Monday Notes: Faking It ’til you Make it!

Growing up I’d always been told that I had to be twice as good as white people to be seen as just as good at what they do. This was the rule, simply because I was a black girl. Being raised in Chicago and attending a diverse elementary and high school for gifted students, this never proved true. We seemed to each be held by our own merits. We were all smart, and if we applied ourselves accordingly, then we achieved greatness, accordingly.

As I ventured through undergrad at Western Michigan University, I still didn’t see it. I mean I worked hard, but my own productivity and those around me seemed to equal the work we put into it. Working hard equaled success like As and Bs. Doing less proved attaining less, such as probation for poor grades. Seemed simple.

This trend continued with graduate work and ultimately with my doctorate. I really had begun to believe that the rule I’d been given about working twice as hard was false. Everyone around me seemed to be working just as hard and we were on equal footing.

But the truth was unveiled in one of the most unlikely places, academia.

I remember these events like they happened yesterday. I’d applied for a tenure-track position at the same institution…three times. Even though I was more qualified because I’d been in an academic position for two years, and even though he didn’t have the specific type of degree they’d asked for, they hired him instead. The following year, they hired me as visiting prof. This not only meant that he ranked higher, but that he also made about $12,000 more than I did.

He was a charismatic, white male, whose six-foot stature commanded attention every time he entered the room. He was a talker. You know the kind who has a story for every situation? The guy who’s like, “Yeah that reminds me of the time that…”

He was perfect in every way, except he didn’t know what he was doing. And as it turns out, he had a story for that as well.

He fondly remembered a time during his graduate career when he had no idea what the professor was talking about. He recounted this story to the program coordinator and me. She sat in her comfortable chair, glancing every so often at her Mac, then up at him, and back to me, where she offered an eye roll.

“So, the professor kept talking about some theory that he thought I should know. And, you know. I had no idea what he was talking about. I just nodded along and you know…I was just faking it ‘til I made it. You know? That’s how I got through.”

I didn’t know.

Remember, I’d spent twelve years working hard to attain everything thus far. I had no idea what he meant when he said he faked it ‘til he made it. Did he mean he faked it to here, where we stood…side-by-side? Surely that couldn’t be true.

img_5125It wasn’t until the following year when he had to teach a methodology course that the curtain of my naiveté was removed.

He knocked on my door.

“Got a minute?” he asked.


He pulled up a chair. The difference in our stature was obvious, even while sitting. We faced one another, feigning a position of equality.

“How do you teach this?” he asked.

Jesus Christ, I thought. He really had no idea, and he wanted me to teach him how to do his job. He had a PhD, just like me. But he needed me to demonstrate how to teach the class because he lacked background knowledge and experience.

So, I explained it to him.

I seethed with resentment for several months. But once I calmed down, I learned something valuable. Systemic racism exists and structural inequality is real. White privilege is not just a theory or hashtag and the patriarchy is alive.

But what can any of us do?

I believe a first step is to be transparent about our experiences and situations. Maybe speaking candidly will open a space for change to occur among those of us who care about such issues. Because one thing’s for sure…raising another generation who’s taught to work harder than them to make it where they are seems like a disservice to everyone.

Thoughts are always welcomed.


64 thoughts on “Monday Notes: Faking It ’til you Make it!

  1. You’re a better woman than I am if you actually taught him the methodology instead of suggesting activities he could use in class.

    White male mediocrity infuriates me. I don’t think I see it much in the work I do, but I have noticed that all of the systems in place are really to protect them, which is pretty much the same thing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, I’m not at all Akilah! I just am not good in the moment with things like this, plus I didn’t want people to think I wasn’t a “team player” (said with the biggest air quotes ever).

