Tales of a Black Introvert
“In the world of introverts, shallow socializing is considered especially heinous. However, to exist as a functional human being, these misanthropes must employ elite skills and coping mechanisms to deal with seemingly mundane social situations. These are their stories.”
I don’t really like leaving my house. My job is emotionally exhausting, and Jacksonville has too many alt-right alumni for me to feel safe in any particular place for too long, even the bathroom. Plus I don’t like small talk, and y’all love to major in that minor. But alas, I miss having proximate close friends, and I actually enjoy meeting new people when I have the opportunity to build a real connection with them. So every now and again, when an opportunity comes up to leave my house voluntarily, I put on acceptable public clothing and drag myself out. One such opportunity came in the form of a networking event not too long ago. Now, this is the kinda shit bougie Blacks love. Having mixers with cheap beverages and finger crumbs at odd places like science museums. This particular event was for artists. I thought if nothing else, I would get some good conversation about the craft and some Sprite, the non-caffeine drinker’s favorite carbonated beverage. One of my goals every time I go out is to meet new Black people that I can stand to be around for a set period of time (my love is minimally conditional).
Anyways, I get there on time. I try to be late to events, but for some reason I just can’t shake the spirit of punctuality. I was thinking there might be games or low-risk icebreakers to kick things off so people could establish some common ground they might build on later. This expectation reminded me of why I tend not to have them. When I arrive, there are some scattered groups of folks talking together, segregated by race just the way I like it (makes it easier to spot danger zones). When I enter a space I size up the environment before I engage, so I didn’t intend on walking up on anybody just yet. But I least intended to make small talk with a group of Whites because that was not my purpose for coming (see paragraph one, last sentence). But you better bet your conspicuous lips that I was spotted by a Beckeisha who just had to have me awkwardly interact with her Caucasian gaggle. She did one of those aggressive White people waves where it’s almost like they colonize the wind around their hand to blow in your direction.
“Hiiiiiiii!!” I don’t know this woman from Adam’s rib. But I have brought uppancy so I did a negro nod.
I thought it would suffice, so I very purposely sat alone. It did not.
“Come sit with us,” she grinned-growled.
I go up there to sit with them. They ain’t talking about a damn thing of course. Something to do with art. “So what’s your medium?” She got a lil spit on my sleeve.
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh my gosh. Me too! I teach kids.” Of course she does.
The rest of the conversation isn’t important enough to recap. I fell into a forlorn state because I had gotten sucked into the sunken place by an aggressive wave. And none of the other niggas in vicinity had their camera phones out. So I just sat. Within a few minutes, Becky Scissorhands and her friend decided to walk around and capture others so I was finally free. Free to be awkward as hell the rest of the night.
Back when I had friends, I understood that the rule of most social gatherings is to try and go with someone you know. But in my attempts to have social ambition and make new friends, I wasn’t interested in coming to the function just to talk to someone I knew the whole time. Problem is. It seems I was one of very few who had this bright idea. LITERALLY EVERYONE appeared to be talking to at least one other person. The staff bartender who had Bud Light and Sprite even had folks to chum around with. Now this probably wouldn’t be much of an issue for some of y’all gregarious negros. But I’m not one to walk up and Taylor Swift my way into a conversation with complete strangers who appear to be acquainted. Partially because it’s not my personality. But also whenever people do that to me I want to knuckle-thump their larynx.
So I wandered and wandered and gazed upon the moonlit sky of the science museum that was probably made of plastic. Pretended to be sooo interested in how hurricanes are formed. Pondered in front of a glass case holding the skeleton of a bottlenose dolphin because suddenly I’m a marine biologist doubting they got the dimensions right. I used my drink ticket to get a little bit of Sprite. Wandered some more. I had another unwanted conversation with a White oil painter that was in the original gaggle of Whites I mentioned. We talked about imposter syndrome like how if I kept looking askance, he might figure out I didn’t want to talk to him or really be there. But alas. It wasn’t an awful conversation, but still unwanted.
It got to be that I was there for nearly an hour and had not shared a meaningful acquaintance with a single soul and hadn’t even spoke to that many more. Now, again, you gregarious negros may not fully comprehend this. Like a well-balanced individual, you understand that most initial conversations with people tend to be surface level because of the lack of familiarity with one another. And that’s fine for y’all type because the simple act of social interaction is in and of itself energizing. But for a curmudgeonly negro like myself who needs appointments to answer phone calls and puts on real clothes outside of work on very seldom occasion, I be needing more relational bang for my proverbial buck. I ain’t trying to waste no evenings I could spend catching up on Suits. So I started to head for the door. Dejected.
But for some reason, I made myself stop. “Don’t be so hard on yourself Joshua.” I thought in a very formal tone. “These gentlemen and madames don’t have anything against you. You have to put yourself out there.” That was true of me to think. “Besides, if nothing else, you could use the extra drink ticket that oil painter gave you to guzzle another carbonated, non-caffeinated beverage.” Also true. Things could only go up from here.
I doubt anyone noticed, but I really threw my shoulders into the walk back in. Peacock strut. I did it for me. I decided to use the ever-so-slight-creep method to possibly stumble upon some friendship. For those unfamiliar with the world of introvertery or my own mind, the ever-so-slight-creep begins when you see a person or group of folks that seems interesting enough to converse with. To avoid the anxiety of first approach or talking to a large group of strangers, you kind of linger. This is done in a distant, non-hovering way, with the goal of creating an opportunity for conveniently bumping into each other or converging in a way you’re more comfortable with. Somehow.
