Sunday, November 2, 2014

Long Time


It's been a long time since I've liked a popular song this much. Maybe 7 years or more. Maybe more than that.

The voice is an incredible instrument. It's also incredible how many unique melodies can be created over time.

Otherwise, I'm in a pensive mood tonight. I'm stuck on a presentation I have to make on Tuesday but don't want to do any more work on it tonight. And so many other things on my mind.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Reason to Go


I need to sleep because I need to be up in about 6 hours. But I did want to reflect on this.

I now have a reason to go. Not only to die, but to aim for heaven.

I want to see my grandfather again, and I know that he's there.

And while I want to live a long life, and see my own children and grandchildren, and maybe even great grandchildren like he did, I have no reason to want to be here indefinitely.

He's there, with his father and mother, because as he was dying he called to them. He's there, with my grandmother's parents, and my grandmother will join them. When I hear nostalgic music or remember my childhood, I remember when everything was good and that was when he was in it, when he was a constant, a given, before I knew death, or life, really.

I was listening to Luther Vandross' "A House is Not a Home" and reflected on how many people were alive for the majority of my life so far who have now passed, most of them not at all close to me, and then there was Grandfather.

I think the feeling that he is not gone, that he just exists in another realm, in another the pull of heaven a little bit more urgency.

I pray that I can be everything he dreamed of for me and more.

And insha'Allah I'll meet up with Grandfather again, someday.

And I won't just feel his essence when I'm quiet or when I listen to New Jack Swing from the early 90s or gut-bucket blues from the 1930s and 40s.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


As salaam alaikum,

One of the last things about my grandfather that he lost in the months leading up to his death was his personality. Or, I'm unsure if it was his personality per se or more his unassuming nature. I'm not sure the two are the same. They could be. I'm not sure how much of this is an artifact of my grandfather's upbringing, in a small, Southern Baptist family in the South, how much has to do with growing up during Jim Crow and having to choose deference to white people or face certain death, and how much was just his gentle nature. But my grandfather, in the time I knew him, was very unassuming.

"Oh, don't worry about me, baby." "You don't have to do that." "When you're not busy, could you..." "I'm sorry to bother you, but..."

So while my grandmother, in her heyday, would absolutely dominate all conversation in the room, my grandfather was often silent. Even after his death, my grandmother confided in my mother that she worries that he won't speak up for himself on Judgement Day.

When I learned of grandfather's death, I immediately cried but instantaneously felt a nur that could only come from God, and I was blessed to feel his presence. I knew he was not far, and that he was not suffering, and that he was with God, and it was fine. And it's been fine. And though I missed him at the family gathering after the funeral, the chair that he would occupy inside the house during such gatherings empty, I felt his presence in all of us, his offspring.

And one of the things I either got from him or learned from him is how to be unassuming.

Because I am unassuming in my daily comings and goings. I sometimes don't advocate for myself. I think more than that, I purposefully don't try to stand out in certain situations. Sometimes I feel that I do the spiritual equivalent of shrinking myself as small into a corner as I can. And I don't know how much of this was left-over, learned Muslimah jeito from college, but I try not to be too loud (though I have a naturally resonant voice), too boisterous. I try not to take up too much space, consume too much energy around me.

As a result, I feel as if sometimes, people don't really know me, or that the traits they do know me for are artifacts of the unassuming nature.

Then I worry if I'm not really nice, understanding and a good listener.

I've thought about this more as I've begun to speak up more for myself, let my opinions be known, speak before getting a chance to pour over the intent of my words so much. Sometimes, I don't feel myself when I do this, although it is certainly necessary when assuming an authoritative role, like senior resident, recruitment chief, or later, attending.

I've been thinking about this as I've contemplated my career and the various leadership roles I'd like to take, and as I see that if I don't advocate for myself, few people will. People are ready to assume mediocrity, perhaps in part because my unassuming nature. People are ready to dismiss me or consider me someone not worth knowing.

I'm not bland. I'm not boring. I'm just different. And if I spoke of my interests with as much fervor and pride as some of my friends do, as if all of our base interests are universal or at the least theirs are the ones worth sharing, then I'd be in no way dismissed, ever.

But there's something to be said about humility.

I think there's a balance. One can advocate for themselves and influence their own environment while still being humble and kind. I just have to make sure that when I'm unassuming, it's not to my own detriment while being of little benefit to those around me I'm trying not to offend.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Black Achievement

As salaam alaikum,

I was reminded of this while watching a "Key and Peele" episode in which they compared black college movies with white college movies. White college movies were all about the party and college was a given. Black college movies were all about college as the destination, as if once insurmountable.

