Lights, camera, action. The spotlight gleams down on me. What do I say?
Sure, my blackness typecasts me as aggressively outspoken, even though my occasional moments of shyness and social awkwardness prevent me from navigating within this narrative. A common rhetorical tactic that is upheld in the black community is the premise that young girls should be seen and not heard. This narrative was heavily consumed in my household, which raised me to believe that my voice was trivial compared to my male counterparts. The Sapphire archetype of anger and the Jezebel archetype of sexuality failed to align with my shy persona. At a young age, I developed an inferiority complex. This is one of the effects of teaching young girls to keep quiet.
For a long time, my antisocial personality hindered me from venturing outside of my comfort zone, primarily in my community. Family members would praise my mother for raising quiet girls, though my gender role aligned shyness with spitefulness. My peers thought I was stained with evil intent whenever I refused to participate in a mutual conversation. This determined the opportunities I aligned myself with throughout my secondary education.
My palms sweat and perspiration illuminates on my mahogany complexion as the crowd looks up at me. My tongue becomes twisted, which prevents clear words from escaping my lips.
Possibly, this began with a lisp that I discovered while watching some old family videos. My mother documented countless childhood moments, and in these videos, I usually heard a nasal voice. When the camcorder was directed towards me, the nasal voice belonged to me. Obviously, I was not in shock since there was always immense speculation regarding my speech impediment. Whenever I navigated within my social and cultural spaces, I would be perceived as a misanthrope, which prevented people from socializing with me. This label often employed the mentally ill trope, which simultaneously dehumanized me and questioned my blackness.
Weaving together my identities of being black and woman, accompanied by my lack of being social, is not only a threat to myself, but a threat to the black community. Audre Lorde was among the first who said that your silence will not protect you. Constantly, I am bombarded by images of police brutality and European aesthetics that restrict black navigation within America. While my brothers and sisters are actively forming grassroots organizations and protesting against racial injustice, my shyness restrains me behind this computer screen and on this invisible stage, only wondering, “what do I say?” Although my mouth falters to speak out, my writing serves as a continuing stage to regain my sense of voice.
The audience stares back at me and mumbles to themselves about my unorthodox demeanor that leads them to question my humanity. Their voices mock my nervousness while embedding in me a lack of pride in my speech. My legs stiffen as I look down at the written text that I have prepared in place of my lack in oratory.
Aligning written words with my tone has always been my forte. By writing, I am able to establish a counter narrative of my blackness that disclaims preexisting stereotypes of shyness and establishes an authentic narrative of what blackness is. Although shyness has some “submissive undertones,” my activism through writing reaffirms my ability to stand up for my blackness and to echo with a tone that I am unapologetically black.
In this moment, I am finished with my speech regarding the daily injustices that the black community face. I walk off stage to pin the speech on my blog called Sistaz Slayin’.
I realize that shyness is rarely talked about in the black community, but it does serve as one of many deterrents to getting involved in social justice movements, more specifically in the ones that occur on my campus. Even though the stereotypes created to aid in white comfort work to my disadvantage, as they do the entire black community, my silence will not keep me safe. With writing, I am able to create an unspoken activism and prove that words can be more powerful than the sword. And that’s a wrap.
Jessica Morgan is a senior at the University of Alabama. She will receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in African American Studies with a minor in Women’s Studies in May. She runs a blog called Sistaz Slayin’, which focuses on an appreciation of black women aesthetics, and a poetry site called WANNABE POETIC GENIUS. In her future, she plans to pursue two Master’s Degrees in Women’s Studies and Public Health to focus on the growing health disparities in minority women in America, specifically the South. In her spare time, she enjoys writing poetry and binge watching old television shows.