Does race play a role in perfectionism?
Having been a student for most of my life, I am no stranger to perfectionism. Most google searches and even therapy sessions ask a lot about your internal thoughts and childhood. All this is certainly important to dissect; however, I think race is missing from the equation, especially because it can really bring to light internal thoughts that could have otherwise remained hidden.
All of this came to the forefront of my mind when I saw the video of Rayshard Brooks being arrested and then learned later that he was fatally shot by police. The idea of needing to be perfect to "not give them a reason" really brought up a lot of memories for me. When I was little, while my mom definitely did not put undue pressure on me, I clearly remember her telling me before I went to school that not only was I representing my family but I was representing my race. At that age, it didn't occur to me how sad it was that she had to say that to me, that I essentially had to be perfect to not "give them a reason" to discriminate against me.
Later on when I was in school, I clearly remember being told I "acted white." I knew this was not something people should say but I'd be remiss if I don't say I wasn't happy to hear it. Being told I was acting white, that my skin wasn't "dark enough" made me feel separated from my race but it also made me feel like I was succeeding. As sick as that sounds, the further I was from my black identity, the better I thought I was doing. I was constantly stuck between proving my worth as a black person and trying to get further away from my black identity. I was not ashamed of my race per say, but I definitely wasn't proud of it.
Years later as I finish up my undergraduate degree in Psychology, I've allowed myself to reflect on all this and I realized a lot of the perfectionist behavior and thoughts I have might be in part due to the idea that I constantly had to prove myself. As a black person, I was not allowed to make mistakes because I couldn't "give them a reason." If I gave them a reason, it was my fault and I deserved whatever punishment they thought I should have for my misdeeds.
As one might expect, feeling the need to constantly prove yourself or that you are not good enough can be some of the factors that contribute to maladaptive perfectionism. And this perfectionism will not be confined to academics. Like all other maladaptive behaviors, it will not be confined solely to one's academic or professional areas of life but will most certainly spill over and affect all areas of life. Personally speaking, I feel this is something that happened in my life. Race could not explain away all of my experiences, but having made this realization, I certainly feel I have dug up something of significance.
Please understand that I am not using race as a scapegoat. There are consequences for every action and misdeeds from mine to Brooks' are no exception. what I want to point out though is that often times, the consequences of not being perfect for black people not only leads to unnecessary pressure on them to prove that the black race is worthy of respect but unnecessarily cruel punishments when we "give them a reason."