I have two cousins doing their studies in my hometown. One is in her first three weeks of graduate school, the other has started as an undergraduate. Both of them had small meltdowns on Facebook over the course of this week, threatening (though purely out of frustration) to drop out of their respective programs.

These are two highly motivated, very intelligent young women who earned their acceptance into their respective programs but who I feel did not have a realistic idea of what they were getting into upon matriculation.

Which is fine. I certainly did not know what I was getting into when I started medical school.

But I recognize something that one of my friends pointed out about black students. I recognize that she made sweeping generalizations and that there is no data, but I found her observations interesting. My friend was a tutor at one of the Harvard residence halls and had students of various ethnicities. She was supposed to be a resource, or at least a gateway to resources for the students. She noticed students of other races and ethnicities either had their own external resources for money and mentorship or they sought her out. Black students, who were the least likely to have outside money or mentors, also did not seek help. Another of my friends, also a tutor, acknowledged the same thing. The two of them believed that this was because, for the black students, college was the destination. They did not plan for the during or the after.

For a lot of black students, college is the destination. Education is the goal, not career.

Though few of these students would admit to matriculating into a school for the sake of college, few of them actually have the tools or insight to apply their education to their career aspiration. And few have the first idea of how to get those tools.

Facebook doesn't help. Facebook for both of my cousins became a place to boast their achievements and make sweeping statements about their broad aspirations, the audience being adoring family and friends who really do admire the ambition but have little to offer. Facebook also became the place of the meltdown, where those same people offer platitudes but no solid mentorship.

I'm not saying that this phenomenon is unique to black students. I'm sure a lot of college students of many backgrounds find themselves in the same place. I'm also not saying it's true of all black college students. But there are some things that ring true for me in my own educational and career trajectory, although, alhamdulillah, I've done well.

But college cannot be the destination. Sometimes, our families, as in black families, only know how to laud college. How's school and how's your grades? That's good, baby.

And that is good, but what are you studying? What classes are you taking for that? Have you been able to shadow or get an internship over the summer for that? How are you using your summers? Who are your mentors? If you don't have any, can you get some? Is there anyone whose career path you'd like to emulate? How does your resume look?

College is not the destination. Sometimes, your first career is not the destination. We should continue to congratulate high-achieving young people, but empty praise is not going to help them when school or training ultimately hits bumps or becomes frustrating.

The destination is not the 4.0. While grades and even grade point can be important depending on what career you are in, the goal is sustainable learning and application.

The destination is not the degree. It's not even the doors opened once you have the degree or the job you ultimately get with your qualifications.

The destination is not walking across the stage, loved ones looking on, pictures cross-posted on Facebook and Instagram, the degree on display in your home.

There are no destinations, just steps along a journey.

And as long as our students continue to set premature destinations and form their study habits, aspirations and life paradigms around these premature endpoints, then yes, there will be frustration, and yes, there will be wasted time, and yes, things will feel insurmountable that don't have to.

So I'm going to try to be there for my cousins and let them know that.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Body of Confessions: Long Hair


I'm on nights right now and I just squeezed by with only four hours of sleep. There is a mandatory diversity session at my residency tomorrow that I have to attend from 1-5pm, thus abdicating a full morning of sleep. I should have slept more, but I'm so excited that I have a little bit more time to write because I'm sleeping less.

Earlier this week, I decided to resume taking vitamins for hair and nails. I had taken these vitamins consistently for several months during medical school and saw some real results in terms of not only hair health but hair length unparalleled to my previous efforts. I stopped taking them, actually, only after I had lost some weight and the pills started making me nauseous. At that time, I also started doing some other hair care things that really improved my hair health overall, and I have seen more strength, health and growth than I have seen since I was 12 years old. I have had some breakage at my crown, though, so I decided it would be a good time to bring hair vitamins back into the mix.

Hair vitamins also have B complex, which is helpful for me for stress. When I started taking B complex in medical school (before I started hair vitamins), my mood improved tremendously in just a couple of weeks of resuming the vitamins.

Anyway, on the eve of taking the hair vitamins, I decided to also straighten my hair to trim my ends. I sometimes trim my ends with my hair straight so I can retain some type of straight shape, and other times when it's kinky by just clipping the ends of twists in my hair. I wanted to straighten it just to get a sense of its straight length.

