Systemic Privilege and Impostor Syndrome: A Weird Balance in My Life


I am a White Male Heterosexual Cisgender Christian. This means a lot in American society. I am of the political view – and I recognize there are disagreeing ones – that that means I have five tickets punched in terms of systemic privilege in the Land of the Free. Life has been easier on me for having all of these tickets of traditional implicit societal favor punched.

And so it is that I tell myself I have it better than those who don’t have such tickets punched, even in those instances where I believe life has screwed me:

Instance One: when I’m dealing with the implications of having not been able to save up for my retirement due to over a decade and a half of paying $1032.79 a month in separation-agreement-mandated child support (it was not legally mandated Child Support, in capital letters, mind you) in additional to medical copays for my daughter until she was 18 (believe it or not, those medical copays were not requirements in that same separation agreement, but I did not actually look at it to remember that was the case when my ex-wife insisted it WAS in there).

Instance Two: when I’m dealing with the additional setbacks to having saved up for retirement, or to receiving a higher pension, caused by my not having gotten a grade level promotion/raise for the last two decades, give or take a few months, of my Federal career, despite having turned my career around, during that time period, on my own initiative, cross-training into a career field that, in combination with my existing computer programming skills (and in a better match with those skills), saw me multiplying my productivity tenfold.

Yes, that was the career field change that, when I said I wanted to make it, to cross-train into work that would “light a fire under me” as bosses had said I needed to do, earned this warning from my Alpha-Plus-One management: “You can do this if you want to, but you’ll take a hit come promotion time.”

I cannot say I was not warned.

But yes, I am also certain that my laziness and inertia would have penalized me in that early part of my government career – it might have ended it prematurely, quite simply – if I had not been White Male Heterosexual Christian etc., etc. EEO law aside, there was still that statistical discrepancy in hiring, promotions, and, I think, in retention.

And the woman who was my last supervisor, who was competing for the same grade-level promotion I was – we were both Grade 13 on the government scale for our general technical career field – refused to recommend me for promotion – recommended, in fact, that I NOT be promoted – when she sent my folder up to the next level – even though for the promotion I (as well as she) was seeking, there was NO REQUIREMENT for her to recommend Yea or Nay on that decision. She did it anyway … and she was the one who got that promotion. Even speaking to her bosses about it did not help me. But you know what? She and they were both female, and from an EEO perspective verified by the Director of EEO there, in an internal social media conversation I had with him, statistical underrepresentation of women (and minority candidates) in hiring and promotions was seen as sufficient reason to favor them in a targeted fashion.

And like I said, if I’d not been White, Male, etc. all of those years, I might not even have made it to that point of overhauling my career with a skill field switch.

So I’m sitting here feeling bad about that stuff … while at the same time, that’s got cognitive dissonance with the fact I know, the fact of systemic barriers for people not like me in terms of those tickets punched I mentioned, and systemic privilege for people White, Male, Heterosexual, Cisgender, and Christion Like Me.

Which means, to a certain extent, I end up feeling bad about feeling bad about it.

I need to come up with a more constructive way to look at it all.

Anybody got any ideas?

EDITED TO ADD (9/28/2022): I didn’t explain well, I don’t think, the “impostor syndrome” part of the thoughts here last night. The occurrence of it comes from my recognition of all the systemic privilege I have had for being white, male, Christian, etc… and even for particular circumstances like my having been the firstborn child in my family. When the universe seems to show me indifference or deliberate unkindness, I nowadays find myself feeling thinking, and believing that it bothers “poor pitiful me” so much particularly because of the unearned privilege I have enjoyed all along. I.e., I might not really deserve better treatment by the universe… certainly I don’t deserve better than so many people who are treated worse. The imposter is me acting like I deserve all/any of that privilege.

This is all getting me in to psychological/emotional territory I was in when an ex-friend wrote me a long diatribe and described me therein as “a bottomless vortex of need.”

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