During my first few weeks of college, I had one objective and one objective only — don’t be the quiet one. My quietness had followed me around all of my life, and I was finally ready to rid myself of its burden. I told myself that wherever I went, my presence would be known and quiet was the last word people would think of when they were reminded of me.

While I had never been a shy person, I was always undeniably introverted, and every introverted person knows the struggle of being deemed quiet. Friends forcefully attempt to pry you out of your reserved nature. Strangers feel obliged to investigate you after the inevitable “why are you so quiet?” Family members even introduce you with a warning, as if your quietness is something to be feared.

With time, I found myself trying to overcompensate in social situations, going to outings I wasn’t particularly interested in and joining discussions for the sake of having my voice heard. However, despite these efforts, my quietness always found ways to manifest itself. In one instance, a classmate even explained that I didn’t “act like a black girl” because I was too quiet.

Living in a world full of praise for those who are loud, proud and opinionated can sometimes make it feel as if quietness is a burden. For black girls, stereotypes about being sassy and outspoken make the burden seem twice as heavy.

Growing up, I felt there was a standard of outspokenness I had to live up to. In everywhere from television to politics, the only images of black women I saw were images of lively, extroverted, and bold women. If there was a quiet girl, she wasn’t black, and she definitely didn’t represent me.

Outspokenness isn’t a quality to look down upon, and even the quietest of people have moments where their hearts move them to speak out on something. However, it is harmful to uphold all women to a racialized ideal, especially when that ideal is used to measure someone’s proximity to their racial group.

For one, doing so leads to alienation and overcompensation. Being set apart as someone who didn’t “act like a black girl” fueled my own efforts to step out of my introverted nature. Not only was I internally and externally embattled, but I felt efforts to be more vocal were tied to efforts to reclaim my blackness.

In addition, accepting positive or neutral stereotypes about people opens the door to accepting negative stereotypes. Outspokenness, as an example, can quickly be associated with anger. Throughout college, it was common to hear stories from black women who were reluctant to be outspoken in class because they didn’t want to be seen as angry or overemotional.

I began to accept my introversion when I realized that no matter how outward or how inward my personality was, there would always be someone who would view me through the lens of the stereotypes they’ve encountered. Embracing my true nature instead of the one others expected me to have not only made me feel more in tune with my blackness, but it made my blackness my own.

When it comes down to it, there is not a one-size-fits-all label for black women. A person’s lack or excess of vocalness is not a measure of their blackness. Black women come in a range of vocalness, a range of energy and a range of disposition. We’re black when we’re outspoken. We’re still black when we’re not.

The outspoken ones, the quiet ones and the ones who seem to navigate between all have important things to say — you just have to be willing to listen.