By: Shaunese Johnson
“One of the risks of being quiet is that other people can fill your silence with their own interpretation: You’re bored. You’re depressed. You’re shy. You’re stuck up. You’re judgemental. When others can’t read us, they write their own story—not always one we choose or that’s true to who we are.”
I came across this quote a while ago and it literally spoke volumes to my existence. Ever since I was a child, I remember being known as “that quiet girl.” I always sat in the back of my classes and when I did decide to speak, I felt nobody was listening to me anyways. The fact that I had a speech problem (stuttering), on top of anxiety was a toxic combination. Classmates would always attempt to fill my silences with their own interpretations, and finish my sentences with words that weren’t even in my vocabulary.
Of course I was a target of bullying, and as most students would say, “It’s not like she’s going to say anything back,” and even if I did it’s not like I was taken seriously. After all who would want to be friends with the “weird” quiet black girl anyways?
As I got older I always believed I would “outgrow” this phase I was going through. One day I hoped to become an extremely extroverted individual that would intrigue others. Needless to say my life was the complete opposite. Middle school and high school actually caused me to go deeper into my “social shell” as I liked to call it.
Yes, I had met a few friends but even then I always felt like the “awkward” person in the group. So instead of speaking I often sat in silence latching off of their conversations. It almost felt like I was just a “filler friend” or a person who was just there who had nothing to contribute because of my meek voice.
Even in high school and throughout my teenage years connecting with others in a meaningful way was a challenge. Girls would swap stories about their parties, boyfriends, texting, the internet, music,etc… I had a few close friends but I had never actually been to a huge party or did anything girls my age would consider “fun,” unless you consider staying in the house on a Saturday night reading a novel about spirituality to be fun.
I damn sure wasn’t about to tell them I never even texted a guy, let alone had a boyfriend. Being that I considered myself a “target” I was careful about what information I shared with people, but what I did provide was a listening ear when needed. In some ways I was secretly jealous.
I’m not saying I wanted to “fit in” or be like them but it almost felt like I was missing out on my teenage years and my quiet demeanor was to blame. Thoughts would pop into my head like, “Dang I wish I would get invited to a party,” or “Having a boyfriend would be nice.” However, the type of girl I was I surely wouldn’t have neither. I just did my work, received exceptional grades, and went home to my lonesome.
In the back of my mind I prayed for a healthier social life. “In college things will be so much better,” or at least that’s what everybody told me. I attended a small college and tried my best to keep a positive thought process. My first years of college weren’t the best but were definitely eye opening.
Meeting new people became easier, yet many of these friendships became questionable. It seemed like people were only around me until they became “bored” with my presence. That’s the problem I’ve always had with being quiet. Like the quote I stated in the beginning, “Others will write their own stories based off of our silences,” and that’s exactly what seemed to happen.
A few people who I thought would be lifelong friends, proved to be no more than toxic energy and lessons learned. My silences were constantly filled with “It seems like you don’t have anything to say anymore,” or “We should just go our separate ways if you don’t have anything else to say about it.”
During that time, I could feel the distance growing between me and these former friends. We went from talking consistently to barley talking at all and they seemed to go their own ways while I became a small piece of their memory. After a while the friendships I once had became emotionally tiresome trying to maintain. I understand it takes two, but I was tired of putting in all the work trying to hold on to something that wasn’t meant to be.
Thinking back to my earlier years in college, I sometimes wonder if not being “socially awkward” could’ve changed certain situations. Maybe I should’ve been more outgoing? Maybe I should’ve tried harder to keep their attention? Was I really just a “boring” human being that had nothing to contribute to others and/or society? I had to change my thought process and stop trying to analyze others. What I have learned is that people will come and go but at the end of the day people are going to devote their time and energy into who they want no matter how caring your heart may be.
Now as a senior in college, I’ve learned to embrace my “social awkwardness.” I major in human relations and communications and even though I may not have the loudest voice in the room, I’ve always been the type of person to actually listen carefully when others speak. Not just listen to their words but actually connect with them empathetically which I believe is a true gift from God especially in a world that’s driven by technology and limited face to face contact. Being silent has allowed me to learn the art of energy in order to become aware of myself as well as of those who I allow to enter my life.
Being the “quiet girl” has added a sense of mystery to me that people are intrigued by. It’s beautiful when people take the time to get to know who you truly are inside and outside rather than just thinking “she’s so stuck up,” or “she’s so antisocial.” Even though society has chosen to focus on those who tend to be more extroverted, and forget about the other people who choose to be introverted, if you happen to be an introverted individual the best solution is to ultimately own who you are.
