Imposter syndrome is “A psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” Imposter syndrome affects women more frequently than men and women of color more frequently than white women. I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome most of my adult life. I have been the “only” or one of a “few” black women in many arenas. One thing I have learned about being the unique one in the room, there is not a lot of positive reinforcement. Most believe that I got there because I am a black woman and not because I earned my position. The problem with not receiving positive reinforcement is that you end up having the bad habit doubting your own accomplishments. White men are constantly positively reinforced with the idea that they are smart, leaders, and belong. That’s why they are less likely to suffer from imposter syndrome. But black women? Positive reinforcement is almost unheard of.
The other thing that contributes to imposter syndrome in black women is the fact that black women are told we can only be successful by playing by the rules. Rules are always strictly applied to black women and people of color in general. White men bend the rules constantly to achieve success and it’s widely accepted as normal. The problem with this is that so many black women, including myself “play by the rules” and are not rewarded with the same level of success that white men are are. Consider how we got this illegitimate president and how many rules he has broken and continues to break. He is a white male, it’s perfectly normal for white men to cheat and steal their way to success. They have done so for generations. And they are still viewed as “leaders.” They are positively reinforced in their bad behavior as much as their good behavior. That’s why they don’t suffer from imposter syndrome the way black women and people of color do.
Despite playing by the rules black women and women of color are still not viewed as leaders. We are attacked for even stepping into leadership roles. Just look at how the illegitimate president has launched a campaign of hatred towards the four Congresswomen who are also women of color. His attacks are deliberately expressing that these women do not belong as leadership. Our leadership and success is constantly held in a light of false illegitimacy. So even when we play by the rules if we don’t achieve success we feel we have done something wrong. If we do achieve success we are told we don’t belong. Our presence in leadership and success is always negatively reinforced. No matter what we do, we are told we don’t deserve it or we don’t belong.
The other problem with not receiving positive reinforcement is that we often do not receive it from our own support systems i.e. our own families. Sadly many of us not only have to fight the outside forces saying we can’t be successful, we also have to fight right in our own families. Imposter syndrome is often projected onto us by the very people who look like us. That’s because they themselves suffer from imposter syndrome. They don’t believe success is possible for them so it also can’t be possible for you.
Imposter syndrome is hard to avoid in a world that constantly says to me that as a black woman there is no way I could have accomplished what I have accomplished. Deep down inside I know this is not true, I know my accomplishments are my own however, I still struggle with accepting that I have done some amazing things and overcome some very difficult obstacles in my lifetime. I am a graduate of two prestigious universities, I am a published author, I am the creator behind multiple successful brands and websites, my work has contributed to some very big businesses and individuals, I have volunteered and donated to many causes, and so much more. And I will continue to do amazing things and overcome difficult obstacles. I was built to win, so I will. Even with knowing these things about myself I have to fight the little voice inside that tries to tell me that I am not successful, that I am not doing well, that my success is just luck, not my own work. Yes, I struggle and fight that voice constantly but I have to remember who I am, every day, just so I keep going forward.
I am writing this blog for two reasons, one, to help myself fight through my own doubt and the second, to help other black women and other women of color by giving you some positive reinforcement. We don’t hear it enough.
So ladies I am writing these words to you and myself: You do belong. You are a leader. You earned your spot. You are the smartest person in the room. You deserve success. You are powerful. Keep going, You got this!
And if the naysayers don’t like it, tell them I said to “kick rocks!”