      Yes and YES to white, male mediocrity and all of its ills.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What a hard pill to swallow. I understand your family telling you that you had to work harder than us white people and I respect you so much for your hard work and determination. It’s so disgusting that racism is still going on to this day. I have to wonder if it will EVER end. I often wonder as well if the gender equality will ever cease. I work with nice guys but that do not put forth the effort that myself or other women do in the company but definitely make 30% more than we do. I would’ve had a very difficult time helping that professor Kathy with preparing him for his class. But, that shows how considerate you are. I bet deep down you wanted to kick him in the balls though. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just love you Lennon! lol yes, I absolutely did…or at least scream and cuss him out. I know you understand the gender thing because that job you had before – whew! Anywho, I do hope that something changes for all of us soon. We can’t keep functioning like this.


  3. I think for so many people, myself included, talking about race is taboo because we might offend. I think we have to take that risk sometimes. Maybe we limit it (at first) to those who know us and know our hearts.

    I know plenty of white men who “fake it til they make it.” Early in my career, one man told me that was the key to his success. Thing was, he could reach the top, but he fell every time. That’s not always true, but it was a good lesson. I don’t see you falling (we all have our setbacks, of course, but that’s different).

    Still,that systemic racism is woven so tightly into our culture we (especially those of us who are white) don’t always see it, and deny it when it’s pointed out to us.

    I appreciate your openness and the freedom I feel to express my thoughts to you. You are always honest in your answers (and so much of what we discuss on this blog has little to do with race) yet respectful. That’s the sort of thing that to me. opens awareness. Building trust and compassion.

    I rambled a bit here, hope there is a coherent train of thought regardless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh you haven’t rambled Belinda. I understand exactly what you mean by all of this. And thank you for your (always) kind words. With that said, I agree that a lot of times we cannot move through a conversation because of emotions and sometimes disregard of emotion and fact. So many times white people, in particular, choose to dismiss the idea that racism STILL exist, just in a different and more implicit form, through institutions. But I think we do this with almost every ism. If women insist sexism still exist on some level, then men deny and act like we’re crazy.

      Anywho, thanks for adding to the conversation and also sharing your story. I think it’s important to keep discussions going so they might lead to actions that change something.


      1. I agree, and I can only imagine how frustrating and hurtful it is when people deny your experience. A lot of people don’t believe they harbor any racist (or sexist) beliefs and don’t see it in the world around them. Yet it is so often subtly engrained, and we don’t recognize it for what it is.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This is so true, Kathy. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. We need more like you speaking out. I would get upset when I have the skills and education for a particular job and someone less qualified get the job. Excellent post!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great post Kathy. Really love your writing here. I think the reason you didn’t see it till academia is that the measures through schooling are more objective- unless you have teachers purposely marking pupils up or down. I guess Academia or any other place of work reflects society, although I imagine theres a lot more institutional racism going on in an university setting…the old boys peering through portraits hung on hallowed halls…

    So where’s Mr Fake it now?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Mek! Thanks for the compliment…I’ve had an urge to return to a “true” creative nonfiction writing pattern (sometimes).

      I agree. I also think that as a former high school teacher, there wasn’t as much room for these things to rear their heads because getting and attaining that job is usually very clear cut and level (more or less). For example, the only reason someone might make more money is because they’re higher on the pay scale or do extra activities. I forgot to add those words “institutional racism.” That was my point exactly. Universities go waaaay back in perpetuating all types of societal ills, and I wasn’t privy to them until I got that job.

      He’s still there. Should be going up for tenure soon. I’m sure he’l make it 😉


      1. You’re welcome! So the pay disparity is clearly a factor too. I was reading the other day about how there has been a rise in vocal support of the right wing by members of the LGBTI community. The crux of it being that even with a compromise to rights and respect of their identity, something is driving their support of parties that don’t support them…the commonality though is money and all the other policies of a typical right wing party that would support their pursuit and accumulation of wealth and a shared fear/loathing of what they see as getting in the way of that, whether it is Islam or socialists approach to healthcare. I’ve not stated it eloquently but I hope you get what I mean…in the school setting where there is greater equality in pay, there is no need for the kind of behaviours you see in academia where people will play on differences in pursuit of the mighty dollar.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh and another thing … my understanding of ‘fake it till yiu make it’ is that it’s about faking to overcome a lack of *confidence* in ones ability as opposed to ones actual ability. What he was doing sounds closer to incompetence.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Or maybe im just not accepting its use in any other way. Funny I looked into a site where you can pick up writing work…there were people asking for research papers to be writtten for them to submit yo journals. People do that???? 😨

