Jessica Williams Doesn't Have Imposter Syndrome

Photo: Rob Latour/REX USA.

On Sunday, Jessica Williams, a correspondent for The Daily Show, took to Twitter to remove herself from the running to replace Jon Stewart. Though she's a universally admired member of the show, she explained to her followers that taking Stewart's job simply isn't right for her.
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This was disappointing news, to be sure. Not only has there been high demand for a woman behind any kind of late-night desk, but Williams specifically has done excellent work on covering women's issues on The Daily Show. (For an example, please see her segment on catcalling.) But, she made it clear that Williams simply wasn't interested in the position.

However, earlier today Williams' decision became the subject of scrutiny from The Billfold, a blog that covers work and money. Writer Ester Bloom claimed that Williams was acting not out of confidence in her own interests, but as a victim of imposter syndrome, a mental block many women impose upon themselves out of belief that they're secretly not qualified for their jobs and will one day be discovered, booted, and humiliated.

"All Williams needs is a pep talk," Bloom wrote. "Jessica Williams, respectfully, I reject your humility. What on earth does 'under-qualified' mean when it comes to being a comedian? You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re self-possessed. Is there something I’m missing?" In a word, Bloom dubbed Williams' response as "bullshit."

Then, this happened.
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The problem with Bloom's piece is that it's contradictory in its purpose. While it was likely intended to encourage Williams, who Bloom believed simply didn't believe in herself, it instead put her down. The headline of the story says Williams is a "victim" and simultaneously charges the comedian with the burden of all women. When Williams says on Twitter that she's not qualified and still young, it's not that she thinks she doesn't deserve the gig. It's that Stewart's job is so much more than cracking jokes. It's a profession that Comedy Central ultimately believes influences elections. When Williams readily admits that her political prowess isn't up to snuff, that's not cowardice — it's being self-aware, something many twenty-somethings struggle to grasp. Where this self-assured confidence is celebrated elsewhere, Williams was damned for it. 

Williams initiated a direct conversation with Bloom on Twitter regarding her story. "This is incredibly insulting," she wrote. "How can you call me a 'victim' for making a choice myself?" she asked. Bloom updated the story and apologized to Williams via Twitter. Still, the damage is arguably done. Where the Shine Theory could have prevailed, Williams instead was left to echo the sentiments of one Barack Obama: "Can I live?"
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