If you want to change and participate in extrovert natured activities that involve being surrounded by others by all means do so. However, if you’re are an individual who finds comfort in solitude, never allow society to change who you truly are. If you want to change do it for yourself, but don’t change to suit the needs of others. The right people with your common interests will appreciate your voice as well as understand your silence.
Thank you, you just told the story of my existence
I can totally relate to this. People often get the wrong impression about introverted people. From my experience, people always judge me right off the bat as being stuck up or rude because I’m super quiet and reserved. Especially being a black girl, you’re expected to fit into the “loud, ratchet, ghetto” stereotype. I just wish people would take the time to get to know me first before they start false judgement because I personally think I’m a cool, interesting person and people would actually love me if they took the initiative and started a conversation with me because obviously,… Read more »
I am the exact same way. Thank you for telling your story, you just made me feel better about myself.
I actually have a touch of both. Or rather I call myself an extroverted introvert. I can move around in social groups and parties and appear to be having fun (and actually might have fun), but after awhile, the voices and the music become noise and I get a tension headache that tells me its time to go. And when I hit my bedroom I feel so much better. I also crave one on one conversations instead of superficial group chats. It’s something that can be a pain sometimes but I have learned to listen to the messages my body… Read more »
I enjoy your blog. It seems like I can always relate to it.
I connect with this on a spiritual level.
I can really relate to this. As introverted Black women, we have to deal with others judging us for being outside the norm. I’m glad you’ve come to terms with it and realize it’s truly a gift 🙂
I agree with everything you said. As a 20 year old college student I easily become overwhelmed by crowds of people and sometimes i’d rather just be alone with reading or listening to music. Especially when you said introverts are mysterious, which I completely agree.
This article really spoke to me I can totally relate.
The famous question, “why are you so quiet?” The amount of times I’ve heard that. I don’t think people get how rough it is as a black introvert to find where you fit in. You get the side eye from nonblacks and blacks which is harder when you’re younger. Thankfully as I get older I’m definitely accepting of my awkward self but, I don’t have the need to fit in anywhere. Me being black and expressing my blackness has been so much easier once I accepted the fact that I’m an introvert. I’m happy to know there’s so many of… Read more »
this was great, i can relate. i realized not speaking all the time can be a positive thing. you learn a lot when you just listen.
Thank you for this blog! It’s the story of my entire life. I’m an introverted black girl.
I think I do the most important.
Wow thank you for writing this article I can definitely relate. I feel happy knowing I’m not the only person who has went through being the quiet black girl. It’s something I still struggle with. I appreciate the advice of not thinking there is something wrong with me and owning who I am… I shouldn’t give a damn what they think about me
I literally just cried reading your article…. Being called the black quite girl all my life. I saw friends come and go.I thought I will outgrow this after middle school, no high school… but I didn’t.I never had a boyfriend, always was too ‘shy’ or not confident enough for them. I thought I wasn’t normally functioning right in society. But am in nursing school right now and I’m still working on it. It’s also one of the reasons why I want to be a nurse. I see a psychologist every month and it getting better. I’m also going on a… Read more »
Hello I’m back! Funny how time is 3 years have passed and there are some changes in my life right now. I manage to finish nursing school this year , so I’m working as an nurse now. I’m providing nurse care at homes of the patients and it’s going well. But I know every beginning is hard (especially with the pandemic and everything) and I live true the awkward stages of an beginner nurse lol. I’m still me but I have changed. Meaning I can get out of my comfort zone and actually stand up for myself or for my… Read more »
This story speaks to me so much because I’m the same way. I’ve experienced people labeling me as “The quiet girl”, I’ve been the target of bullying, I’ve been the “unapproachable girl”, etc. But now I’ve learned to ignore the labels people have thrown at me and embrace/love who I am. There’s nothing wrong with being a socially awkward black girl in fact Issa Rae made a two season web series on YouTube highlighting this idea in a hilarious and relatable way. At the end of the day, we were all created differently and instead of misjudging people we should… Read more »
I can truly relate to this post in every way. I’ve always been the quiet black girl and now that I attend a PWI, I feel like people judge me because I am not as outspoken as a black girls typically are. It has really become difficult for me because I feel I am judged the most by other black girls and it confuses me because aren’t WE supposed to stick together? Truly, all I want is to make a solid group of black girl friends but I don’t know if that’s possible at this point.
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