Being an African Introvert: An Oxymoron?

I work in a crowded and lively open plan office, boasting an eclectic mix of personalities. Now the open plan office has its pros and cons. It allows for a seamless flow of work and information whilst doubling up as a mini theatre for all kinds of funny antics and informal lessons on love, life, fashion and everything in between.

The downside is that the constant hustle and bubble and lack of privacy can get overwhelming and distracting for work and personal concentration. And for someone like me with introverted leanings, it can be particularly challenging. When you feel your brain getting overwhelmed with too much sensory input, you are forced to find creative ways to switch off. You either have to get out and take a short walk or resort to reading or listening to music via headphones.

On one occasion, my escape routes became too obvious and when asked by a colleague why I switch off, I hinted without much detail that I am an introvert. And this led to a mini performance.

You are a what? Shouted a colleague at a far end corner

She said she is an introvert, replied the person I was talking with.

“Oh get outta here, shouted a colleague from cross the room. Don’t come here with your white tendencies”.

She continued; “let me explain cause this is simple. What is happening to you is a common illness that affects a lot of Africans who read too many books and hang around white folks a lot. Carry on like that and next thing you’ll be telling us you get sunburn or you are lactose intolerant.

The colleague next to me added: “you see, you are black and there is no such thing as being an introvert in our black culture. We are naturally loud. We sing, we dance, we talk to everyone and we are one big outgoing, sharing and lively community. That is what we are and as black Africans we don’t have a problem of people of people wanting their own private space to reflect, think, read, connect with yourself or whatever else it is that you so called introverts do.

Seriously, you need to get out more and connect with your roots and culture and you’ll be cured of this white flu you’ve caught. How about you come with me to my cousin’s friend’s wedding this weekend in Joburg?”

Me: “uhm..dont I need an invitation for that?”

Colleague: “I didn’t realize you have this introversion thing that bad. When did black people start needing invitations to weddings, funerals and parties? These are community events. A friend of my friend is my friend. Dude, you just need to rock up dressed to kill and the more the merrier. Now, enough with these weird excuses. Where do we meet?”

I agreed, for the sake of peace and sanity at that moment and I saw the glimmer of hope in my office mate’s faces that I was on my way to being cured of this socially acquired habit or illness called introversion.

But you and I know, you can’t change how you are wired. We adapt and play along until our inner batteries get over-heated and depleted of energy; and when we finally get a break we find a quiet spot to sleep, think, read, write, pray: Recharge for the next day.



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