Being African and Introverted: Creating Space for all Voices

I am deliberately trying not to get into the textbook explanations of what being an introvert means so that I can give a practical account, which I hope will give a better picture of what it means to be an introvert in a black African culture.

As I indicated in my previous post, my colleagues and in fact many others around struggle to understand a person who a psychological framework would describe as an introvert. In our culture we don’t have a name or label for it.

We often describe a person who is introverted as “shy, anxious, quiet” and sometimes descriptions can veer into the negatives like being “cold, proud, weird and self centered”. And this point of view for me is understandable given our dominant way of relating which is communal and vibrant.

In our traditional settings, we grow in large extended family structures with many shared activities. And I think this makes it easier for an introvert to “hide” or camouflage. They go with the flow and many times piggyback on the energy of the extroverts in the group.

Modern life however, creates opportunities for people to individuate and gives some space for introverts to operate at their default settings. There are more avenues to drift into inner sources of re-energizing and re-charging because prolonged social interaction and exposure to too much stimulation can become exhausting.

Unfortunately, due to our lack of knowledge and understanding of the different wirings and needs of people around us, misunderstandings and hostilities are inevitable. I have observed how some of my colleagues and friends are more introverted really struggle to fit in, face isolation and other prejudices. And this makes it hard for them to participate in some of our social platforms.

The short of this tale is that introverts are not anti-social or aliens in our pre-set ways of relating. When they retreat into their corners, not calling or other things that different kinds of introverts do, its best to just let it be instead of trying to push them into a prescriptive or acceptable way of being. I have often seen how insightful, funny and lively my fellow kin are when they come out of their shells. It’s entertaining to observe.

The point is that being a black African is not a homogenous “loud and outgoing” experience. We have many ways of being and relating and its important to include all voices in our interactions. That’s what the spirit of Ubuntu is all about.

God bless Africa!



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