Distancing Doubt to Embrace Creativity

Kuumba, the sixth principle of Kwanzaa, honors creativity. Yet, for many of us, the call to create evokes anxiety rather than celebration. 

“Doubt is one of the many thieves of joy,” Dionne Warwick recently tweeted to a follower requesting help combating imposter syndrome–that nagging feeling that you’re not good enough or that you don’t belong, despite evidence to the contrary. 

I relished Ms. Warwick’s poetic denouncement of doubt and cheered her subsequent recommendation of therapy. Yet, I would argue that the sentence preceding her advice contains the real gem: 

“I had to Google this term.” 

Ms. Warwick’s unfamiliarity with the term provides the perfect metaphor for the distance it’s necessary to create between one’s self and feelings of inferiority in order to embrace creativity. Imposter Syndrome? Don’t know her. Self-doubt? Can’t place him.

Creating such distance is a form of self-defense, because self-doubt is a rapacious thief. Not satisfied with stealing joy, it greedily attempts to rob you of your power, causing you to expend precious time and energy attacking your self-esteem or engaging in futile comparisons between yourself and what you perceive to be the abilities and achievements of others. 

That loss of power can result in inertia. Neil Peterson of PsychCentral describes this impact on mental health as a “vicious cycle,” where “[w]e become the object at rest that stays at rest.”

Unfortunately, Black people can be particularly susceptible to feelings of self-doubt. As Jolie A. Doggett explains in a HuffPost article, this is because the negative voices we hear are not confined to our heads. Instead, “we receive almost daily messages from society that we truly don’t belong.” 

It is no wonder, then, that the Black poet, essayist, and activist Audre Lorde declared, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” To combat the toxins of white supremacy, it is imperative that we practice self-care as if our very lives depend on it.

It is apropos that many of our forebears who have offered us guides to free ourselves from the cycle of psychologically-induced inertia have been Black creatives. Creativity is production; it is movement; it is the antithesis of inertia. These creatives demonstrate what is possible when we engage in emotional emancipation. 

Moreover, as many of our artistic ancestors reveal, creativity can also provide the antidote to inertia, generating a new cycle of healing. During the Harlem Renaissance, writers such as Walter White, Jessie Fauset, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston depicted Black creativity, Black joy, and the rejection of Black inferiority as inextricably linked. Their works were shared and these liberating messages were reproduced, becoming part of our literary genealogy. Their creations remain gifts to our community. 

At its essence, celebrating Kwanzaa requires practicing radical self-care, for it calls upon us to honor the rich culture and contributions of the African diaspora in defiance of a world that would seek to have us forget or disbelieve that such riches even exist. To truly embrace Kuumba, we must know that, like our ancestors, we too have gifts to bring.

Summer L. Hamilton

We invite you to join our virtual emotional emancipation circle on CHNConnect to connect, learn, heal, and grow together as people of Black African ancestry.

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Healing will come when I reach out, reach up, reach back, and reach within.