How systemic racism can make you feel like an impostor

Obstacles can impact people differently. Read a quick blog from Kwasi on everyday ways that systemic racism can leave lingering impacts, and a potential way forward!

Our collective understanding of systemic racism continues to grow. We are gradually moving through the latter half of an era of reactive displays of inclusion, and into new territory that questions the status quo more critically than before. Many of us still see that much work is to be done.

With that said, I know my journey so far has been impacted by systemic racism in ways I continue to unpack. I want to focus on impostor syndrome and tokenism, as I feel many can relate to these examples.

Many can say I have a “success story” that’s still being made. Many have joked that I was a “poster boy” for the institutions I have attended. Some people may not give statements like these second thoughts, but these sayings often stick with me.

I want to recognize the Impostor Syndrome that can persist in equity seeking communities. The institutionalized “otherness” brought on by generations of exclusion. The worries of being a “token,” no matter how much your resume says otherwise.

Impostor Syndrome is the tendency of someone to doubt themselves internally, no matter what they accomplish externally. There is one finding about Impostor Syndrome that sticks out to me, as research suggests that it’s more prevalent in women and visible minorities.

This information does not surprise me. The less you see people who look like you in spaces, the more you may doubt your belonging. For me however, I find it’s my feelings about this lack of representation that continue to unsettle me. And the concept of tokenism is where it comes up most in my life.

Tokenism is a popular term that relates to representation. Tokenism means using a small number of equity-seeking individuals to portray an often-performative image of equity (i.e. a “diversity stunt”).

I know in my case, a voice in my head continues to ask the same question as a result of tokenism. It’s not really “do I deserve to be in these spaces,” but rather – “does everyone else really think I do?”

I know many people say not to care what people think. That’s the logical answer, but I am speaking to the innate emotional responses I feel in these situations. It’s one thing to know something in theory, but another to react when you’re in the situation. I find in every situation or room I’m in that lacks representation or I appear to be the exception, that question of really belonging plagues my mind.

That’s why I encourage you to remember that there are many people like me. Many like you.

We share differences, and also many similarities. Remembering our shared humanity through it all can build connection, while also leaving room for compassion. As we continue to build awareness around systemic racism, I believe a shared commitment to compassion will pave another way. A path that will gradually wash away the internalized voices of oppression many of us continue to unpack in silence.

Please note that this is an anecdotal aspect of a complex and multifaceted issue. My experiences are not a monolith for the continued traumas and challenges that people face as a result of systemic racism and oppression. I just wanted to highlight reflections in my life that were also supported by theory.

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