Does anyone out there think that Black women sometimes come across as … very serious and hard to pin down to a pleasant casual conversation? I think so. After a few encounters with several Black women in another department at my company, I think many of us project a ‘don’t come hither’ vibe unknowingly. It dampens pleasant mornings, hinders friendships from forming, and (since we’re blogging about relationships) dissuades eligible bachelors from other races and ethnic groups from getting their hopes up with us.
Here is what happened.
A few weeks ago, I went to the kitchen at my office to wash my coffee mug. Another woman, from accounts payable, I think, was there doing the same. I gave her a bright, brisk “hello,” and we had a nice casual conversation. I thought all was fine, until she explained that she was relieved I was being so friendly, because she previously thought I didn’t like her.
Here we go again, I thought. Some other thin-skinned character claims I’ve snubbed her. I heaved a big sigh, inwardly, and asked, “Why do you say that?” She explained that on a few occasions, she has tried to exchange pleasantries with me in the morning or what have you, but that I never responded. I didn’t think it was worth creating any animosity with this woman by asking her “Are you sure? Maybe you misread me.” Instead, I apologized if I came across as rude. Her whole demeanor changed. She started talking about my beautiful smile and all that. So we finished our ‘chores’ and went back to our separate departments.
Reader, this does not surprise me, because I am a very serious person at work. It takes more than a few months for me to start chatting people up and making acquaintances. Unless the other person and I have an instant rapport, I make polite conversation and dole out small bits of information about my personal life until I feel at ease about being more open. But to ignore a hello from someone, especially if that person said it loud enough for me to hear? Well, that’s highly unlikely. Only if someone has horrid and insufferable, or is closely related to someone like that, do I really keep my distance.
But then something else happened a few days later. I started getting warmer, brighter smiles from her colleagues whenever I passed them in the halls or what have you. On the Friday before Mother’s Day, one of them invited a friend to stage a costume jewelry sale in one of the lower conference rooms. I saw them as I was heading to the same kitchen to wash that same coffee mug. I went in, because the mood seemed really casual. As I was picking through the stuff, this other woman made the same claim, that she was relieved I was being so friendly and she previously thought I didn’t like her.
OK. Look. I don’t know who has been saying what about me in accounts payable, but this whole claim that I ‘don’t like them’ is a crock. And anyway, Paige Turner is not the office ice queen up in here. Why was I being tried for bitchcraft in their little court, especially after I’ve had several nice little exchanges with at least a couple other ladies in that same department? Couldn’t someone testify on my behalf before someone slammed down the gavel on me?
And then I started to calm down and think about what this says of Black women and our different relationships. The women who seemed to have me pegged as unfriendly all have Caribbean accents. Wouldn’t doubt if two of them are Jamaican. I think it is far, far easier to make friends with Americans than it is with Jamaicans, because in many cases our mothers admonished us to “mind who you keep company with.” And so we learned to go through school, work, the mall etc., being very discerning when choosing our friends and boyfriends (eventually husbands). When it came to the workplace, we were told to do a great job, get promoted, not to make fools of ourselves and to mind our own business. It took me a long time to get on friendly terms with a couple of other Jamaican women in the office, but that’s just the way it is. They were always absorbed in their work. I never thought I was less likable because a couple of editors were taking a while to learn my name.
Being a journalist also works against me. This is a demanding profession, with long hours and exacting standards. One is always pressed for creative story ideas, penetrating reporting, precision with any and all facts, smart analysis and firm deadlines. Sometimes, you get editors with volatile dispositions, which makes coming to work everyday unpleasant. The other journalists I see around the office are usually pre-occupied with deadlines throughout the day. Every now and then, I come across a woman who is especially prone to withdrawing into her own little world, becoming so lost in her thoughts that she will pass within inches of me without so much as looking in my direction or even being aware that I’m there. I’ve never been that extreme, but I will own up to coming across as serious and unapproachable. That was especially the case up until last November, for various reasons that I won’t talk about.
Let’s assume that thousands of other Black women have my temperament, and have kept office friendships at bay with their sharp, all-business expressions. How much more discouraging have we been toward guys who don’t necessarily know how to approach us, but might want to try?