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White Women and the ‘Imposter Syndrome’

Maintaining White Supremacy Through Faux-Victimization

The Imposter Syndrome and White Supremacy

In the last year or two, I’ve been reminded about the concept of the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ by several (white) women I’ve met in collegial and professional settings. Through these discussions, I’ve noticed that the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is a description of the embedded, real-life experience of participating in the narcissism of white supremacy as a group structure. ‘Imposter Syndrome’ describes the reality of white supremacy AND illustrates the degree to which white people shirk responsibility for its continued activity.

The Imposter Syndrome

One definition of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is the “psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.:” (Clance and Langford; see Wikipedia). It tends to affect ‘higher-performing females,’ a term which is used to describe mostly professional (primarily white) women in the US. People who exhibit this phenomenon tend to ‘lack internal acknowledgement of their achievements among other behaviors, such as perfectionism’ with ‘an emphasis on self-worth.’

While I was casually reading about the Imposter Syndrome, I was surprised at how often I saw the concept of ‘attribution style’ to describe the way people with ‘Imposter Syndrome’ act: they attribute their successes externally, which leads to feelings of guilt and shame when they achieve. Yet, by definition of the syndrome itself, they are perfectionists and must achieve and ‘win.’ As a result, a fundamental conflict develops: ‘I must win, but if I win, is it because I was externally rewarded?’ For the purposes of this essay, I will focus on two descriptors of the Imposter Syndrome, especially the second one:

1.An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills

2.Attributing your success to external factors

In the gestalt, the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ describes a condition of ‘victimization.’ The person who has ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is allegedly plagued with insecurities and (apparently) unfairly criticizes herself when she should be giving herself credit! She is a Victim.

On a collective basis, because of the invention of the ‘Imposter Syndrome,’ white women are allowed to believe that the ACTUAL external attribution of her alleged ‘success’ is a result of her low self-esteem instead of facing reality: white women ARE externally rewarded at the expenses of a wide range of BIPOCs, and her doubt of this privilege and favoritism is the actual source of her Imposter Syndrome.

White women, in particular white feminists, ARE imposters and SHOULD shoulder responsibility for the amorality this exposes: white women are the only women extrinsically and unjustly privileged at the expense of ALL other women, so their guilt is appropriate. ‘Imposter Syndrome’ only describes reality for BIPOCS: people who are ACTUALLY deprived to allow for the over-resourcing of white women. White women ARE imposters: they ARE unjustly rewarded for others’ hard work.

The problem with the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is that it allows white women in particular to distance themselves from their unjust enrichment — which comes at the expense of BIWOC unjust deprivation — by claiming it is dysfunctional. The opposite is true: it is an exhibition of morality to feel guilty when you have received assets that belong to others. This status SHOULD provoke feelings of being an imposter because white women ARE collective imposters.

They achieve this abrogation of moral responsibility through a deformation of attribution.

Attribution Theory

Attribution Theory is a psychological construct which describes the way humans attribute events in their lives: typically, either internally (dispositional) or externally (situational). Generally speaking, people tend to attribute successes internally (‘I earned it with my merit’) and failures externally (‘I failed because affirmative action handed my promotion to a Black person’). Similarly, people tend to attribute others’ successes to external features (‘he won because he’s lucky’) and others’ failures to their weaknesses (‘he lost because he didn’t try hard enough.’) A brief glance at these results of psychological studies underlines the basic narcissism of the human organism: we tend to give ourselves more credit and others less.

The reality of white privilege results in a dilemma for people in the privileged group: by definition of ‘privilege,’ those who have it ARE extrinsically rewarded at the expenses of others. It is not ‘Imposter Syndrome’ to admit that you ARE an imposter: it is facing the truth and engaging in justice.

