Anti-Black Racism Social Planning and Equity

The Skin I’m In: Experiences of Racial Imposter Syndrome

Working from an equity lens is hard work in of itself. I am a self-taught equity professional looking to apply my work in a municipal government setting. But I am on a journey myself. While I am a racialized person, I still come with privileges. I am a straight male, white-passing, and university educated. I have not have had the lived experiences of someone whose colour is different from mine and having to have their backs up because of how racialized people are perceived. But even Even then, I continue to go through racial imposter syndrome.

Racial imposter system runs deep for multiracial people. Some of us feel fake, and inauthentic in their identity and sometimes can cause mental health challenges. So what is racial imposter syndrome? It is best described as:

(T)he feeling of self doubt when one’s internal racial identity doesn’t match others’ perception of their racial identity, or the feeling when a multiracial/mixed person doesn’t believe they belong to any part of their racial identity. The feeling of being at home is often lost because individuals’ lived experiences are more unique and complex than their monoracial counterparts or those with a more homogeneous culture. This makes it hard for an individual to connect and engage with the communities with which they identify. 

Source: Mai Vang – The Current

According to Jennifer Cheang from Mental Health America, multiracial individuals face colorism, exclusion and isolation, lack of representation, and privilege. I mentioned in previous blog posts that I am biracial and grew up in social housing. I was socialized in White communities yet experienced countless microaggressions several times throughout my youth and professional life. My lived experiences are definitely unique and where I sometimes question the work is something I am meant to be doing, especially in how identity is rooted in how others are seeing me.

I am a self-taught equity professional since the educational structures and systems in place were oppressive, biased and filled with systemic biases. While I briefly learned about human rights in my courses, I did not learn about the racial trauma that exists for Black, Indigenous, racialized communities and equity-seeking groups and how they were perpetuated through policies and programs. In addition, graduated with Bachelor degrees from X (Ryerson) University, to which its namesake was Egerton Ryerson, was the architect of the residential school system. I did not learn of this until taking a workshop on reconciliation nearly 10 years ago. Only now has X University become accountable and have decided to start the process of renaming its institution.

I have not been around a community who has experienced racial imposter syndrome. In the past, I received criticism for not understanding the plight of the Black community through my own actions or received backlash from White people because I speak up on racial and social equity. This issue is a struggle I continue to experience and deal with personally and professionally.

The inconsistencies of the social construct of race, as Tamia Adolph states, are evident for multiracial people when they find themselves in between the spaces of culture, identity and belonging. Further to this, as a male with strong voice and stature, some people have come to expect a more sensitive and demure personality. As I navigate these systems, while coming to grips with my own racial imposter syndrome, I would certainly hope that my work will become beneficial to others. I have always wanted to give back talking about my lived experiences and mentoring those who require the space to do the work.

Overcoming racial imposter syndrome continues to be challenging. Talking about it is one thing. Coping with it is another. It is about embracing the skin we are in. It is complicated for us while we are trying to be authentic. Secondly, it is about speaking our truth because while I do not have the lived experiences of a monoracial Black person, I will defend those with the experiences of others by listening and learning. Third, it is about showing up. My contributions are valid and some are the others of racialized people and those from equity seeking groups. I will continue to engage in those discussions. Finally, overcoming racial imposter syndrome is about being courageous. It is one thing for those who are attempting to bring diversity and equity by being morally courageous, and then becoming tired of talking now only my lived experiences as a biracial person but also the experiences of others when talking about equity and inclusion. We belong in the same discussions.

Are you someone who experiences racial imposter syndrome? Do you have professional dilemmas? Let’s have this discussion, especially among equity professionals.

Anti-Black Racism Leadership Organizational Change, Justice and Leadership Social Planning and Equity

Organizational change must include equity and inclusion

I am nearing the end of completing graduate courses in the Masters of Public Administration in Local Government at Western University.  I began the program in 2015 having taken a sabbatical in 2016 due to personal circumstances only to return in 2020. Although I have saved some money from not travelling back and forth to London, learning in an online environment has been highly challenging.  Certainly, several of the other students in my cohort have felt the same.

Image courtesy of IPAC

At the same time, it has allowed me to focus on professional development racial equity and organizational change management and leadership. The latter has been a passing interest of mine for well over a decade. Now it has become a passion. My purpose is still to lead change with a racial equity lens.  Over the last few months, while being immersed in 5 courses, I attended several webinars related to racial equity and organizational change: the Institute of Public Administration (IPAC) Leadership Summit and American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) Annual Conference.

The effervescent Daniele Zanotti, the CEO of United Way of Greater Toronto, moderated one of the panels at the IPAC Leadership that related to putting an effective EDI Strategy into action.  The panel consisted of Nosa Era-Brown, Dr. Malinda Smith and Nouman Ashraf.

A two-word phrase from Nouman Ashraf resonated with me: culture collaboration.  Cultural fit or adds, have been problematic as they are known to expose conscious or unconscious biases. Some organizations, as part of their inclusion efforts are recognizing the need for collaboration.  There is proof that inclusiveness at an organization enhances performance and employee career longevity. Many organizations rely on multidisciplinary teams comprised of a collective of women and men, those from racialized communities, and are intergenerational.  Organizations should be moving away from partnerships to influencing and shaping cultural collaboration.  Organizations should be paying close attention to their values and behaviours and backup up their commitment to improving their workplace culture by allowing for authenticity.  Leaders should showcase their organizational effectiveness.

The theme of the ASPA conference was Picking Up the Pieces: Protests, Pandemics and the Future of Public Service. 

Image courtesy of ASPA

The streams that interested me, naturally, were related to equity, inclusion and organizational change.  While this an academic conference, several presentations were relatable.  The presentations that interested me centred around the following:

  • Equity in budgeting
  • Representative bureaucracy and organizational performance
  • Employee outcomes of working remotely
  • Structural inequity in the public sector
  • Cross-sector collaboration
  • Diversity and inclusion in city management

 Some takeaways from these sessions were that:

  • The politics-administration dichotomy must be rethought.  There is a disconnect from public value and the politics, especially where inclusion and equity are concerned
  • Reframe budget submissions to include equity.  A perfect example is in policing.  Rather than the full-out “defund the police” narrative, look at each item in the police budget to determine where the most money is spent. Then determine if that money can be spent in other areas such as community and social services.
  • As with my earlier point, organizational performance thrives when equity and inclusion are part of the equation.  It is not about “fit” anymore.
  • Equity initiatives must reach up, down and outside of the organization.  Community engagement is just as crucial as having CAOs/City Managers understand and trained on the importance of equity, inclusion and justice within the various government agencies.

Overall, organizational change that includes equity and inclusion is a long-term process.  It requires the commitment of political and administrative leaders to see this through.  Justice does not end until the nervousness of public managers ceases and when communities can thrive equitably.