After straightening my hair, I saw that my hair is actually longer than it has been probably since 2006 or so. It made me realize that I was not able to retain any length in my hair during medical school, probably mainly secondary to vitamin deficiency and stress. It's still odd to look at myself with my hair straight, not only because my hair lives in a puff atop my head for most of the year (which is actually conducive to breakage at my oft-neglected crown), but the last time my hair was straightened, it wasn't this long.

Because duh, hair grows.

And while I reveled in my new hair health, a baseline that so many take for granted, when I slept the next morning (since I'm on nights, I sleep during the day), I had a dream that I had straightened my hair and I was surprised to find that my hair was significantly longer--12 inches longer. And I reveled in having long hair just to awake and remember that though my hair is longer than it has been in a while, it is not that long.

And then I became instantly disappointed in myself.

Long hair, don't care? I feel like that is not a reality for many, if not most, black women. More like, long hair, absolutely do care.

I have lived a life that I tried to be as little about my hair as possible, in some parts of my life more than others (namely, the years where I wore khimar). After having a mother who fussed over how my hair basically dissolved away after chemical treatment, I did not to have any part of continuing that tradition, so I went natural. I stopped letting chemicals seep into my scalp every 6 weeks in favor of my natural texture, the touted "new growth" that for several years had been the nemesis to my attempts at bone-straight hair. I went natural, and all of the straight hair fell out. That was in 2003.

Years later, when the likes of Curly Nikki and Naptural85 and all of these other naturalistas came out, I had already arrived at a hair regimen of my own that mirrored popular natural hair care culture. Braiding my hair and then undoing it to have a longer puff was stretching, that thing I did to get spiraly hair was called flat twists, among other things.

I have worn my natural hair when it is only a few inches long and have struggled with it, sometimes inadvertently destroying my hair. I have not been about length, I have been about health in my daily hair care practices. The fact that I wear my hair in a puff most of the time is a testament to my favoring low-maintenance hair styles for my life as a busy resident.

But regardless of how I feel during the day and how much I am an advocate for love your body, including your hair, as it is, I have persistently had these dreams as an adult. As a child, I have not, only as an adult have I had these dreams where I wake up and my hair is significantly longer than it actually is in real life.

And I guess that's just it. At a subconscious level, I want to have much longer hair, hair that I can straighten and let blow in the wind, hair that I can let shrink and shake about my head and still have some length to it. It usually happens after I do my hair in a way I find particularly cute--invariably, I'll have a dream where it's even longer, and even cuter.

I think the fact of the matter is, subconsciously, so much of my idea of femininity is connected to long hair, and not just longer than men's hair, but long hair at base. And I've never had the length of hair that is in most cultures considered unquestionably female. And while the styles of my hair are generally more female, I have to count on the contours of my body and the way I dress to express more of my femininity, especially in those days I'm in a rush and can only do a puff.

And I wish it weren't like that. I wish I didn't have that subconscious desire to have longer hair, but it is there. It sometimes haunts me in my sleep after a day that I feel like was otherwise content. I know it's not about anyone else--it's about me. Because in the dream, each time, I'm waking up in the morning, preparing for my day, and looking in the mirror in surprise. No one else compliments me, no one else becomes attracted to me, no one else cares. It's just me in front of the mirror, marveling at my own self.

I'm usually thinner in these dreams, too, but I'll save that one for later.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Nigeria Wasn't Ready


"Nigeria was not ready for the white man to leave."

Continuing my delve into racial politics...

My parents recently visited a cousin of ours, from my Nigerian side, no less, who was actually integral in my parents' first meeting. Dr. Nwachukwu, or Doc as they knew him, was the head of the Department of Afro-, Afro-American and Chicano Studies (or something like that) at the University of Michigan, Flint in the 1970s when my mother, a recent graduate from the University, was his receptionist for a time. My father, a young, 20-something chemical engineering student, used to visit his cousin Doc and nod to his young secretary before entering the room.

The young secretary would not pay this man much attention until they were set up on a blind date in a party in Flint years later. And the rest is history.

Anyway, after over 30 years, my family reunited with Doc, who now lives with his second wife and children on the east coast. My parents drove their with my Nigerian Uncle and Aunt.

Besides my grandfather's death, it has been a summer of reunions--reunions of brothers after 30 years (my father hadn't been back to Nigeria since 1984, so quite literally), reunion of much of my mother's family to celebrate the life of my grandfather, and now, reunion of family for the first time after my parents marriage made him family to her.

My parents had a great time at Doc's home. One of the things that he did was share his perspective of Nigeria years after independence to the state that the country is in now. And his thoughts were as above. That Nigeria was not ready for the white man to have left.

