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Emotional Wellness

Racial Imposter Syndrome: How To Approach It

Everyone is unique and has individual experiences. But for many people of color or other minorities in the US, race is an emotionally fragile subject. This is oftentimes due to the behavior of both people of their race and others. Put simply, some people of color and minority individuals feel like they don’t fit anywhere. They often have conflicting feelings about their identities, their desires, and whether or not they “belong” in the racial groups that others assign to them. Today, let’s explore racial imposter syndrome, how to approach it, and what to do if you feel like you’ve experienced it yourself. 

What Is Racial Imposter Syndrome?

Standard imposter syndrome is essentially the feeling that you aren’t deserving of something, whether it’s a relationship, a promotion at work, your general position in life, or something else entirely. Someone experiencing imposter syndrome usually has low self-esteem, may fear rejection such that they don’t attempt new things, and can have other symptoms. It’s tough to live with imposter syndrome in general! But people of color or biracial individuals can experience a unique form of this emotional state called racial imposter syndrome.

Racial imposter syndrome is the feeling that you don’t “count” as a particular race or cultural group member. For example, a biracial Asian American person might have racial imposter syndrome if they feel or are told they aren’t a “real” Asian. In many cases, racial imposter syndrome is caused when one or more people accuse a person of not “counting” as a minority individual for one reason or another. Of course, this is a different experience for everyone. Furthermore, racial imposter syndrome can be very difficult to put into words. However, racial imposter syndrome usually comes with a few shared feelings.

Difficulty Associating With Others

Many who experience racial imposter syndrome can have difficulty associating with others, including people of a minority race or white people. Because of this, racial imposter syndrome can make it feel as though one doesn’t fit in anywhere or that one doesn’t have any group they belong to. For example, a person of color feeling racial imposter syndrome may find it difficult to associate with their cultural heritage while also feeling alienated from the majority white culture in America. This can be especially devastating in childhood and early adulthood. Many people of color or biracial people feel like they have difficulty making friends or forging long-term, deep relationships with others. They can feel “in the middle” permanently or semi-permanently, impacting their social lives years into the future.

Feeling “Fake”

Many with racial imposter syndrome also feel “fake” in some way, whether it’s how they eat, act, speak, or something else. For instance, a black person might experience racial imposter syndrome if others tell them they speak “too white” to belong to a certain Black community. Again, this ties into feeling like one doesn’t fit in anywhere. Unfortunately, people of color and white people can be guilty of causing this feeling in others.

Feeling Pressured to Behave in a Certain Way

More broadly, people with racial imposter syndrome can feel extremely pressured to behave or speak in a certain way. They might feel pressured to do this by their family members, especially older family members like parents or grandparents, classmates, friends, and even strangers. This can heavily impact a person’s career choices, college choices, friend groups, and other elements of their social experiences. In other words, racial imposter syndrome is no minor problem. It can have wide-ranging effects for a very long time.

Individual Experiences

Above all, however, it’s important to remember that racial imposter syndrome is different for everybody and that each individual has unique experiences. Therefore, racial imposter syndrome is impossible to medically or psychologically quantify: it is whatever it feels like for you. If you’ve experienced racial imposter syndrome differently than described above, remember that you are still valid. 

How Should I Approach Racial Imposter Syndrome?

Racial imposter syndrome can be very tough to deal with, especially over the long term. Both people of color and white people need to know how to approach racial imposter syndrome to prevent it from happening or help people experiencing it.

Remember Your Value

Firstly, those with racial imposter syndrome must strive to remember their value. No matter who you are, where you come from, or what your genetic makeup might be, you have value as a person. Whether you are 100% white, 50% Chinese, 25% Latino, or something else, your genetic makeup does not define you, nor does it assign you any inherent value. That comes from within! It can be tough to convince yourself of this if you are currently experiencing racial imposter syndrome. So it might be a good idea to tell yourself that you have value every night in the mirror before bed. It sounds cheesy, we know! But it really does help in many cases. The more you remind yourself that you have value that others cannot give or take away, the more you’ll be able to overcome racial imposter syndrome.

You Are Unique

Furthermore, you need to remember that you are unique and that your racial identity doesn’t define you. Although racial and cultural heritage can play an important part in personality, preferences, and other elements of your identity, they are not the only things that matter. Take two people from the same culture on the same continent, and they will have several major differences. That’s because they are unique! The same principle applies to you. The next time someone tries to claim that you are or are not part of a racial group because of something you do or something you like, push those words aside and remember: your uniqueness is what makes you great, and everyone in a given group is unique in some way.

Correct People Who Try To Put You in a Box

But you can also approach racial imposter syndrome by being proactive and aggressive at times. If someone tries to put you in a box, whether they are a white person or a member of another culture or ethnic group, don’t accept their categorization of you. Instead, correct the person causing racial imposter syndrome and don’t back down. Call on your friends and family members if necessary. It’s never fair to put a person in a box. You have value. You are unique. Your race is a part of you, whether you identify with and practice stereotypical traits or behaviors or not. Don’t let someone take that away from you; push back and show that you’re willing to stand up for yourself. This takes practice, of course. But over time, you’ll gain valuable self-confidence and feel more comfortable in your own skin. In addition, you may feel less racial imposter syndrome, especially as you get older and as you become more settled in your habits and personality quirks.

Summary

At the end of the day, only you can determine whether racial imposter syndrome affects your life. If you’ve experienced racial imposter syndrome, remember the above advice: no one can take your identity away from you, and you belong to whatever group you decide, whether you’re a person of color, a biracial individual, or anyone in between!

Understanding and accepting your identity and its facets is important to mental and emotional wellness. We know how important racial identity is for many people, so we offer other resources for those struggling with racial imposter syndrome and similar experiences. Check out 1AND1’s wellness guides and tips today.

Sources:

Feel like a fraud? | APA.org

‘Racial Impostor Syndrome’: Here Are Your Stories : Code Switch | NPR

Why Imposter Syndrome Goes Deep for Multiracial People | Mental Health America

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