My grandmother was the first person to tell me being loud was an issue. She stayed with us every summer and as kids of the ‘90s, we spent our summer days outside instead of sitting in front of some type of video gaming system. So that day, just like every other day of the summer, my sister and I were outside, in our cul-de-sac, enjoying life and the unrecognized freedom of childhood. We were playing with some of our neighborhood friends, so naturally there were squeals and screams, a little bit of talking and plenty of laughter.
When we came back into the house, my grandmother pulled me to the side and mentioned that she could hear us from inside the house. I didn’t see the problem. She broke it down for me, saying something to the effect of we shouldn’t be “so loud.” But I explained to her that we were outside, using our outside voices. That’s not what she meant. She went on to tell me that being so loud in public view and earshot was “unladylike.” Now, I was very close to my grandmother and I was always one of those kids who wanted to be grown; but if being a “lady” meant I had to be quiet even when I was outside playing, I wanted no part of it. I said that I understood her and we would try to do better but in my head I thought this type of regulation was utterly ridiculous.
As I got older I came to see why she might have said this.
Being “loud” is a stereotype commonly associated with black people. We’re loud talkers, loud laughers, just innately loud beings. Of course this is not true of all black people, many of us are very soft spoken. And I’ll be the first to say that I’ve come across my fair share of loud Asians, Caucasians and Latinos too. If you’re a loud person, you’re a loud person, race doesn’t dictate volume. But the stereotype is there and some of us, like my grandmother, have really internalized it.
I just couldn’t let it get me down. By nature, I’m an introvert. I’m cordial, yet reserved around new people, most of the conversations I have throughout the day occur in my head and I’d much rather read a book than attend any type of mixer. An introvert through and through. But when I get comfortable, chile, all bets are off. I…am…loud. You might find me in the midst of an intense debate yelling and slamming my palms together to make sure the severity of my point is understood. My laughter is a force so strong it takes a complete head toss, a sprained neck and a mild ab workout to release it.
If my grandmother were still here, I suspect she would be mortified by the fact that when I’m talking or laughing in public, sometimes complete strangers stop and stare in my direction, trying to identify the source of the problem. The thing is that I just don’t care. I’m not one of those people who use volume to solicit attention from others and I know when and where it is completely inappropriate to be loud and obnoxious. But I refuse to stifle my exuberance in public, social settings just so I don’t perpetuate a stereotype. My sister, my partner in loudness, and I have this philosophy. “If someone looks at you with disgust while you’re laughing, it’s because they’re mad they’re not laughing too.”
Ironically, the same grandmother that told me it was unladylike to be loud, is the same grandmother that told me laughter is good for you. Perhaps she assumed I’d take this medicine in private spaces, where white people couldn’t judge me but that’s not how it played out.
As I’ve said several times to close friends and associates, we’ll know racism is truly a thing of the past when we, black people, can live our lives and pursue our passions without fear that we’re embarrassing the “family.” I’m certainly not there yet. There are certain things I say, songs I listen to and even things I do, that I’d never want white people to see, for fear that they may assign these moments of ignorance to the black population at large. This is not a healthy way to live my life but that doesn’t make it any less true. We all have stereotypes we just can’t allow ourselves to internalize or else we’d go crazy. I’m working towards breaking down some of those barriers in my own life by allowing myself to talk and laugh loudly in public. I’m not ready to share everything with the mainstream but I will not suppress the purity, authenticity and humanity of a loud, gut-wrenching laugh.
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