Thus, white options are: 1. Keep assets that have been extrinsically-granted, NOT meritoriously earned, which provokes appropriate guilt and, in cowards, the need for pretense; 2. Admit their extrinsic privilege — attribute properly, which causes guilt. Use that guilt to RETURN that asset to the intrinsic achiever; or 3. Self-deceive: lie by claiming to the self that reality is ‘low self-esteem’ — not extrinsic privilege — which ultimately allows her to maintain her self-esteem. White people almost always choose the latter which, because it requires self-deception, pushes them away from their authentic (privileged) selves. They choose pretense of ‘merit’ over the reality of centuries-long, deeply-entrenched privilege.

In the context of the ‘Imposter Syndrome,’ white women use attribution theory as a weapon: she acts as if she SHOULD be giving herself credit but cannot because she is SO EMBATTLED with guilt and shame for her success, and that guilt MUST be due to low self-esteem which forces her to attribute her success externally. Then, she discusses this widely so as to frame herself as the ‘victim’ of both herself and society and recruit attention to her because she is now victimized even by her own low self-esteem.

White women fail to consider the actual objective reality: she IS extrinsically gifted and that SHOULD provoke guilt. The guilt should lead her to admit that she IS extrinsically rewarded. Then, she can follow with action. The action would lead her to use that self-reflection and insight to transfer the extrinsic reward AWAY from her and towards the intrinsic achiever. This would likely eliminate her feelings of guilt and shame — but she would no longer have the reward.

On the contrary, white women prefer to keep their unjustly-gifted rewards at the expense of rewarding the actual intrinsic achiever by claiming that an accurate perception of this privilege is an expression of her ‘low self-esteem.’ She allows her false success which, in zero-sum contexts, is constructed from the false failures of BIPOCs. All this self-deception is heartily defended — on a public basis — just so that she can feel emotionally comfortable and regardless of the compromise in truth or justice. She elaborates her faux-‘victimization,’ which is an elaboration of white women’s false narcissistic face.

The term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ describes a real phenomenon for which white women in particular shirk all responsibility for their extrinsically-granted privilege. The ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is a description of the lived experience of wearing the ‘false face’ of white supremacy and, like most white women, directly benefitting from the oppression of all people of color.

White women routinely refuse to perceive the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ as intrinsically expressed dysfunctional behavior — a choice that they make to keep unearned assets by acting the victim — and instead choose to perceive it as an extrinsic ‘disease’ over which they have no control and which is related to her ‘low self-esteem.’ Ultimately, this self-deceptive stance allows her to refuse to shoulder responsibility for the privilege she has which crushes others and denies a wide range of BIPOCs rewards which have actually been intrinsically earned. As per usual, it centers white women and rushes ALL resources in their direction, which deprives everyone else. Then, she deludes that all this favoritism is ‘low self-esteem.’ This shameful psychoses is smeared all over women of color in the form of racism and ethnocentrism.

White Supremacy and Collective Narcissism

White supremacy is a form of narcissism at the collective level; ie, it inscribes the false faces for all its members. White supremacy requires deception, as it has from the inception of the US: it requires an imposter structure as reflected in, for example, the Constitution, which claimed ‘equality’ for ‘all’ but gave it only to white people. The US is marinated, from its inception, in hypocrisy and, as a result, its maintenance requires deception and continually-enforced ‘imposter’ behaviors in order to maintain it.

At baseline, the intrinsic attribution that white people assume is a distortion of the concept of merit: from its beginnings, the US has existed to extrinsically support white people at the expense of others, the opposite of ‘merit.’ The behavior of white people in the US has always been an expression of the ‘Imposter Syndrome:’ it is a centuries-long active attempt to deceive others in order to poach and hoard resources. White PEOPLE, including white WOMEN, have benefitted for centuries by participating in the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ — and then, in order to spare themselves the appropriate guilt of damaging others, deceive even themselves by wearing the ‘false face’ of ‘victimization.’ White women are NOT victims in a white supremacist society.

Groups of people can be analogized to individuals in a dysfunctional narcissistic family: white people are the collective raging narcissist, African-Americans are the collective scapegoats, and white women are the enablers, allowing both white men and themselves dominance at the expenses of all other POCs, who are used as pawns to manage white dominance and (false) ‘success.’ POCs feel ‘invisible’ because we are invisible as actual unique individuals within the context of white supremacy: we exist as instrumental only, in order to buttress and guarantee the successes of the dominant group: WHITE men AND women.

