Writing in the WSJ this week (“A Missed Opportunity on Racial Preferences“), Theodore Johnson says that he’s tired of the suspicion that because he’s black, his achievements are always suspect; he also explains the “imposter syndrome” that he and many successful blacks frequently experience:
Many thought that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would be a bookend for that history, finally making the country live up to its Founding declaration that we are all created equal. But in the decades that followed, policy makers and the law began to take into account race, ethnicity and sex as factors that needed to be considered in the interest of addressing past wrongs. Later, the emphasis changed to encouraging diversity.
The tragedy is that many minority members and women internalize the perception that they are undeserving of whatever success they might enjoy, and they begin to question their abilities and merits. Speaking from experience, I can attest that I often hesitate to respond with a simple “thank you” when offered congratulations; instead I tend to cite serendipity and credit my family’s prayers. In doing so, I discredit my perseverance and talents, instead thanking my lucky stars that I was fortunate to slip in unexposed.
Maybe minority members and women will be familiar with the “imposter syndrome,” the sense that one’s career success owes to luck, timing or tokenism—not competence. An effect of racial preferences in my life has been to cause the constant dilemma: Was I rewarded because I’m black and happen to be qualified, or because I’m qualified and happen to be black? This is a serious question with significant ramifications.