For Black Women, This Sudden Feeling of Validation Leaves Us Overwhelmed

Imposter syndrome is defined as feeling like a fraud or a phony in your profession, despite your education. People who suffer from this feel like their success is not meritocratic, but actually luck. So how do you tell someone who previously wasn’t valued in their profession that new, abundant opportunities aren’t due to pure luck from being the flavor of the moment?

Compliments have always made me uncomfortable. I don’t mean one or two, but being constantly flooded with them feels like a gratuitous participation prize. This is what it’s been like for me the last couple of months. When the pandemic started, I was furloughed and tapping into my writing skills to make ends meet. The build up was slow, but after George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests began, I felt like editors who previously did not respond to my pitches suddenly wanted to hear from me, and they all wanted me to discuss Blackness. With that high demand has come imposter syndrome.

I love the amplification of Black voices, and that we are now seen as valuable, but I never thought I’d become an expert on Blackness. This is a sentiment that’s been echoed by many Black professionals, and it is something that Philadelphia-based psychotherapist Saleemah McNeil has been coaching a lot of her clients through.

She explains, “When you’re being valued at a rate that you weren’t used to before, especially when it comes suddenly, it’s hard. Although you’ve done the work, psychologically, you feel that you’re not worthy of the accolade.”

That is exactly how insidious it is. It makes us feel unworthy. Many places of work have claimed that they’ve always strived for diversity, but often what they are promoting instead is tokenism. McNeil doesn’t think that’s what we are seeing at this moment, but instead actual change that could have a ripple effect across industries. “Knowing that these corporations are doing the internal work, [saying] ‘This was a problem. We should have more Black models, more Black writers, more Black doctors. Let’s do away with affirmative action, and actually look at the diversity of our company, of our education system. Let’s look at the whole picture.'”

That does not mean that Black professionals aren’t struggling to find their place in the movement, or not grappling with whether or not they are “cashing in” on tragedy. Philadelphia-based hair stylist Victoria McCutcheon has these types of discussions daily with clients while they sit in her chair, some even detailing people giving them money out of the blue or tipping above and beyond. “It’s hard to determine if the extra attention is coming from a place of guilt or genuine remorse, but I’m sure my ancestors are saying ‘Get the bag, sis.’ I think the recognition is a necessary takeaway.”

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