Black Professionals and Self-Esteem
By Stephanie Barbee | May 12, 2021
With almost daily inundations of news of a Black person being mistreated or killed, the topic of self-esteem in Black professionals is a nuanced one. Within this post, I intend to speak from my own experience, fully acknowledging and owning that this is not reflective of every Black person’s experience.
The catalyst for making me think differently was Shawna Murray-Brown’s Decolonizing Therapy for Black Folks training and her liberation work. Her ability to peel back layers (I am still trying to absorb) is masterful. This woman is gifted and I am so grateful for her and her training for all it’s done for me.
I am not currently suffering from low self-esteem as a Black professional, but I was up until recently. Why do black professionals struggle with low self-esteem? For me, part of it was related to my upbringing. I was raised in a single-parent household after my mother lost my father suddenly to suicide when I was six months old. This would be the beginning of several traumas I would endure in my life. As a therapist, I now know that a part of this is attachment-related. I realize that due to the stress, grief, and pressure on my Mom, I was not poured into as much as others may have been.
A deeper layer of this is related to the circumstances that led my Father to complete suicide….being Black in America. I grew up hearing how I would have to work 10 times harder for half as much as white people had, and I accepted it. I ACCEPTED IT! I didn’t question why or even feel deserving of an explanation. I simply went along with it. And I worked……10 times harder….. for a LONG time! I have almost always worked more than one job, whether I had a partner or not. I was in gifted and talented classes growing up and for years people would tell me, “you’ve got something special“. Like most others, I would smile, nod, and say ‘thank you, while thinking ‘yeah, right, if only they knew‘. This occurred countless times as I was in environments where I felt I was invisible.
Much later (last year) I learned about the deeper implications….those perpetuated by white supremacy culture. According to my learning, some of the influences of white supremacy culture include perfectionism, ‘either/or’ thinking, and quantity over quality. As I reflect on this, I can see it all wrapped into who I was ‘supposed to be as a professional. I was ‘supposed to be able to be the ‘expert’, which in my mind equated to perfect. I had to be able to answer every question and if I couldn’t, I still had work to do (still working 10 times harder). I had to either be the ‘expert’ or I was ____(fill in the blank), unworthy, undeserving, incapable. Even within the concept of niching, I struggled. I was constantly torn between getting the number of clients (by serving everyone) and the quality of clients (by being selective). Being a Southern girl, I still get hung up on some of the expectations, including ‘impoliteness’ and ‘hospitality’ at times.
In this moment, I KNOW my power. In this moment, I KNOW my worth. In this moment, I AM unstoppable. I know these things because I feel them from within me. I am an imperfect human and that is exactly what I’m supposed to be. All these years, I viewed my imperfection as a scarlet letter, marking me with a sense of shame. Now, I am who I am. I am a healer for Black people. I use a variety of tools and techniques, including spiritual tools in my practice for myself and my clients, if they are open to it. I am already successful because I am following the path of my heart. When I was able to open myself up to that level of KNOWING, everything else just flowed.
So my hope for everyone reading this is for you to ‘know’…..in this very moment and every moment before, you are worthy of success. You are magical and unique and the world needs the gifts you’re afraid to share. If you take the leap of faith, your net will appear!
Bio: Stephanie Barbee is a Clinical social worker in Missouri. She serves Black people seeking to approach therapy from a holistic (mind-body-spirit) perspective or explore spirituality more deeply.