Tuesday, February 12, 2013

[uncensored]: It's Time for me to Wake Up

As salaam alaikum,

It's early morning, I don't have any clinical or community medicine project responsibilities this morning other than putting together an outline to email to my adviser early this afternoon. Applicants will be submitting their rank lists soon and after a busy application season, I suddenly feel ambitious like I never have before.

Maybe this is what happens after you read Christopher Dorner's manifesto first thing in the morning.

I began to think of the state of black people, and specifically black men, in this society. Do not read me wrong, I am not condoning Dorner's actions. The manifesto was completely crazy-pants and any salient points he made about dysfunction and corruption in the LAPD are virtually muted by the fact that his solution is a murderous rampage. I think the whole thing is an unfortunate mess that will not bring about an overhaul of the LAPD or any similarly-functioning police departments but has the potential to result in the death of innocent black or black-looking people who may or may not look like Dorner, as well as whatever other innocent victims Dorner may target in the coming days.

He said a lot in his manifesto about clearing his name. Talk about the opposite of clearing your name, but anyway. That got me thinking about men and the importance of power and position for them. It got me to thinking about what an affront and how emasculating it must be for men to lose position, face, title, influence, whatever the mode of power they feel like they've earned or were otherwise entitled to.

Is it always emasculating? I feel like I'm making a grand gender generalization.

Anyway, this briefly reminded me of an undercurrent in many black families and in parts of the black community that black women have a duty to relate only to black men, and vice versa in a slightly different context. I wasn't raised with this notion but I do feel a special duty to black children, especially black boys, so it almost feels like abandonment sometimes that I am not wedded to marrying a black man.

But that's another topic altogether.

I started thinking about the U.S. penal system and how I won't even dignify it by calling it corrections. Because correcting what? Correcting nothing save by the wills of individual incarcerated souls that may be self-reformed and freed or may otherwise write and reach out to others to right wrongs, to speak out against injustice or to call upon them to not repeat their same mistakes. I opened up a documentary on the war of drugs that speaks a little bit about the U.S. prison complex, but I believe there's a new documentary out there that talks specifically about black men in prison. Anytime 1 out of 4 of the population of black men will spend some time incarcerated, there's a problem on some level, whether its the moral failings of a mass of unrelated individuals, the moral failings of a community or the moral failings of a society translated into law and so-called justice.

I thought about a lot of things. It all came to a head as I was reading the SNMA email newsletter and the first story (but not the newletter headliner) was titled "Black Males Not Applying to Medical School." The article pointed out that black male matriculation in medical school has only increased 36% since the late-70s, whereas males (and females) of other ethnic groups had tripled (Latinos) or even grew to nearly 10 times their 1970s demographic (Asians). Black females in medical school, much like undergraduate school, outnumber their male counterparts by 2:1.

The solution suggestion in the article? Strengthening the pipeline.

This speaks to a lot more than the college-to-medical-school pipeline and to whatever all is behind the fact that our men are so many times more likely to end up behind bars than any professional career.

In between reading this all this morning and drafting my community medicine project outline and thinking about match day and how we had no black male applicants to our program this year and that I've seen two total black residents in family medicine and how so few of my black classmates went into primary care and how I don't know of too many black medical students who aspire to primary care and how I could do a study on that and maybe if I have time during residency I should do a study on this because I think I know some of the reasons why...

...I woke up.

I'm sitting here in my bed, at my computer, lying in what I slept in, living room window open to a cloudy day and a cluttered living space, and I woke up.

I've been awake for three hours but I woke up to what is reality for me, what a lot of people see in me but I hadn't yet seen in me because I've spent so much time trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. There's a lot that needs to be done, and I was born to be one of the agents.

I am blessed to be able to be one of the agents. I was born on a platter of privilege, in upper middle class family and was raised in relatively safe neighborhoods, far from the realities of governmental corruption and economic stagnation of my father's country and far from the realities of senseless violence and economic dilapidation of my mother's home town. I was born and raised as a privileged, young black American-Nigerian American little girl who was allowed to be fat and cute and happy.

I entered the academic world with an unfortunate inferiority complex that sneaks up on me when I'm feeling the most vulnerable. You probably don't have a high IQ but you work hard, a guidance counselor told me in the 8th grade as he reflected on how I had all As. And I hate to admit it, but sometimes I believe that instead of taking responsibility for when I haven't read or haven't studied and haven't felt prepared.