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Reminds me of a time when I was in the software industry and a cocky White guy was hired for the same work, but was fresh out of school and faintly related to the manager. He did nothing all day, and disappeared for hours at a time, and yet, when my office mate and I pointed that out to the manager, the situation was not remedied. He had to be worked with and trained, she said, although I came in highly skilled and hard-working enough to fake it until I learned the parts of the job I didn’t know. One day, after weeks of taking up his slack, we decided to boldly remove his computers from the testing lab. It went unnoticed, because he WAS NOT using them. Then, part for humor sake and part because we were fed up with his privilege, we took turns firing him (without the authority, mind you) and he grew less cocky and avoided us altogether, although he complained to the manager that we were unfriendly and unsupportive (choking on my tongue here) and the only reason we probably were not reprimanded was that we were highly productive, bad-ass testers (LOL). Then one day the manager came into the lab and told us he wouldn’t be back because HE GOT ANOTHER JOB. Needless to say, I kept the job both because I had to and I liked it, but it was just another reminder for me that, with this beautiful brown skin, I have never even thought I could get away with being unqualified or under-qualified for a position.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. wow. I was shaking my head throughout this entire story. The things we endure just because that’s the way it is. Then, he tried to put it off on you two as if you were unfriendly lol It’s good that you and your colleague were able to have some retribution.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to laugh. Prior to becoming an educator, I worked for an housing agency in the city. There was a woman they hired, she came from another housing authority in a township nearby. I remember us having deadline for HUD and she had no idea what she was doing. I remember her clearly saying “fake it, until you make it.” That faking it did nothing but get her fired not long afterward, with her supervisor and security escorting her out of the building. Wow! That has been forever etched in my mind. Lesson learned: I want to be fully prepared and qualified for anything that God has for me. I say this even now as I prepare for a speech I’m doing at a university in December. I want to be prepared and know my content.

    Also, thank you for your email. I was going to respond, and then I went on my “delete email blast” and your response was delete. Thank you for the information, it was very helpful and greatly appreciated. I looked up the WordPress 101 course. Hopefully, I will take it on my holiday break or the weekend. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Riiight! I would be mortified to find out I was unqualified for a job…seems to stressful to always be having to ask people for help and figure out what to do. Congrats and good luck in December! I hope you post some snippets on your blog or IG so we can see it!

      You’re welcome about the email. I was wondering if my reply scared you lol Let me know how 101 goes.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Do you think that it would have been better for you, Kathy, had you realised earlier that:

    ” I learned something valuable. Systemic racism exists and structural inequality is real. White privilege is not just a theory or hashtag and the patriarchy is alive”?

    It sounds as if it was a shock that you became aware of this at the time you did. What upset you most, the discovery that it existed or the fact that you found out about it when you did? Had you been more prepared, do you think you would have handled the “privileged person situation” in a different way? Did you feel compromised, that if you didn’t help him, then you would be judged an ineffective team member? Lots of questions, I know, but having read your story I think I would’ve declined helping him – in a very tactful way (of course!), but then I am looking at this after the event – who knows, maybe I too would’ve felt that I had no alternative but to “teach him how to do his job”.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for asking this Marie, because I am in a reflective space about all of this past job stuff, so it’s helpful.

      Maybe it would’ve been better because then I would’ve (maybe) known to expect it and what to do. Or I suppose I never took having to be twice as good to mean that I’d end up working with someone who just didn’t know what in the who hay he was doing at all…that never crossed my mind.