So in the same building, there was a coinciding event - the opening night of a 9/11 exhibit. Depressing I know. I didn’t plan on acknowledging its existence. That was until I overheard the group of folks I decided to ever-so-slightly-creep talk about going to the first part to hear a local blues singer perform. “I could fuck with this,” I thought. So I followed them across the facility at a non-creepy distance, walking unsuspiciously. I had dropped the peacock strut in exchange for a pigeon stroll.
This other event had better snacks. Hard finger foods you could eat and not pay fake compensation for. The folks I was ever-so-slightly-creeping triangulated in one corner of the room. I sat at a friendly, yet non-threatening distance. This was just in time to hear a soul-stirring rendition of America the Beautiful. I sat in protest. Actually most people were sitting because there were several chairs in the facility. And no one was asked to stand. But I specifically sat in protest. By the end of the song, I overheard folks in the ever-so-slightly-creep group of interest talk about going to some other thing. “What am I doing?” I thought. I walked out, but not to go home. I decided to ride out the rest of this shitty event with some semblance of dignity. I could make some use of my time. “Let me go learn ‘bout the average diameter of a tornado.”
As I headed back to the weather center, I was accosted by a man whose Hotep I could smell (indescribable yet undeniable if you know it). He looked to be about 40 years old. He had neat ass-length dreads and his mouth was shaped like he used the word “brother” a lot. “Good evening young brother, I’m -” I forget his name because that’s the type of person I am. Anyways, he wanted to check out the new Tuskegee airmen exhibit in the joint - this museum was not at all predictable. He had his talking points ready for a situation just as this when he had the opportunity to educate a youthful negro like myself.
“You see we’re the original peoples of every land. That’s why I like that song she chose because this is our land. That’s what I try to do with my multimedia - educate people on the real history and how things really are. The more they dig up, the Blacker the artifacts get. It’s all there, they just wanna deny it.” I didn’t hate talking to him. Hoteps are my third favorite type of Black after N-words who like to read & coloreds who sing 90s R&B in public with friends (not mutually exclusive yet I would call these personas distinct). He told me he had worked on multiple websites and might be able to help me with whatever I decide to do one day. At the end of the exchange, he gave me his card. MMM - Minorities for Medical Marijuana with the hashtag #vote4bud.
I sauntered back into the main mixer room. I spotted two Black women talking at a center table - one of the tall kind that had no chairs for some reason - a table meant solely for elbows. I found myself overcome with an uninhibited spirit of congeniality. Neither of them said anything to me but in my subconscious I heard that pastoral request - “Won’t you come?” I obeyed my spirit man and moved forward to their altar of acquaintance.
One of the women wearing a gray shirt tucked in a flowing Black skirt smiled at me. “ I wish I could wear that shirt to work.” I was wearing a black shirt that read “Try Me’ - Malcolm X, 1963.”
Feeling aspirational, I replied, “You could - where do you work?”
“Marketing at Johnson & Johnson.” Mentally, I leaned back and placed my hand on my chest. The universal reaction to realizing you’re in the presence of the negro gentry.
“Oh nevermind, they might Colin Kaepernick yo ass.”
We shared a chuckle that masked the pain of truth.
“I feel like I’m the only one here who doesn’t know anyone here,” I said glancing between the two.
The other woman at the table with a red top and blue jeans assured me, “Oh I don’t know nobody either.”
We were all some non-knowing niggas who was ‘bout to know each other. Of course a cause-wielding negro came up wanting us to sign petitions for ex-felon voting rights and something else I can’t remember. But my elevated mood made her welcome. We got to talking and I thought the night might not be a complete waste. If anything, I might get a Facebook friend out of the evening. For a glorious 3 minutes and 32 seconds we had a vibe going and then -
“Can I have everybody’s attention?” shouted the heretofore unheard from host. For a split second, I thought we were going to have those icebreakers that should’ve started the evening. Better late than never I suppose. Instead it was - “Right now we gon’ have artist announcements.” Which, in reality was just an opportunity for the host to ad-lib everybody’s announcements and spend 83% of the time talking about himself and his woes. “I’m a 40 year old Black man who ain’t never been arrested, and I ain’t tryna let no protesting ruin that streak.” That comment was relevant for reasons not worth going into, and I was certain my pupils would get stuck right beneath my eyelids from excessive rolling.
By the time that proclamation was over, the science museum decided they wanted to demonstrate lightning like we were 12 year olds on a field trip, essentially killing my conversational momentum. At the end of this demonstration, I was roundly fatigued and had to return to my cocoon (home) to recover. But ultimately, I didn’t regret going out. At least if I go to this particular event again, there’s a chance that I too could be one of the annoying people who only talks to people they recognize. But let’s be real. I’ll probably just stay home building layers of theory about who the true culprit might be in Netflix’s American Vandal.
Joshua Everett: "I’m from Leeds, Alabama and a Vanderbilt University alum. I started both writing and performing to try and impress two different women at different points in my life. I’ve been swept up in a love affair with writing ever since. My writing ranges in topics from love to racism to awkwardly stumbling through young adulthood. Music has strong influences on my writing, especially hip-hop, jazz, and soul. My goal with my writing is to infuse these distinct, yet connected African-American art forms to make work that people can really feel. I currently work as a community organizer in Jacksonville, Florida with Interfaith Coalition for Action Reconciliation and Empowerment (I.C.A.R.E)."