick to write me off as "flaky". Whatever. I'm not going to over exert myself for anybody.

        • Tx10inch

          Yeah,when I don’t wanna be bothered I don’t wanna talk or be around anyone for days….

          • Bumbling Black Man

            Oh yes!! I have times where I will turn my phone off, throw it in a corner somewhere, and just be locked in my house for a day or two (sometimes more). When I don’t want to be bothered, I make sure no one has the power to bother me! I will turn my phone on to respond to texts/calls/emails/IM when I’m good ‘n ready. I come from a family of extroverts, they just don’t understand.

          • miss t-lee

            Yes.