• Emma Bayley-Melendez

“You don’t sound very working class” - debunking Imposter Syndrome.

Emma Bayley-Melendez writes about her experiences of imposter syndrome at the University of Bristol and being proud of her working-class background.

Who are you Wearing? (Still from Animation) by Gisela Mulindwa (Instagram: @gisela.mulindwa)

Image Description: 'Who are you wearing?' is an experimental animation set at a party, it follows the protagonist changing their mask and losing control as anxieties become heightened. Using collage, live action, paint and crochet masks the film reflects on personal experiences of performing identity in an attempt to fit cultural expectations. The animation's portrayal of anxiety due to performing identity ties into the article's intent to debunk the imposter syndrome through a restored sense of pride in working class culture.


“You don’t sound very working class”.


Yes, someone did say that to me. My response was a mixture of bemusement and discomfort. What’s a working-class person supposed to sound like? Did they forget to deliver me a guidebook when I was born? I find it quite staggering that these kinds of narrow-minded comments still circulate.


Being born in the West Midlands (not the North, for anyone that thinks anywhere South of London is Northern), I grew up with a different perspective on class. Wolverhampton (my hometown) is a city that brings me nostalgic comfort but also reminds me of the wider structural issues that seem to persist within British society. It’s an area where drug addiction is certainly not glamorous and education is your ticket out.


Imposter syndrome is a very real phenomenon. As a working-class person that lived in the not-so-nice part of the city, my desire to do better for myself was always marred by an inferiority complex that was consistently fought by my proudly independent single Mom from a very young age. If I ever doubted myself or thought I couldn’t do certain things she would always hit me back with, “Well someone has got to do it, why not you?”. Truly, I didn’t realise how much her persistent encouragement helped me till now.


My desire to do better for myself was always marred by an inferiority complex that was consistently fought by my proudly independent single Mom from a very young age.

When I was seventeen, I was selected by my sixth form to attend a social etiquette event for high achievers from low socio-economic areas. Two students from my sixth form were meant to attend alongside me but they pulled out at the last minute. Though I count myself to be an extroverted person, the prospect of going alone to London and networking at this event, having had no real experience before, was mildly terrifying. As we were pulling into London Euston, I remember playing The Clash’s London Calling– I cringe now but back then this felt like a big deal. For those from similar backgrounds to me, events like this are a big deal and there’s no shame in that. I’m not bitter that I don’t have endless contacts or someone that could have secured a work experience placement for me in an Investment Bank; everything I have achieved has been a result of my efforts.


I’m not bitter that I don’t have endless contacts or someone that could have secured a work experience placement for me in an Investment Bank; everything I have achieved has been a result of my efforts.

Being the first in my generation to go to university means that everything you accomplish feels like a minor milestone. Conversations with my grandparents whenever I did anything (and I mean anything) turned into virtual awards ceremonies. They may not be able to relate to my academic experiences, but their pride was still palpable. In the days following my Grandad’s death, I frantically scoured through his messages for temporary comfort. Beyond laughing at the gifs he would send I was shocked to stumble across all the photos he had sent family members and friends of me. As an 80-year-old man that was fairly technologically literate, I was overwhelmed to see it all because though we often spoke of what I was doing and achieving, I hadn’t grasped how this manifested. One exchange, in particular, sparked the most emotion. In February (2020), I attended a trip to the EU Parliament with the Young Fabians. My Mom had sent the group photo from the trip and underneath it was his message: “Our girl done well”.

You forget how significant those small moments are until it’s all you’re inhaling to find yourself. I can hear his words with the black country twang he had. It feels like home to me.


For so long I felt like I was trying to escape the cul-de-sac, the semi-detached home, the estate, the city. Going to university, and a university as middle-class as the University of Bristol, I half-heartedly convinced myself that I was able to turn away from an identity I embodied with a kind of a muted shame. It doesn’t matter how many quinoa salads and ginger shots you have; you will still be from Wolverhampton and getting a degree won’t erase your identity even if you think you’d prefer it to be like that. I would say that I’m being dramatic but when I was younger and told people the part of the city I was from, they would always look surprised and say, “I didn’t think you’d live there”. So, I always had this kind of confused sense of self between what I inherently am and what I want to be.


You forget how significant those small moments are until it’s all you’re inhaling to find yourself.

At twenty-two, the shame I may have felt about being working class has run its course. I’m proud of my home, it might not be big, but my Mom owns it. I may not like Wolverhampton but it’s the city that gave me the structures and grit I needed to get out. Coming back home after graduating felt like therapy, like I was regressing, but I realise how much I have grown since I left for university. Now I’m working in a school and saving money for when I leave for London. It’s incredibly poignant to see students that possess a fatalistic outlook on their futures, seeing their class and background as a limiting factor. Classes can feel so divisive and the pandemic has massively widened gaps between the haves and have nots. Only in summer, we saw how results could be irretrievably influenced by a postcode. Though the impact was reversed for most, it still perpetuated a narrative that being intelligent isn’t enough when you’re bound to a certain alphanumeric combination.


Now more than ever I think owning who you are is essential, even if that means owning the discomfort at times.


I am proud.


This article is written by Emma Bayley-Melendez.

Instagram account: @semidetached_ebm

Blog: http://semi-detached-by-ebm.co.uk/

Further reads:


What is Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it?

https://www.mindful.org/how-to-overcome-impostor-syndrome/

A fairly short online course on understanding Imposter syndrome which can help you identify patterns of undermining your confidence: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/overcoming-imposter-syndrome

Social class in the UK:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_class_in_the_United_Kingdom

Why Britain's class system will have to change:

https://theconversation.com/why-britains-class-system-will-have-to-change-58188

This article was edited by Pranavi Hiremath and Tamara El-Halawani, students at the University of Edinburgh.


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