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Imposter Syndrome Part 2: Linguistic Deception

I have recently encountered the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ in greater detail than I’d known it before, leading me to consider the collective implications in the context of our white supremacist society. The ‘Imposter Syndrome’ includes a set of feelings and beliefs which lead to a sense that the person is an imposter: that she has not really earned the benefits which she has acquired. IS is generally thought to be more common among women, especially women of color, and among ‘high-performing’ (ie, professional/white collar) women.

Some traits of IS are:

For the purposes of this essay, I will focus on #2: Attributing success to external factors.

EXAMPLE OF WHITE PRIVILEGE: Publishing

In order to illustrate the basic conflict inherent in a zero-sum society and the way in which this leads to actively unacknowledged privilege for white people, I will use an example from the world of publishing (Lee and Low Diversity Survey, 2019, https://blog.leeandlow.com/2020/01/28/2019diversitybaselinesurvey/) using the specific parameter of ‘Industry Overall,’ collapsing race (76% white) and gender (74% cis women) since these numbers are close (75%).

White women: 30% US population; 75% representation in publishing. 75/30 = 2.5

Black: 14% US population; 5% representation in publishing. 5/14 = 0.36

These objective numbers indicate that white women are OVER-represented at 2.5x their percentage in the overall population while Black are UNDER-represented by a factor of 0.36. Indigenous peoples are essentially not even counted, at less than 1%, despite being the Native peoples of the land.

What could account for over-representation of white women? If there are LIMITED numbers of positions, which is a ZERO-SUM situation and our reality in the US publishing world, when white women are OVER-represented, who is UNDER-represented? Everyone else.

1. White women are just superior writers, publishers, editors, and critics, which would account for this ‘normative,’ SIGNIFICANT disparity between her white representation and that of others; she is just superior.

OR:

2. White women are extrinsically privileged by a white supremacist society and are given these privileges on an extrinsic basis at the expenses of other women’s actual intrinsic performances.

Implicit in our society’s acceptance of this massive disparity is that white women deserve to be OVER-represented, that they earned it. The above underlines BASIC RIVALRY: someone must lose for others to win. Whether or not ‘zero-sum’ is desirable is not the central issue; the central issue is that zero-sum is real and that it determines not only white false success but predicates it upon BIWOC false failure.

Are white women 2.5x better than women of color, or are they EXTRINSICALLY privileged, NOT meritorious?

If we assume that people of different races and ethnicities should be represented at rates similar to that in the larger population, then white women are receiving EXTRINSIC benefits due to white privilege at a rate of 60%. That is, 60% of the time, white women have been privileged and 40% of the time they have earned it.

Yet, EACH of these white women believes that she is the one who EARNED it, each and every time. This is a significant divergence from objective reality, and it appears to be shared by a wide swathe of white women in America: they believe they ‘earned’ it with their ‘merit,’ despite objective evidence to the contrary.

For each 2 white women who earned it, 3 DID NOT, yet she is taking that space in the publishing industry due to false attribution. She is giving herself more credit than she deserves.

Attribution Theory

Attribution theory falls under the general purview of psychology and “deals with how the social perceiver uses information to arrive at causal explanations for events. It examines what information is gathered and how it is combined to form a causal judgment”. Studies indicate that people tend to give themselves credit for successes and blame external events for failures. These studies also indicate that people tend to give others’ successes external attribution while blaming others for their failures.

Attribution theory describes the basic tendency of human beings to express narcissism, especially under conditions of stress such as zero-sum circumstances. The publishing world is extremely competitive — overtly zero-sum — and thus clearly expresses not only extremes of white privilege but also the tendency to attribute falsely: to give oneself credit where it is not due if one is a member of that privileged (ie, externally gifted) group.

An individual who is privileged by the larger society will receive unjust benefits from that larger society regardless of whether or not she wants them. On the other hand, individuals who are demeaned and humiliated by the larger society — BIWOCS, and especially African-Americans — will be deprived of those benefits. This is the baseline established by dominance and oppression: that the individuals in the oppressor group will benefit by default, on cruise control.