      I do think the timing was shocking. To receive a terminal degree, and then end up with someone who blatantly admits to faking it til he made it was unexpected at that level of work, I suppose.

      I did feel as if I had to show that I was a part of the team. I no longer have that affliction lol In fact, in my present job, I’ve been asked to show someone (who isn’t qualified) to do X and have declined (not sure if it was tactful or not), but I’ve decided I’m not doing that anymore. So, part of this answer involves self-worth on some level. I value my own experience and background and refuse to provide free training to someone just because someone over me decided s/he needed a job. And I sleep well at night 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Kathy. I don’t think it should ever come as a given that you are expected to teach someone of a higher position than you how to do their own job. As a personal secretary, I had to do 2 interviews and a test before being offered the role. Not long after, they took on someone who didn’t even know how to set out a letter or type after having only an ‘informal’ interview. She was of course qualified for the post because she wasn’t the wrong skin colour. I ended up having to ‘teach’ her, not because she asked, but because she bombarded me with so many questions.
        Well done for doing what you consider to be right for you!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. So much to say but I’ll keep it brief. The squeaky incompetent ones too often succeed while others work hard to get (and stay) to where we are. But due to those experiences we become smarter and stonger. Been there, done that and quickly learned what to do for the next time around…👀

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Such an interesting story, Kathy. Resentment sounds understandable. In your heart you know the truth and even though there’s so much unfairness here – I hope you can hold your head up high. You’ve worked hard to get where you are and this man knows in his heart that you are much more capable and qualified. He may fall down someday.
    But you will continue to work your way up and up. May nothing get in your way. You are such an inspiration.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. This is a good, thoughtful post. It took me back to graduate school (which in my case was before the earth cooled)…I was actually told that a less qualified male candidate was selected for a TA post because “he’s married and has a family to support” – in my field at the time (history) there were almost no women professors. So it was a male preference thing. I’m glad you shared your experience, and sad to hear that kind of garbage still happens in academia (or anywhere, but the irony is that in academia they supposedly know better).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. lol about being in grad school before the earth cooled lol
      Academia is like the “old boys network” for real. It’s unreal to me that someone would even say that to your face!

      And yes, yes, yes! This is what I tried to explain to someone once before. To me it was the biggest disappointment because they’re so liberal and so understanding of textbook theories, but perpetuate BS daily.

      Anywho, thanks for reading and commenting! I’m sorry we share this experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’ve lived in the South all my life from Louisianna to North Carolina and now in Florida and white privilege still runs rampant even in the 21 century. It’s so much a part of the fabric of the culture that some people don’t even realize it’s happening. So awareness is needed and people willing to go against there own kind. Now that is where the noble heart is born.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. JC, that I do believe. At one point, I did tell the program coordinator racism was alive there. She asked me why I said that and I told her to look around. There’s only me here in this type of position and you weren’t even looking for me.

      I agree also about being willing to go against your own kind, or just the status quo, in general. Thanks for adding these thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m glad you made it as far as you did before you encountered the realities of white privilege… maybe that means we are making progress. Your “fakin’ it” colleague had a lot of balls, unfairly beating you out of the job and then coming to you for advice on how to teach his class. I don’t think my response would have been as nice as yours. More like, “Well, maybe you’d better quit faking it and go figure it out!” Did you say anything to your boss about the incident? Maybe he/she doesn’t know the guy isn’t competent? Another great post, very thought-provoking. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had to think about it Joan. I really think these things are more prevalent in some areas of America (the South), as opposed to others. Or maybe I just hadn’t been paying attention. I’m not sure.

      lol about if my boss knew. EVERYONE knew. But it didn’t matter.

      Thanks so much for reading this one ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi girlfriend, this is more common than you know..there are plenty people living large on 30k per year, and plenty people in positions because of their social environment. You’ve seen this…at the bank when simple problems can’t be solved, in our schools, when a principal and staff would rather send a child to an alternative school for something minor…instead of getting to the root of the problem, and the so many places that we go…when the girl at the front desk doesn’t have a clue. Lol. Work smart, move strategically, and encourage support instead of hate for better days. Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great examples! And yes, I believe it. I just wish there was some way to mobilize and change society for the better. There are always more people who are oppressed (no matter the category) than oppressors.

