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When someone does not expect greatness from you, here’s what to tell yourself

What does it do to black girls and women to have their intelligence and abilities routinely questioned? A study from Johns Hopkins found that white teachers set lower academic expectations for their black students than black teachers do. Acclaimed writer Morgan Jerkins gives her humble opinion on overcoming imposter syndrome, the inability to absorb one’s accomplishments.

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  • William Brangham:

    Ignoring what others think about you is easier said than done.

    Morgan Jerkins is an acclaimed writer who speaks six languages.

    And, tonight, she offers her Humble Opinion on overcoming what's called impostor syndrome.

  • Morgan Jerkins:

    It was in the eighth grade when my intelligence was questioned for the first time.

    Every week, each student in my social studies class would have to present a topic, and if the teacher thought that that student didn't know the meaning of a word, you would have to define it.

    My words were formulate and enigmatic. Not too long afterwards, that same teacher accused me of cheating to my parents. My film studies teacher told me that I would never be a director and that it was best for me to do more behind-the-scenes work.

    My high school guidance counselor attempted to steer me away from the Ivies and suggested community college instead because she assumed that my parents wouldn't be able to afford it.

    All of these teachers were white. In a 2016 study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and American University, it was revealed that white teachers expect less academic success than black teachers expect from the same black students.

    A white teacher is 30 percent less likely to think a black student will graduate from a four-year college and is 40 percent less likely to think that a black student will graduate from high school.

    So, why am I bringing this up now, with high school many years behind me? Have you ever heard of the term impostor syndrome? Impostor syndrome is the inability to absorb one's accomplishments and the persistent fear that one will be exposed as a fraud.

    I feel it now even when I'm writing for prestigious publications, even after I got a book deal from a top publishing house. I kept wondering why. It wasn't until I realized my success two years ago that I understood how much of that difficulty to believe in myself came from childhood, especially those experiences with those teachers who tried to derail my growth.

    I had written off those experiences as being normal for a black girl. And, besides, if I had spoken up, I thought I would be seen as troublesome.

    But it's not normal. We have to see it for it is. For black girls and women out there who have had their abilities questioned, and in turn have doubted themselves, even when they have accomplished great things, there is a reason- Other people do not expect greatness from you, and, therefore, they don't want you to expect it either.

    You have earned everything you worked hard for. But it's also beneficial to acknowledge the roots, the memories that fueled this doubt, memories that tell you, you're not good enough.

    But you are good enough. More than enough. You are.

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