Rejecting likability is hard.
Part of it is systemic in that as a woman I’ve been taught (implicitly and explicitly) to be “nice” so that men will find me useful/attractive/worthy .But it’s also deeply personal. I am an outgoing, gregarious, and extremely social extrovert. Folks tend to be drawn to that and I make friends easily. It’s almost a superpower.
Seriously. Invite me to your wedding or party and I am guaranteed to make friends with all of your friends. They’ll even ask you about me afterwards. Strangers tell me their life stories, folks look me up on FB after one meeting so that we can stay connected, even parents love me (and don’t worry exes, you’ll be back and your parents will continue to wonder “whatever happened to that nice girl…).
I am, it seems, infinitely likable.
Until, I’m not, or course, which generally happens when people get to know me (or I accept their friend request on FB). Suddenly, my posts about racism, sexism, relationships, and Jesus are in their feed and they are confronted with the fact that the smiling, laughing, fun girl from that wedding is a multi-dimensional complex human being. Or when folks are in my inbox or my comments section with nonsense and I set boundaries or tell them–maybe not politely –to go away. Black girl magic and yaass queens are great until the black girl isn’t nice to you –until that magic means “I’m not remotely interested” in talking to you or no, I don’t wish to explain racism to you.
That’s when the disappointment sets in. And I get the lectures about “being nicer” or “being too pretty to be this way” or “you know, you really should think about being a better role model,” “or too intelligent to be so intractable,” or, my favorite, “you’re just so angry and it’s really sad.” All things that people have said to me when they found out I’m not the “nice” and “likable” girl that they first met.
This year has been particularly awful in some respects. I’ve been told at work that I speak really strongly ( habla muy duro) and people think I’m angry when I am speaking –apparently just my “tone” is offensive. Do you know how many times this year I’ve had to say “this is how I talk — I talk like this in English.” Too many. Sometimes I’d like to yell: I don’t have an attitude or “tone” — I’m just black. Of course, when I am not “hablando muy duro” then I am basically flirting with everyone. I am always between a rock and an unwinnable place.
And this unwinnable place makes me realize that what I have learned most in this too-long year is that I have got to be me. I’ve got to be myself –not the lite/diet version or the abridged edition, but the full and extended version. The one that includes the oh-so-likable girl that folks first meet and the girl who tells you to get out of her inbox with your married, ugly self. There are many dimensions to being oneself and those dimensions don’t need to be shushed, or hidden, or shamed away.They need to be accepted and integrated into the entirety of who you are.
To be clear, when you first meet me, it isn’t an act or veneer. That’s who I really am. But I am also a woman deeply concerned about oppression and justice, a woman who believes that her voice matters and that she has every right to speak in the voice that she chooses. I’m also the woman who will clap back and tell you about yourself if you stray from your lane. None of those things are mutually exclusive and all can coexist in my one black body whether or not anyone finds them particularly likable or valuable.
So, I am determined to live out loud in the totality of who Iam. I will persist in being my full and unrepentant self no matter how many times I am yelled at in public for doing so. I refuse to play the unwinnable game of choosing parts of myself so that other people can feel more comfortable around me.