Trigger warning: This post examines issues of race and economic injustice.
Have you ever been told that you have to work twice as hard to get half as far as your white counterparts? I know I have, and if you have as well, like me, you may have spent your entire life striving towards an impossible standard of perfection. But here’s the truth: That standard is a lie. In this post, we’ll break this down gently and provide some helpful resources to free ourselves from racially charged perfectionism and further aid in empowering ourselves and our communities.
What causes racially-charged perfectionism?
Black people and people of color often feel the constant pressure to meet impossible standards and are willing to go through great lengths to be “perfect”- they fear being judged or treated unfairly because of their race. This racial component, which is often overlooked in conversations around perfectionism, is what we’re going to dive into today.
To start, let’s look at some facts. According to research by the Center for American Progress, Black women earn just 64 cents for every dollar a white man makes. This disparity is due in part to systemic racism and discriminatory policies that have hindered the economic progress of Black Americans for generations. Another example comes from a recent report on discrimination in hiring published by the New York Times, a university graduate by the name of Kalisha White suspected that her job application was being ignored at a Target based in Wisconsin because of her race. So she sent in another one, with a name (Sarah Brucker) more likely to make the candidate appear white. Though the fake résumé was not as accomplished as Ms. White’s, the alter ego scored an interview. Lastly, in a diversity and inclusion report published by the Harvard Business Review, 95% of women of color in tech say they needed to prove themselves over and over to get the same recognition that’s conferred automatically on others.
I realize this is difficult to hear, but if we want to recover from racially charged perfectionism, we must first understand the systemic injustices that force the idea that Black women and people of color need to be perfect in order to receive a fair chance. The traps of perfection may feel specifically harder for us because, oftentimes, it can seem like when we don’t strive for perfection, we may not earn recognition for our efforts or earn a seat at the table. Ultimately, we learn that we must over-perform and over-compensate for the negative stereotypes associated with our skin color.
However, by creating awareness about the origins of these perfectionistic wounds, we can begin opening ourselves to opportunities and skills needed to begin healing. Consider these suggestions as you work towards overcoming the negative effects of perfectionism and reclaiming your self-worth.
- Recognize the existence of racially charged perfectionism – One of the first steps in overcoming racially charged perfectionism is recognizing its existence in the first place. Understand that societal and cultural norms create unrealistic expectations that can cause stress, anxiety, and negative self-talk for black people and people of color. Notice when there are unfair expectations of you simply because of the color of your skin, and this might be tough, but don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself. By doing so you are also creating a shift in perspective and creating an equitable environment for others who look like you.
- Challenge perfectionistic thinking – Try challenging perfectionistic thinking by realizing that perfectionism is harmful, self-defeating, and can lead to feelings of failure and disappointment. Instead of striving for perfection, aim to do your best and accept mistakes as part of the learning process. To help with this, there are various resources and online communities available, check out The Nap Ministry on Instagram, which is a platform that focuses on examining rest as a radical form of resistance, or check out Sad Girls Club, an organization committed to giving resources to Black women and POC to support their mental health journeys.
- Practice self-compassion – Cultivating self-compassion is a powerful tool in combating racially charged perfectionism. I want to encourage you to give yourself the grace and encouragement the world may deprive you of. Treat yourself with kindness, understanding, and forgiveness. Recognize that you are not perfect, but you are enough just the way you are. Self-compassion helps to break the cycle of negative self-talk and replaces it with the self-love and acceptance you deserve.
- Seek support from like-minded individuals or a therapist – It’s essential to seek support from like-minded individuals who understand you. Sharing your struggles with others can be a powerful way to combat feelings of isolation and hopelessness, and it can help you remember that you are not alone. If you’re looking for deeper support with this, consider seeking support from a therapist who affirms who you are.
- Celebrate your achievements and successes – Celebrating your achievements and successes, no matter how small is an essential part of overcoming perfectionism. Acknowledging your hard work will help you to build confidence, resilience, and help develop a positive mindset that can weather any storm.
Breaking free from racially charged perfectionistic beliefs is a process that requires self-awareness, self-compassion, and support from like-minded individuals.
With this being said, this type of healing can not be accomplished simply by reading a blog post. Nothing can truly replace the support of a qualified therapist. If you are seeking this type of assistance, let’s connect for a consultation. Together, we can give you the care you deserve and provide step-by-step support to recover from the harm caused by unfair standards of perfection.
Lastly, remember that you are enough just the way you are.