As a result, unless these white women ACTIVELY choose to perceive their rewards objectively — as PRIMARILY (2 of 3 times) extrinsically and unjustly gifted rather than meritoriously ‘earned,’ they implicitly support white supremacy through inaction and silence. The objective statistics indicate that she is unjustly favored 2 times for every one time that she actually earns it: shouldn’t she focus on the favoritism, since it happens more often?

Why do white women give themselves the benefit of the doubt 2x more often than they should based on objective statistics? Why do they favor themselves to such an extreme, despite reality?

Linguistic Deception

I refer to Martin DeCoder’s youtube series with regard to linguistic deception and criminal behaviors. For the purposes of this essay, I focus on distancing language/behavior; specifically the way in which criminals construct an entity outside themselves in order to shirk responsibility of their behaviors (‘the devil made me do it’). This distancing operates tactically to absolve the criminal of his behaviors, which is the root problem of evil: abrogation of responsibility/humility. As a result, ‘Mr Hyde’ is not really Dr. Jekyll — he is an outside force, and the criminal a ‘victim’ of that force. The criminal distances himself from his crime.

Generally speaking, I note that people who are unwilling to take responsibility for their behaviors distance themselves from the reality of their behaviors by creating another entity of some sort.

White women’s perception of the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ as relevant to them is an example of creating another entity in order to absolve themselves of actual imposter behavior.

The Imposter Syndrome v. Actual Imposter Behavior

The example above re publishing indicates that white women are OVER-represented and, as a result, BIWOCs are UNDER-represented, as we would expect of a zero-sum context.

That is, white women give themselves intrinsic, meritorious credit for what is actually an extrinsically, unjustly gifted benefit 2 of 3 times on a statistical basis.

As a result, when white women claim the ‘Imposter Syndrome,’ they DISTANCE themselves from their actual hoarding behaviors as a collective group. In essence, white women create an entity called ‘Imposter Syndrome’ which exists OUTSIDE of them and which will delete legitimate feelings of a guilty conscious.

On the other hand, BIWOCs are ACTUALLY UNDER-represented, on the basis of reality: of large-scale, national statistical studies, not just ‘feelings’ of ‘low self-esteem.’

There is congruence between BIWOC’s ‘Imposter Syndrome’ — the constant denigration and diminishment we endure through under-representation as objectively indicated by statistics– and our feelings of low self-esteem. Essentially, we are part of a (white supremacist) system that denigrates us and wants us to have low self-esteem.

There is INCONGRUENCE between white women’s alleged ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and the fact that she is objectively, statistically OVER-represented at an extreme rate: that she is favored TWICE as often as she actually performs. White women should question their alleged achievements as a result of this objective reality. Instead, they create an entity outside themselves that allows them to shirk responsibility for ACTUAL imposter behaviors: she received reward that is not hers.

As a reminder, here are the parameters which she shirks instead of shouldering:

These above indicators of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ are reality — not ‘syndrome’ — for privileged white women: they SHOULD attribute their success to external factors twice for each time they give themselves credit. They SHOULD berate and question their performances if they are constantly receiving rewards they are not earning. How can they realistically assess anything — never mind skills or competence — when they are not even attached to reality? They should take responsibility for their privilege which, in some contexts, actively damages and silences others.

Summary Sequence of Narcissism/Abrogation of Responsibility:

1.Hoard: OVER-representation

2.DISTANCE: create EXTERNAL entity that justifies unjust privileging: white women’s ‘Imposter Syndrome.’

3. Abrogate responsibility for unjust privilege that ultimately deforms and diminishes BIWOC opportunity.

In order to take responsibility, white women would acknowledge over-representation and INTERNALIZE her actual imposter status — she has GAINED at the expense of another. She SHOULD attribute her ‘success’ to external factors rather than shirking responsibility by creating a false entity, ‘IS.’ This self-deception allows her to feel that her justifiable guilty conscious is a psychological derangement when it reflects actual (!) engagement with morals. White women who have a guilty conscious likely understand that, generally, they ARE receiving benefits more often due to privilege than due to performance/merit, which makes them ACTUAL imposters.

Actual imposters are imposters: it is not the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ — or any other devil — that made her do it.

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Mia George

She/Her: Distort lies until they amplify truth. CryBaby: As loud as necessary.