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂


  15. I would have smiled, told him to “fake it till he made it” and left it at that. HA.

    Seriously, the few times I’ve found myself ‘training’ someone for a position I had applied and was more than qualified for, it’s all been Black women who were hired instead of me. They were all internal positions which would have provided me a step up on the food chain.

    In each instance, I was told by my then supervisor that I was doing a stellar job at my level; the hiring supervisor had access to my performance reports as well. But alas, I was never called in for interviews or given any reason why my application went unacknowledged. Was my supervisor lying to me about my current performance; did neither manager see me as being capable beyond the confines of my then current gig? Despite my credentials or proven expertise, they hired Black female whom they then sent to me to train.

    I too grew up with the “have to work harder than” philosophy and was sent to an HBCU as a means of negating the stress for my college years. But at no time was I prepared for the situations I encountered. In support of sisterhood, I provided the necessary training, but had no outlet for my confusion or resentment.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. lol – I had to wait until I had time to respond. Sooo, that’s what I do now. I decide i I want to “help” the person and then proceed to or not to. I’d written (and then deleted) that I helped him because I wanted to be seen as a part of the team, but since this situation, I care less about that. Either people see me as a part of the team, or not.

      Dang about it all being Black women. Is it because you work primarily with that demographic? What’s that all about?

      I’d have to add that I don’t think unqualified people, no matter who they are should be hired to do jobs they don’t have the background for.

      Thanks for adding this. I appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. There’s a lot of good talk lately about what it really means to share privilege. It would be nice to arrive at a day when none of us need to push ourselves beyond any kind of limit just to arrive at normal.

    Liked by 6 people

  17. I loved this story K E. Keep speaking up. I just got finished watching an inspirational BBC drama about a first-ever african american woman landing the British equivalent of Attorney General and commuting back and forth to the States to save a man on Death Row in Louisiana. It’s called ‘Cover Up’ and is only 6 episodes long on Amazon. She played by the same rules you describe. Worked really hard to climb the ladder and still had obstacles.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. It’s sad when the most qualified person doesn’t get the job. Perhaps we should all be given a number, and have us fill out a questionairre. Then, the hiring would be based on written answers and nothing else.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Thank you for this.
        I don’t know what the answer is.
        When I was in third grade I came home and said a racist word, not knowing what it meant and
        my mother back-handed me, and told me never to say that word again. Lesson learned. I passed my values down to my son, and I really think the next generation is the answer, and the next, but I don’t know how things will change if the media won’t stop sensationalising black crime, and overlooking white crime, especially white collar crime, or admit and make reparations for the crimes, the violence, the Holocaust-like treatment of and resultant PTSD of generations of families. In my heart I know my spiritual life, my ability to have compassion for the ignorance of those whom would harm me, directly or indirectly, is nothing compared to that of my brown and yellow fellow humans. I feel like a dunce, a lurching, grabbing caveman, a bull-in-a-china-shop emotional I.Q. I just keep trying, reading, trying to become better informed, to be the change I want to see.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re welcome and thank you for reading and reading the comments, so that you can understand fully what I’m saying here…that I appreciate.

        I think you’ve named some answers: 1) upbringing is important because racism and other parts of it are passed down, sometimes. 2) I agree about the media overrepresenting so-called black crime, and underrepresenting so-called white crime. A friend of mine pointed this out to me a couple years ago, saying really…it’s just crime. 3) awareness and self-awareness is key, which you also say here. I’m not sure all of us are. 4) Work on ourselves as much as possible to impact society. So there, lol it seems you did have the answer 😉 Thanks again for adding your opinion.

        Liked by 1 person

Comments are welcomed

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s