The entire system of white supremacy is an ‘imposter’ system, so those who participate in it should feel as if they are imposters. Instead, the exposure of white feminists as actual imposters is framed as a disease process (‘The Imposter Syndrome’), thus allowing white women as a collective group to distance themselves from their considerable extrinsic privilege, to shirk responsibility for actual imposter behaviors. Essentially, they claim that extrinsic attribution of success is a manifestation of their ‘low self-esteem’ when in fact, it describes reality: white women ARE extrinsically rewarded at the expense of others. The guilt and shame this produces leads white women to shirk responsibility for their actual privilege by pretending it is a ‘syndrome’ to which she (always the victim) is subjected instead of acknowledging that, as a white woman, she has received rewards on an extrinsic basis even when BIWOCs exhibit intrinsic (actual) performance.

It is NOT ‘Imposter Syndrome’ which plagues her: it is her ACTUAL imposter behaviors. She can fix that by facing her privilege and letting the rewards confer to the actual intrinsic performers. Instead, white women frame themselves as collective ‘victims,’ thus holding up white supremacy and, like narcissists, abrogating responsibility for their privilege.

ALL members of a narcissistic system, whether in a nuclear family or part of a large national institutionalized context (such as the US), must wear the ‘false face’ of narcissism in order to survive the ambient toxicity of favoring one group of people at the expenses of all the others. The oppressors wear a ‘false face’ of ‘equality’ (managed through constant collective rhetorical self-deception such as equivocation) so that the actual face — and the degraded, amoral basis of the falsity — is not revealed. This allows those individual members to feel good about themselves even in the presence of actively toxic, oppressive behaviors towards others.

But the trade-off is considerable: the white woman estranges not only BIWOCs but also herself as a result of her constant, embedded, collective (self)-deception. As a result, she is functionally estranged from her authentic self: she is privileged yet refuses to see this because it is shameful to ‘win’ as a direct result of a BIWOCs ‘loss.’ The shame still exists in the system; as a group, white women refuse to shoulder it by constructing their perpetual ‘victimhood.’ This abrogation of responsibility is the core narcissistic feature: white people smear their shame all over others because they refuse adult, moral responsibility for it.

Essentially, the white woman’s ‘success’ is manufactured from the BIWOCs ‘failure,’ and neither is real. White women ARE receiving rewards that belong to BIWOCs: multiple studies show that white women have been able to ‘climb’ the corporate ladder but that it is women of color — and in particular, African-American people, including men — that continue to be under-represented. The ‘glass ceiling’ has ONLY been ‘broken’ by white women; BIPOCs of all genders are under-represented. Unless white women believe that they are better than BIPOCs at these achievements, then they are extrinsically gifted, NOT meritorious. I have observed virtually nothing else in a 30+ year professional career: white women are extrinsically rewarded at the expenses of a wide range of higher-performing BIPOCs of all genders.

This is the zero-sum reality that oppressors actively DENY: that the zero-sum context which automatically extrinsically gifts them will be actively erased so that the shame remains shirked and the system continues as toxic, favoring white people. Actual extrinsic rewarding of white people is erased by centering the ‘Imposter Syndrome,’ which implies that white women’s guilt about their extrinsic rewards — which confer to her only if BIWOCs are denied them — is NOT appropriate.

This is the dilemma for white women: they are privileged in the larger context yet persistently focus on the minutiae that determine their daily lives, thus erasing the much-larger context of privilege. This behavior is ACTUAL imposter behavior, not an imposition of ‘low self-esteem.’ To address this appropriately, the ACTUAL reward system which extrinsically rewards white women at the expense of BIWOCs should change, but the stance of ‘victimization’ prevents forward growth.

