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Why I Don’t Use the Term Imposter Syndrome as a Woman of Color

Imposter syndrome is a word that has gained popularity over the past few years. While this word was originally coined in 1970 by two psychologists, the word has been used to identify or recognize the lack of trust and ability in one’s own skills. It can be defined as self doubt, questioning your capabilities, and seeing yourself as lesser than those around you. A lot of women have come forward saying that they’ve experienced imposter syndrome at a variety of levels. Some say that they feel imposter syndrome on the job, while others say they feel it within their interpersonal lives. But as a woman of color I stay away from this word. But why do I choose not to use the word imposter syndrome?

Well, for one, when the study was originally done in the 1970s it focused on a specific group of women. These were women who were either in roles of authority at the workplace, or women who were established and were upper middle class. So many women were left out of the study, women who would be important voices at the table. When speaking about imposter syndrome, the original term just focused on predominantly white educated women. If these women, who already were in positions of power in comparison to other women, were facing imposter syndrome, what would we say a woman who didn’t have the same social status?

Because the study excluded many women, especially women of color, I don't like to use the word imposter syndrome because what we experience is deeper than that. Not only can there be a lack of confidence in our abilities just because we’re women, but it can also be related to aspects of race, like how we speak, how we dress, and how we believe the world to perceive us. We don’t feel doubt because of our own confidence in our abilities, but because we believe others are doubting us before we have a chance to prove ourselves.

So for this reason I don’t use the word imposter syndrome. For one when I have those thoughts of doubt in my mind I quickly redirect my thoughts. Because the world is already perceiving me in one way so why should I succumb to it? It is hard, don’t get me wrong being in a position of power, or having a seat at the table in a world that you know you do not come from or you had no insight into. This can lead you to believe that you are not as capable and qualified as others. But I know that while my experience is unique and while my hurdles and battles are also unique, I am hoping to create and shape a path for other women who are like me to not have to face the same hurdles. While there will always be certain aspects of being a woman of color that will lead us to believe that we are at a disadvantage that is simply not true. We are more than capable, more than confident and more than knowledgeable to be able to tackle these things head on.

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