"I'm an off-the-charts introvert. To me, being around groups of strangers is exhausting. I've had to sort of train myself to think about two tactics: finding common ground
and invoking humor." Sam Yagan
There are times where I love being me - which more and more is my mode of operation, and for that unabashed self-love I am grateful - and there are times where I wish I could take on the qualities of others around me. Being social is one of those situations. From the outside people read me as comfortable, charismatic, and confident. I tell a lot of jokes, can light up a room, and connect with just about anyone, but what people don't see is how anxious, afraid, and awkward I am, or at least how I feel. I use humor as a defense mechanism, focus on other people to avoid talking about myself, and, worry constantly about whether or not people like me. I have spent so much of my life living in fear of not being liked, namely because of internalized racism and the sick things that come with feeling less than, unwanted, and unlovable.
There are times where I can see the fear on other people's faces clear as day - that they are uncomfortable, wary, or flat out terrified of me. The ironic thing is I feel the same and its because I spend so much of my time trying to placate white folx, be the easily digestible brown pill, or minimize myself so as not to disturb the sacred cult(ure) of whiteness. That is my go to, even though I know it's irrational, that my blackness is the reason people dislike. me. I can name on one hand the number of people who actually disliked me though and were outright about it, and all of the reasons had to do with an envy/intimidation by ambition, talent, or abilities. If I spend most of the time trying to be the black person white people can "tolerate" there's no reason not to actually dislike me - because I'm rarely actually ever being myself. It's complicated. It's also not. I just wish that race was not the deciding factor on how people treat me, view me, or experience me.
What are the effects of a lifetime of knowing that who I am and how I am is a proverbial problem for some white folx? Well I live with this social anxiety that makes me worry all the time. And I mean all the time. At the grocery store, shopping for clothes, at a stoplight, pumping gas, sitting in a movie theater, and basically anywhere besides the confines of my home where I'm forced to compartmentalize my trust issues with white folx, remember to individualize, and try to live. I just make myself small. I apologize constantly for things that are not my fault. I move out of the way. I am overly nice to staffpersons. I walk as fast as I can to get in and out. I don't just hang out places. I can't loiter. I am not allowed to just exist. See these spaces, particularly the ones I have access to by nature of my classism and elitism, are built to reify whiteness. The fact that I have the ability to enter predominantly white spaces, particularly those with monetary gateway keeping, doesn't mean that I am actually welcome in those spaces. It's communicated ferociously with the nervous glances, dirty looks, getting up to move, and general avoidance tactics that I get or at least perceive to get when I'm the only person of color in a locale. It is both a disbelief and a discomfort of the fact that I get to be there.
I don't know if it's just me but I wonder if I missed out on much of what society tells me being a young person should be like. I have spent so much of my life being cautious, careful, and concerned that I don't think I know how to have fun. I can name the times where I feel totally free and where I get to be whole, at peace, and feel safe. I never learned how to do adult social situations. I always saw them as exclusive spaces where people who didn't look like me got to let loose, be debaucherous, and face little to no consequences. For me, the stakes always seemed to be dire and so there was no time for me to ever be fully carefree. I have always had to be in control, be under control, and be controlling - for my own safety, for my self-preservation, for my self-assurance. I think not drinking is part of that. I can't risk not being fully coherent on top of reading social cues, paying attention, and knowing when to leave. I missed out. I can't do crowds, large groups of people, and places full of strangers. I can't do all the smells, the casualness, or the ambiguity. I get nervous, scared, and on edge. I feel like I am always braced for impact, high strung, and tightly wound up. I can't relax. I can't feel tranquil. I can't feel carefree. I can't enjoy myself.
Beyond all those underlying emotions comes my introvert nature and being socially awkward. People are draining for me even though I love having meaningful conversations. I feel like everyone I talk to is taking something from me. I need time alone to recharge, refill, and rehabilitate. The older I get the more I love the time I get to be just be alone. There are times and places where being with other people doesn't deplete me; in fact it fills me up, but I find those spaces to be rare. I'm weird because people tend to thrive off of the energy I put out and I get catapulted into the center. I used to be the instigator, the ring-leader, and the decider in my friend groups, in addition to being the dad, caretaker, and confident. I was the one who brought people together, played host, and ensured everyone was having a good time. I think somehow I thrived on planning, but also recognize how that's still just me being controlling because of how much of my existence has felt out of my control. I like quiet places with intimate conversation where I can make eye contact, I can talk about things of substance, and I can hear stories from other people. I struggle to be in organic spaces, and let myself be fully there. I feel like I am always looking for a reason to leave, to retreat, to hide. I get swept over with the darkness of what is going in the world, or think about my siblings, nieces, or nephew. My mind goes elsewhere and existential dread sets in. I'm disengaged and disinterested. It's disrespectful and downright dull. I will say that I do say when I want to leave, or don't to go in general, without excuses or justification.
I think about my few friends left from high school and they all have this exciting social lives. They go out on the weekends. They turn up with friends in their apartments and houses before heading out on the town. They knock a few back, sing out loud, they dance, and they smile. I have NEVER had that. I have always wanted that. To be able to be okay with the ambiguity of where a night might take me instead of having to be the dictator in control. I have never had a group of friends that were carefree; everything has always been calculated. I have never been able to hang out - there's always had to be a purpose or an end goal. And I know that they are not me and I am not them but I have some serious trust issues. I have been hurt so many times and let people in only to be tossed away when no longer needed. I have learned to be reluctant to forge relationships that I want to sustain. It's not just other people missing out on the opportunity to know me but I too am missing out on getting to know other people. It's social paradox of the most wickedly twisted proportions. I know what I need to do is reach out to others, be open to trying with them, and doing my best to be there and enjoy myself. I do live a different reality but sometimes we create our own imprisonment. I no longer want to be displaced. I want to find my place - whatever unique instance of social aptitude that is. X