To hear that from a Nigerian, though second hand, was astounding.

After living in the United States and being not only a full professor, but a head of a department for some time, Doc decided on two occasions to move back to Nigeria. Once in 1980, but then he returned to the United States, and another time in 1989. Between those two visits, he saw what was of Nigeria's infrastructure continue to crumble and democratic governance cease (as Nigeria was well into dictatorship by the second visit).

Of all of the descriptions of decrepit infrastructure, weakening culture and fractured politics that he must have told, my mother clung to the following example:

Doc was in a Nigerian university, a full professor there, trained in the United States, everything, walking into the building. Ahead of him was a graduate-level instructor who also happened to be white. As the white instructor entered the building, the students hailed him, cheering for him, enthusiastic for his arrival. As Doc walked into the building, the students turned their backs on him.

My mother's reaction is perhaps the topic for another post. But the long version of her reaction was that...maybe he is right. If these students' reaction says anything about the sentiments of the larger society as a whole, maybe they were not ready for the white man to leave! Maybe whatever tribal divisions that lead to genocide and war in the 1960s, that continue to this day under the guise of religion, keep Nigeria from the good governance that would ultimately lead to their further development. Whatever petty issue kept the students from revering their black professor over the white TA are perhaps borne out in larger society, and if it's going to be like that, maybe things would run better if the President of Nigeria were a white man, unconnected to tribal politics and not any other type of brown person.

And coming to that conclusion is really, really sad.

However, this is the opinion of one man, one Nigerian-born professor who ultimately decided to make his permanent home in the United States.

But what is it? Was Nigeria not ready for their independence? A whole lot points to yes. And does that inherently mean that they were not ready for the British to leave?

Then there comes the key question--would it have been better for the British to have never come to Nigeria, or the Europeans never having come to Africa, colonized, anything? And if so, what would the continent look like now? What would the world look like now? Would there even be a United States of America without African slaves' backs on which to build it on?

These questions and assumptions are all fraught with problems, the main problem being that we are in the present now. Independence has been declared. The arbitrary lines have been drawn on maps and groups of people who previously had nothing to do with each other have been called Nigerians  for 54 years this October 1. Not ready to be independent or not, not ready to be ruled by themselves, with all of the tribal baggage that survived 60 years of colonization, this is the present reality. And brain drain is a mug.

They weren't ready, okay, but now what? What kind of leadership is needed, what kind of reform is needed, how to you combat corruption that is near institutionalized?

Since my father left, I will always be an outsider, looking in. And while my cousins seem to be more concerned about what the existence of ISIS means about the second coming of Christ and upholding homosexuality bans for the sake of Nigeria, I'm not sure they have any concrete aspirations for elevating the political situation of Nigeria, of improving infrastructure, actually.

These are just my family members, though.

I would love to read contemporary Nigerian political thinkers and their take on the state of Nigeria and the best direction of the future. If any of my readers have some resources for me, I'd like to read them. I recognize that the disappointed musings of an ex-pat must pale in comparison to people who are living Nigeria as a reality.

Or is it really that the only way that Nigeria will work as a country is if it is run by white people?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Some Truths

As salaam alaikum,

"The one thing we did right was the day we started to fight. Keep your eyes on that prize, hold on." - "Eyes on That Prize"

I don't usually get political. On this blog or anywhere else online, really. Definitely not Facebook. But one of my co-residents posted something about Ferguson, and how we should keep talking, and while I agree, more than just talking needs to be done.

More than just media showboating needs to be done.

I posted in the Facebook comment box that we have a militarized police force that has been in full force and growing since the 1980s institution of the War on Drugs. I told her to read The New Jim Crow, which I have to read in pieces because it makes me angry. I told her that post-civil rights is a fallacy. The Civil Rights movement didn't end, it died. It died with a lot of its key leaders who were assassinated, thanks in part to our own FBI. To this day, I don't understand how more people don't know about COINTELPRO. Even if there were only evidence linking the FBI to the death of one Black Panther (and I believe there is more evidence than that), isn't that bad enough?

The movement was posthumously declared over. There was still work to be done and Malcolm X had just found Islam and that shaped the way he saw the movement, Martin Luther King had more than just a dream, he was a man of ideas made tangible and wanted to move to overall social justice and poverty next. So many leaders and non-leaders, young people, killed, so many deaths without justice.

Post-civil rights movement is a fallacy and that's exactly how Michael Brown could be shot with his arms up, feet away from the police officer so many times into his poor body and left dead in a pool of his own blood on the streets of Ferguson for hours in the sun, like a dog.

