Racial Impostor Syndrome: When you're made to feel like a fake
But when I turned 15, everything changed. My family moved to Hong Kong for a year because of my mother's job with an art gallery. In my new adopted city and international school, I was fully immersed in a community with other Asian people for the first time. There were people from China, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea in my grade.
At lunchtime, my friends and I would sit on the landing
Memories of Hong Kong replayed in my head when I returned to New York and decided to create The Peahce Project, a platform for Asian voices in the form of interviews, art, writing and podcasts. When quarantine began in March 2020, our Instagram page started getting a lot more engagement, and one topic that connected with our audience was racial impostor syndrome.
Many people with immigrant parents seemed to identify with the concept of feeling like their internal identity is in conflict with what others perceive them to be.
America has a long history of assigning identity, often making people of colour question themselves. A good example of this is the introduction of "blood quantum" for Native American tribes.
"Blood quantum is a system of calculating blood introduced by the federal government in the early 19th Century as a means of restricting the rights of Native American," says attorney Brett Chapman, whose relative Standing Bear was the first Native American to win civil rights for his tribe in the United States.
The idea of blood quantum was then adopted by some Native Americans themselves. Florida's Miccosukee Tribe, for example, requires someone to have 50% tribal blood in order to qualify as a member. This led many to question their identity, says Brett.
Native American children were also separated from their tribes and forced to assimilate with white Americans and adopt their values, he adds. "Which meant that racial impostor syndrome was forced upon them. People were made to change who they were, and then feel divorced from their tribe."
Maybe Hilaria Baldwin's internal identity is in conflict with the way others perceive her? Identity is fluid and people of any race can feel a kinship to a culture that they're not part of. But her experience is clearly very different from the experience of a person of colour in the US, or that of someone who looks Asian but has been brought up in New York.
To me it's inappropriate for a privileged white person to adopt the identity of a Hispanic in the US. Hilaria Baldwin evidently identifies as Spanish rather than Mexican, Puerto Rican or Cuban, but most Spanish-speakers in the US are from these places, or from Central America - and according the Pew Research Center more than half say they have experienced discrimination. A white person who passes as Hispanic never has to worry about this.
Many of us don't have whiteness as a safety net.
The way to address racial impostor syndrome is to open more spaces for us to tell our own stories and share our unique experiences. It's more complex than stereotypes about maths prodigies and shy kids.
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