• Elaine Kelly

Imposter! Hiding who you really are

Updated: Apr 27

Joanna feels divided, disheartened, and desperate. In the novel Forgotten Followers, I imagine Joanna as a character hiding her mixed heritage in a Hebrew society that hates Greeks. She struggles to find acceptance and hope. Born to a Greek father and a Hebrew mother, she is raised in the culture and religion of a Hebrew. Her physical traits allow her to pass as belonging to the Hebrew race and enjoy the privileges of education, travel, and an upper-class social life. In the same way, in a white-dominant culture, a person who passes as white may have an advantage in education or employment, but pays the price of lost authenticity to who they really are. This is a fictional portrayal to allow readers to explore how a person of mixed race may feel hiding who they really are, and also so that readers might see Jesus showing us how to reach out, accept, and love people regardless of race or heritage. There is no indication of mixed heritage is in the Bible, and the historical Joanna was likely a Hebrew. Click here for details on Facts vs. Fiction of the women of the Bible in my novel.

Why is she feeling disheartened?

She has divided loyalties and feels like she is an imposter who does not belong in either Hebrew or Greek culture. Joanna hides her Greek side because the dominant culture resents the Greeks for conquering their nation in 330s BC. Many Jews of the day used the word Greek as a derogatory term for anyone who did not believe in the God of Israel. When the Greeks invaded, they encouraged assimilation, and those who adopted Greek culture, religion, language, and identity were said to be Hellenized. Cultural assimilation is the process in which a minority group or culture comes to resemble the values, behaviours, and beliefs of the majority group. Those who do not assimilate may be segregated or marginalized.


Just as people of today realize that marrying someone of a different religion may reduce the faithful observance of your religion, Jews of the day discouraged intermarriage with non-Jews, considering it a threat to the nation and to the succession of faith to the children. As a minority group through the centuries, Jewish groups have been under pressure to assimilate. Jewish identity is passed via the mother so that if one's mother is a Jew, the law considers you Jewish and entitled to all the rights and privileges of that status. If a Jewish woman marries a non-Jewish man, the child is Jewish but some Jews would consider the marriage illegitimate. In my novel, Joanna's father is not recognized as the father and he is ostracized.


Imposter Syndrome: This is the experience of feeling like a phony, like not belonging where you are, fearing discovery as a fraud. Those with imposter syndrome doubt their own abilities and are unable to recognize their own competencies. They may downplay their own performance, sabotage their own success, or attribute success to luck instead of skill. It is most often found in high-achieving women and especially multiracial people. The term imposter phenomenon was first used by psychologists Imes and Clance in 1978 and the focus has been on teaching women having it to get over it.


In 2020, Talisa Lavarry, author of Confessions From Your Token Black Colleague” wrote imposter syndrome is not solved by a focus on the victim getting over it, but by a focus on the systems causing it. She said it is not self-doubt that held her back; it was facing frequent micro-aggressions, subtle bullying, colleagues not acknowledging her proposals, questioning her decisions, and asking for confirmation from her peers. In short, it was systemic racism and sexist bias that reinforces imposter syndrome.


Racial Imposter Syndrome: This term describes feelings of insecurity and doubt that arise when an individual’s own sense of their racial or ethnic identity doesn’t fit with how others perceive them. Lacking a stable sense of belonging, you end up feeling like an “imposter” trying to be part of a community that doesn’t fully accept you. The term was coined by the podcast Code Switch in 2018.


In the case of Joanna in my fiction, she feels like she is only a partial Hebrew or a partial Greek. She feels loyalty to her Hebrew heritage requires a betrayal of her Greek heritage, and that tears her up inside. Code Switch has explored the feeling of race betrayal, being judged or criticized for being "not Black enough", "too white", "not acting like a _____", or "only part ______". Food names have become shorthand for race betrayal. For example, a 'banana' implies an Asian person has betrayed their race or culture by being yellow on the outside and white on the inside. An 'oreo' is a nickname for a Black person who has adopted internal attitudes, values and behaviours of white society, possibly at the expense of their own heritage, and 'coconut' is a term for anyone brown on the outside, and white on the inside.


Betraying part of your race, or hiding your heritage, results when those in the dominant culture have an advantage due to heritage or appearance. I have posted other articles on the effects of racism, the harm of Canada's attempts to assimilate various cultures, and Canadian Black history. Joanna is a character of mixed heritage, including the ethnicity of a minority that was despised in the day. Readers who sometimes feel they don't belong might see themselves in her. Readers of the dominant culture may see how they can model Jesus in reaching out and showing acceptance and love to all people.






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