This past weekend I had the privilege of speaking on a panel about self care at Blavity’s EmpowerHER conference, “A BLACK WOMEN’S CONFERENCE TO EXPLORE LEADERSHIP, CREATIVITY and TECH.”
I was honored to share the stage with our moderator Elaine Welteroth, recently named Teen Vogue’s first black Editor in Chief (YAAS!) , and fellow panelists: “OG Style Blogger” GabiFresh, “Bohemian Storm” Francheska of HeyFranHey, and Lauren Ash, founder of Black Girl In Om.
To be honest, I was pretty nervous going into this experience. This was my first public appearance as a “beauty influencer/entrepreneur”, speaking to a public audience about a topic that I often struggle with: self care.
It took me a while to realize that I didn’t need to accept other’s definition of what I could or should be. It almost became a game I often played with myself, in my head. Whenever someone was insistent that I couldn’t achieve something, I was dedicated to proving them wrong… whether it was an overzealous teacher who claimed “very few” students in their class could receive an “A,” or discouraging “words of advice” from those who made me feel like my dreams were unrealistic or too big for me to accomplish.
I soon realized that I couldn’t let these naysayers be in control. I had to start believing in my abilities and in myself in order to bullishly pursue my dreams, and that included taking care of myself mentally and physically. It meant forgiving myself when I made mistakes and celebrating ALL wins, no matter how big or small. It meant learning how to put myself first in certain situations, and how to simply say no.
It’s easier said than done, but I took comfort hearing about the journeys of my fellow panelists. I was reminded that I was not alone, that we all go through similar struggles and we all had different ways of combatting them and dealing with life day to day. It really was a beautiful thing.
This experience was also, in a way, a physical realization of my success. Sometimes, I get caught up in my day to day work load that it’s hard for me to step back and look at the bigger picture. It’s almost as though I can’t feel when something good happens to me; the gravity of my impact and success at large just doesn’t sink in. I might even suffer from what is known as “imposter syndrome,” referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
Someone even asked a question, regarding this premise, in the Q & A session of my panel. Although I addressed it by advising the audience to believe in their visions, I wish I had remembered to bring up this article I read on How The Rhetoric of Imposter Syndrome Is Used to Gaslight Women in Tech.
As I mentioned earlier, I put a lot of pressure on myself mentally to ensure that I am not letting naysayers get to me. But it’s important to realize that this is not necessarily a personal problem, but a phenomenon created by structural inequality.
“What we call imposter syndrome often reflects the reality of an environment that tells marginalized groups that we shouldn’t be confident, that our skills aren’t enough, that we won’t succeed—and when we do, our accomplishments won’t even be attributed to us. Yet imposter syndrome is treated as a personal problem to be overcome, a distortion in processing rather than a realistic reflection of the hostility, discrimination, and stereotyping that pervades tech culture.”
And I’m sure that this myth of where the “imposter syndrome” stems from, appears in various other fields as well.
Part of self care is discerning when you need to take a step back, when you realize some things are just out of your control. The imposter syndrome exists because, as black women, we grow up in a society that has set us up to fail.
The author of the aforementioned piece, Alexis Hancock, ends her article by saying
“Being a smart Black woman and having to simply prove you have basic competence is not growth; it’s living in a suspended state. It’s having to explain in detail your technical training rather than expanding on your expertise. It’s virtually no one simply believing me the way they do my non-Black or non-woman counterparts. It feels like having to repeatedly convince the world to let me get to that first stair, much less get on the staircase. No amount of believing in myself can fix that.”
But, this doesn’t mean we give up. Of course not. This means we continue to rise and find the spaces that allow us to be nurtured and grow; that we stop putting blame on ourselves, and work on collaborating with others to create safe spaces to connect and innovate.
Hancock continued, “Real sources of strength for me are being paid, recognizing the oppression I face, fighting for my right to put my labor where I see fit, and connecting with people like me in this field to build on projects that benefit us. On the path to fixing tech culture, we must process microaggressions, low pay, and other tactics as what they are: systemic oppression.
I recognize my environment as the imposter, and it’s no longer up to me to fix its sickness.”
I think this is really key to remember. Events like EmpowerHER enable black women to connect with each other in a comfortable space so we can continue to build tools that will benefit us.
I was so proud and honored to meet the countless amazing, innovative black women creating and advocating for other black women and for other marginalized groups of people. As I continue my journey with Cocoa Swatches, I hope to continue to connect, collaborate and celebrate with these women. Speaking and attending EmpowerHER was an uplifting and eye opening experience and one that I definitely will not forget.
Coat, Top, Pants – Zara ; Shoes – Lola Shoetique.