Black life is not valued in this country, never has, and if we do nothing, never will. Some black people do not value black life. That's how my cousin was murdered and left for dead in a pool of his own blood while trying to go to work to provide for his young family. For a few dollar bills. And the killer has not been found. That's how another cousin killed in cold blood and will spend the rest of his life in prison. That's how Emmit Till and thousands of other black men had their bodies destroyed for sport. That's how Eric Garner was choked to death in public and that's how Michael Brown was shot and left for dead.

Left like a dog. Or worse than that, because someone would have handled the body of even a stray dog.

I could say so much more, but this is not the only issue out there right now. This summer was a hard Ramadan for many because of injustice and death so many places in the world, most notably in Gaza. I don't like to get political mainly because I don't have time, during my training, to be part of the grander solution. I don't have time to be well read and therefore the best spoken here, and I don't put my prose to its best use, which I do not believe is an online blog that few people read. I believe that is mobilizing people who have the tools and the drive to affect legislation.

My parents have also always feared my online presence, especially as a Muslimah, because long before we knew about NSA, my mother, as a former black nationalist, knew about the NSA. In the sense that she knew after 9/11 there were most certainly governmental bodies that had the power to tap into our lives as the NSA has. Call that some old NOI conspiracy theorizing, but it was true, and now folks acting shocked.

I could say so much more, but instead, I choose to end this entry with a series of truths. This goes beyond Ferguson. This goes beyond the other string of innocent black men that were killed before Michael Brown this year and were killed after. This is about Civil Rights.

1. The militarized police are here to stay and will continue to use excessive force unless meaningful and deep rooted legislative action happens to eradicate it, much of which is firmly based in the War on Drugs. Our legislative bodies have not been in a state to affect that type of change and won't be in the foreseeable future.

2. The 1960s were a horrendous decade, not only because so many people were killed, but because the government lied, step by step, over and over and over again.

3. The Civil Rights movement should not have been over when it was. There were many victories but the status quo is not a victory we can declare post-civil rights worthy by any stretch of the imagination.

4. As Affirmative Action programs have ended over the country over the last 10 years, the "playing field" is still far from "level," as long as predominantly black schools remain predominantly poor, meaning the majority of black kids get substandard education to inhibit college success.

5. SCOTUS knew exactly what they were doing in voting down the Voting Rights Act, and that "country has come so far" rhetoric was a cover. Poor blacks won't be counting marbles in a jar to get the vote but there will surely be other restrictive measures popping back up, and it won't be restricted to the South.

6. Speaking of the value of black life, some black people also do not value black life, this is true. The reality of white-on-white crime aside, black self-violence is apparent not only in crimes and murders committed but in our own music, our entertainment, our leisure. This must stop because, fair or not, there is a group of people who will not value our lives because they figure we also don't value our own. And we will continue to die in our own hands and in the hands of others, on the street, in pools of blood for hours, worse than dogs.

7. Regardless of the above, it is egregious to blame the victim, and every time a young black man is killed, the victim is blamed, it is justified based on circumstantial issues that really are not worth dying over. Like Trayvon and weed. Like Emmit Till and flirting with a white woman. The latter should sound as ridiculous as reasons to die as Michael Brown stealing candy and Eric Garner selling taxless cigarette singles, except even more so because it was carried out by law enforcement.

8. COINTELPRO is real and it's declassified. And just because its now declassified doesn't mean that our government wouldn't and hasn't had similar endeavors, so to speak.

9. We talk about how our healthcare system is broken, and it is, but moreso our penal system is broken, broken and costlier than the education of our children, which further feeds into the system. The disregarded black bodies that are not slaughtered spend some time in the penitentiary, if not the majority of their lives, most of them for petty drug offenses, spending time and tax payer money in a place that has no reformatory value and leave unable to make lives for themselves because of ex-con status.

10. Injustices such as these will continue to happen, in spite of peaceful protest and marching in Ferguson until our government takes thing seriously enough and do as they did during the movement and sign the needed changes into law.

I think 10 is a nice round number. There are probably others that I could include.

It's been more than a month since my grandfather passed, and I feel even more emboldened to try to take over where he left off before a stroke and an ICU stay in the 1970s changed him from the outspoken member of his local black nationalist organization to a quiet man whose memory of injustice often suffered in silence as he changed his focus to his growing family of grandchildren.

"The one thing we did wrong was stay in the wilderness a day too long."

Let's not let time pass after Ferguson, security set in, and we wander back to the wilderness.