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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 https://thecurrentmsu.com/2021/06/22/racial-imposter-syndrome/

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.