We could not exhibit our frustrations when overhearing coworker chatter labeling Black rage as measurable, Black victims as drug addicts, and openly justifying why Black people deserved death and brutality for existing.
As a Black woman maneuvering through part-time office jobs and classrooms on a predominantly white college campus, I could no longer do it.
Social awkwardness spiked in the wake of social distancing (for over a year!) and I also became deeply frustrated attempting to remain cheerful around people who had no problem with expressing their discontent for Black people. I stopped fake laughing and smiling at bigoted comments disguised as “harmless jokes” and refrained from coworker gossip circles filled with microaggressions. I most importantly refused to go out of my way to initiate cheerful conversation to counteract the prevalent stereotype of the “angry, moody Black Woman.”
Embracing introversion and abandoning forced extroversion became less exhausting for me, especially when prompted to perform this way for hours, within work and other professional spaces. However, many other Black women are still punished within the workspace for being introverted.
When Black Women are introverted, quiet, or reserved they are negatively rated on performance reviews, questioned about their dedication to the job, and labeled as: hard to work with, unprofessional, intimidating, unapproachable, stuck up, and standoffish.
This truth is not only confined to workspaces, as it also occurs to young Black girls within classrooms, on college campuses, social settings, and any other space involving groups of people.
“Don’t Forget Your Mask”
While maneuvering through professional spaces, I realized I was constantly putting on a mask of extraversion in order to keep from seeming unprofessional, jeopardizing my job, and as a form of protection from constant interrogation.
Each time my mask slipped, employers and coworkers would interrogate my silence with an endless stream of questions regarding my personal life and wellbeing. Working in predominantly white spaces made these strange and infuriating occurrences even more frequent.
Having to exert extra energy into finding excuses to combat these questions was exhausting and never satisfied by a simple “I’m fine.”
This push to discover an issue where there is none exists because non-Black people are uncomfortable and unaccustomed to introverted Black women. What this world is accustomed to is a racist caricature of “loud, gossiping, angry, strong, Black Woman” displayed in the mass media.
If I had to be extroverted in the workplace to avoid punishment and to meet the standards of professionalism, then this must have been true within other spaces as well such as the classroom and social settings.
As a college student, learning when to put on the mask of extraversion and deciding when it was safe to take it off made me hyper-aware of how I was perceived and the consequences that would follow if the mask were to slip.
I unconsciously internalized this as the truth and linked extroversion to success and introversion to failure.
These thoughts fueled imposter syndrome causing me to question my confidence, talents, and personality.
After being extroverted and introverted in different phases within the workplace I have come to recognize that a balance must be developed in order to safely and effectively maneuver throughout professional spaces as a Black Woman; a balance that is determined by our own standards. Within professional spaces, creating a state of being that fits my identity and revamping how I show up and maneuver in this world is what I strive for, only for now.
The most important lesson I have learned from my own experiences as a previously extroverted, and now a semi-introverted Black woman is to place my own wellbeing before institutions and individuals who refuse to accept me as I am.