On Confidence and the Kimye Effect

Do we expect less confidence from some people than from others?

What do you think of these quotes? They’re from a thirteen-year-old birthday girl, and a young black musician, respectively:

“See me when I’m famous, and remember me as this beautiful little girl.”

“My life is dope, and I do dope shit.”

Totally honestly? I’m envious of the people who had the guts to say them: Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Other than being the married, multiracial, unapologetically self-assured, sartorial powerhouses they are, these two have something else in common: they’re hated. People just love to hate them.

In fact, it seems that Kim and Kanye are being punished for not asking themselves the same questions that constantly plague me: “Do I deserve success?” “Am I worthy?” “Am I special?” Though I’ve often been called “an inspiration” or “brave” (probably because I happen to be an extrovert who likes bold style choices and public speaking)— the truth is I still struggle to know, deep in my bones, what exactly I want and if I am deserving of anything grand.

This isn’t just about Kimye. Anytime someone breezes into a room like they own the place and speaks clearly about what they’re accomplishing in life without any pretense at false modesty—it’s tempting to call them arrogant and dismiss them. Especially, if the perpetrator of the confidence crime is an audacious woman or minority. They aren’t cis white men! Who let them get all this self-assurance?

Arguably, manifest destiny made it really cool for white men to think they are owed the world. Literally. White male privilege still shows its ivory head all over: in the workplace—where minorities are still paid less and women are leaving glass ceiling jobs in droves; in public—where they kick neighborhood kids out of a park; or in policy—where they can take women to court on behalf of the unborn fetus. All of this deserving, “the world is my oyster” attitude stinks of arrogance. (Phew. This is heavy. If you need a lighthearted laugh about privilege, take it now.)

On the flip side, we’ve got the Others: Women, LGBTQ folks, people of color, differently abled folks, people with less money or resources, you get the drift… it’s a rough world. Many of us aren’t born expecting to go to college much less thinking we need to be handed a million in seed money for every new startup idea. Did you know that the expectations a teacher has for a student can raise or lower the their IQ? Meaning, every time we come across a prejudice, it’s that much harder for us in the world.

It’s tough out there. You already know that women need to stop apologizing. So what happens when we do? This young woman simply agreed with all the compliments she was sent on Twitter/Tinder and in return, was repeatedly called a bitch and a cunt. (Of course the compliments were immediately revoked.) As student Katie Smith sums it up:

“For many men, beauty, coolness, [and] desirability are gifts they alone can bestow upon women. They get baffled, even aggressive when you show you’ve known you possess those things all along.”

We live in an age where to love, value, and respect yourself as a minority, or woman, or any kind of Other (a la Kimye) is a radical act that deeply transgresses the status quo. We need to stop putting ourselves down (unless it’s for a hilarious Amy Schumer skit). We require affirmations, not judgments. For me that process starts with defining my terms. I see arrogance as confidence that lacks gratitude. I don’t want to require humbleness from my friends. I want my friends to call me bursting with pride when shit’s going really, really right. My insecurities have to remain my own. The challenge is on us to find a way to build each other up, since the universe isn’t going to do it for us.

Today’s open thread is about how we express confidence, and how we react to others’ confidence, particularly when that other is An Other. Why are successful people (especially when they don’t happen to be wealthy white guys) expected to say “aw shucks” instead of “thanks for noticing; here’s why I’m excited about this and here’s what I plan to do next”? How do you deal when your confidence is perceived as arrogance? What’s the difference between the two?

How can we change the culture that says any successful Other isn’t deserving of their wins?

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