Black creatives at UNC navigate being vulnerable in self-expression and self-realization, as many are susceptible to imposter syndrome – especially when they already feel that they don’t have a seat at the table.
Imposter syndrome happens when an individual minimizes their own achievements and doubts their skills. People of color are especially vulnerable to imposter syndrome and feel it at higher rates. Producing art while dealing with imposter syndrome can be daunting. These Black creatives shared how they are affected by it and how they work to overcome it.
A gifted musician
Paapa Berko, a senior studying exercise and sports science and music, fondly remembers hearing his hit song, "Lavi$h," on the radio for the first time.
“My first reaction was pure excitement, but I was also focused because at the end of the day, we know that the job is not finished and there is more to be done,” he said.
Berko was captivated by music at an early age, singing in church, and he started making music during his senior year of high school. As a trained singer and musician, he’s never doubted his musical ability – but he has doubted the reception of his work.
“The one area I doubt myself at times is really the support. Starting out as a new artist, it’s hard because people really want to focus their energy on mainstream people,” Berko said. “No one really would support someone who is starting out until they blow up or get to that mainstream level.”
Berko’s music has been streamed through Spotify and Apple Music and played on radio stations across the country. Berko, whose stage name is Berchie, said that he no longer subscribes to imposter syndrome because he has seen the fruits of his own labor.
“I thought I wouldn’t be as lucrative or as effective but after that first year, I was really able to grow and advance,” he said. “I don’t have imposter’s syndrome because I know I belong. I'm not saying that to be cocky, but out of confidence in my abilities that God has blessed me with.”
Breaking the theater's glass ceiling
Liz Howard, a senior studying dramatic arts, has broken many glass ceilings throughout her career as an actor. It wasn’t until she joined the acting community at UNC that she felt inadequate in her craft.
She has had many lead roles with the Pauper Players and Company Carolina. She also received a role in a production by PlayMakers Repertory Company — a theater company that typically only allows roles for graduate students and professional actors. Even with each of these major accomplishments, Howard has felt that her skills are insufficient.
“Imposter syndrome is the worst form of self-sabotage,” Howard said.
For Howard, her imposter syndrome came from her experiences with tokenism. She said her white counterparts would often say she only received certain roles because she was Black.
“Sometimes, you kind of feel like a token,” Howard said. “Like you’re only on stage because they wanted diversity.”
Howard believes that many creative spaces are doused by whiteness, leaving Black creatives to suffer from imposter syndrome.
“So many spaces are dominated by white people, and many of those white people had a way easier road getting to where they're at,” she said. “I think that that is what makes me suffer from imposter syndrome the most.”
Howard understands the importance of creating a space for Black creatives to bask in their own uniqueness. In spring 2019, she founded the Black Arts Theatre Company, a subgroup of the Black Student Movement. In the following semester, the company sold out its first production, "Black Girl, Interrupted."
“I wanna help as many Black creatives and Black theater artists because we have our own stories to tell,” she said. “The more of us that are out there, the more representation we can have.”
Breaking barriers in publication
Ken Davis, a junior studying media and journalism, launched Looks Attached, a digital magazine where young creatives can freely express themselves. Driven by passion, he believed in the potential of his magazine.
He and his co-founder, Cee Cee Huffman, decided to address what was lacking and give young creatives the opportunity to have their work published and acknowledged.
“We want to be that middle ground for young creators who don’t have a platform and give them no creative limitations,” Davis said.
He never thought he would be able to start his own magazine. Davis’ imposter syndrome was revealed as a by-product of industry standards and societal barriers.
“I just felt like there is a lot of pretentiousness in the art industry, so I was worried that people already had their loyalty made up to certain publications,” Davis said. “Also, I am literally just a Black, gay man in North Carolina. I didn't think that I would be able to have the resources to do it.”
He said feeling limited because of imposter syndrome is disheartening. Breaking into systems that don’t encourage equal representation is a constant challenge for Black creatives, and he is working to shatter these barriers by fostering spaces that are conducive to free expression.
“It can be very discouraging when you feel like you have the potential and like this star power that people are disregarding it because of your race or orientation,” Davis said. “If they're not going to make space for you, then you make your own spaces and you make them better and you make them a full representation of you.”
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