Instead, white women manage this inappropriate extrinsic gifting by convincing themselves that they should DENY the extrinsic source of their rewards so that their self-esteem is not ‘damaged,’ so that they ‘feel’ better. White women deform reality so that they can ‘feel’ better instead of taking responsibility for the fact that they have acted like collective imposters for centuries, globally, at the expenses of a wide range of BIPOCs. Instead, she constructs another delusion: her inability to credit herself (for what she shouldn’t give herself credit for anyway) is a ‘figment’ of her ‘low self-esteem’ that she must eliminate so that she can take credit for her (apparently) intrinsic successes (and thus elevate her self-esteem).

The ‘cure’ for this is not continued denial, as has been exhibited for centuries, but exposure of false attribution. White women are the only women given excessive, extrinsic credit and rewards in reality, globally, and for centuries. The ‘Imposter Syndrome’ does the opposite: it asserts that white women should be giving themselves credit when they are already over-resourced at the expenses of others: as a group, they are already giving themselves more credit than they are due, exactly the behaviors which they criticize in men. Hypocrisy.

The ‘Imposter Syndrome’ for white women generally functions in the same way as any of a number of ‘victimization’ stances that white women take as a collective group in order to receive constant extrinsic attention, centering, and rewards: it allow her to receive assets in return for compromise in morals, both quantitative (money/asset-hoarding) and qualitative (attention= ‘Missing White Woman’/Gwen Ifill) for the ‘mere’ price of constant self-deception. Why wouldn’t she feel like an Imposter when she is one? Because this counters white supremacy’s larger goal: protect and elevate white women.

The ‘Imposter Syndrome’ allows white women/feminists to express the reality of that false face AND simultaneously to refuse responsibility for its meaning. This conclusion reflects the global reality of white supremacy — that white women in particular will receive maximal protection in all arena, that others — people of color, regardless of gender — will accomplish her duties yet she will still receive protection and rewards. She will have her cake — which was extrinsically gifted and eat it, too — by pretending she ‘earned it’ with her ‘merit.’ She will be spared reality: that in order for her to receive a reward she did NOT earn, an actual achiever who did earn it will now be deprived.

Basic Rivalry — and Capitalist White Supremacy — ARE ‘Zero-Sum’

The white feminist focus on ‘Imposter Syndrome’ denies and projects, in narcissistic fashion, her actual false face of white supremacy’s narcissism; as a result, white women are able to cast themselves as ‘victims,’ as women who don’t even give themselves credit when they do deserve it.

In reality, the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is a descriptor of reality: rather than obscuring the actual performances of white women, it exposes their extrinsic rewarding, the core of white supremacy, and their resulting shame. Why is this shame shirked instead of shouldered? Because, at baseline, white women are not expected to shoulder burdens. They expect to be coddled, and any deviation from this extrinsic rewarding results in white feminist backlash. The elaboration of the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is a form of white feminist/supremacy backlash.

White women do not like to discuss the zero-sum quality of white supremacy because it exposes their collective participation in it and underlines the fact that white women (10% globally) are OVER-resourced at the expenses of BIWOCS (90% globally).

This fact is illustrated overtly by the war in Ukraine, which has exposed a zero-sum context: only some people will be able to board the escape trains. White supremacy is overtly expressed in this zero-sum context, where ALL nonwhite peoples are actively dehumanized — even by journalists — in order to allow white people to survive: Black people are told to walk; Asians are told to stay in place; Iraqis and Afghanis are called ‘uncivilized’ (= civilized, white people come first); Indians are pushed behind white people. Etc, etc, etc. White people are always first in line, especially when the context is zero-sum.

This illustrates the vast difference between white people and everyone else globally: that their zero-sum survival is gained only at the expense of BIPOCS worldwide, and that pretending otherwise is to be an actual imposter.

The ‘Imposter Syndrome’ allows white people and in particular white women — already inappropriately deluded as ‘victims’ — to continue to uphold white supremacy by distancing themselves from actual imposter behaviors and the actual constant white extrinsic rewarding that should be attributed to privilege, NOT ‘merit.’

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Mia George

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