I've let myself be dominated by this and other insecurities and have live a life where I haven't fully realized my privileges and blessings and instead am listening to nay-saying spirits that really have nothing to do with me. Old, warn-out, hackneyed narratives used generically to destabilize, even unintentionally, so powerfully interwoven into the fabric of our society that if anyone did it intentionally, they'd be genius, Nobel-prize level genius if the effort were at all worthy.

I don't even see what I've been blessed to accomplish, who I am...a dual-degree medical school graduate embarking on my career. I am the only black person in my residency program. I am one of four black physicians I've seen at my hospital. There may be a fifth somewhere. Sure, I've been scratching and surviving as an intern and I will continue to do so. However, I can't be who I am and have gotten to where I am and not do something about the fact that black men are more likely to go to prison than to pursue a professional career.

I'm not going to go through this residency with my tail between my legs. We all have a right to be individuals outside of our race or ethnicity but it's not in my blood to be an individual ignorant of these realities.

I am in medicine. This was my chosen path because of my Islam, because of my spirituality, because of my potential to serve. There are many causes and I have many dreams on many levels but I was privileged to not be a victim of racism and I will not think myself a victim of anything ever again, because I'm not. As I said previously, I am my own liable limitation.

I will not envision myself a hero but as an agent to a movement that's already happening. My men, our men, men who have melanin in their skin like I do and kinky hair like I do who grew up in homes like mine and homes very much unlike mine are feeling emasculated in a society that historically views them as less of a man, has made fetish of their sexuality, and in so many other ways has undermined their existence and vital purpose in our society. And again, I hope I'm not generalizing, but I think this is devastating to the psyche.

That article talked about how the waning numbers of black men going into medicine could effect numbers going into primary care with the thought that black people best serve black people and maybe we could get a handle on disparities if there were more black people in the field, at least 13%, so we could be representative of our U.S. population.

My point is, there's some deep-rooted shit that's the reason that so few black men are going into medicine or any other professional field, and why so many are in prison, and why states have historically looked at their third-graders to determine prison enrollment. And we all can't be physicians or professionals, but really, who has to be in jail?

It's time for me to stop being a victim of my own mind, of my own insecurities and fears holding me back from being what I need to be.

It's time for me to start becoming the strong, intelligent black female physician of today because of alhamdulillah all I've been given.

Friday, February 8, 2013


As salaam alaikum,

I was just on facebook, looking at the profile of a friend and classmate who graduated with me this last year. His profile picture is the same as it was when we were in school together...with that cool/hard pose going on. And I thought, as I looked at the picture, that he would have to change that picture soon. And I said aloud, "You're gonna have to change that picture. You're gonna be a urologist. That doesn't work anymore."

And it just made me think, in that moment, how many things won't work anymore now that we're really going to be professionals soon? Granted, his residency is longer than medical school was. My residency is three years long. In less than those three short years, I'm going to be someone's attending. There's already a doctor in front of my name and an MD behind it and I'm not yet taking it for granted. How will I have changed? How will I be different from the girl who smiles back at me in my facebook profile picture?

I don't think it's so much the doctoring part that will change me. It's everything that is happening with it and around it. The having a job and being able to completely support myself part. The relationship part, the someday getting married part. The new friends, new location part. The finding my own way...thing. The being responsible and learning what I need to know part. It all goes together.

When I graduate this place, I'm probably going to look much the same, insha'Allah, but insha'Allah my aspirations will be more organized. It is a transformation, a transformation that I've downplayed and in other aspects of my life fully denied, but it's real, and it's here, and someday I won't be the fresh-faced young doctor that I started out being.

And I'll grow up and through life.

And what a different place that'll be.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Just a Thought

As salaam alaikum,

I got to thinking earlier this morning after working the night shift about freedom. Specifically, the freedom that my mentors and preceptors cite that women on birth control feel. Especially those forms of birth control in which you don't have to menstruate every month. How freeing, a woman in control of her body.

But for someone whose past relationships were contingent on whether or not sex was available...birth control methods were not the lowest common denominator of freedom.

Because I don't care if I bleed every month and it hurts. I don't care if my mood does swing and I may lash out. I don't care if I'm trying to intubate a patient just in time to have that sneaking feeling that I should have left the tampon in a day longer. I care more that I'm with someone who respects me, respects the choices I've made for my life, including my body, instead of disregarding it.

It is always up to me, but I value a partnership where it is not only up to me.

Because if I'm in a partnership and the burden falls squarely, primarily and only on me...that is not freedom, my friend.

Freedom for me starts with mutual protection of interests in a relationship, including those having to do with life, body and reproduction. This is my lowest common denominator.

The rest is all synergy.