Tag Archives: human

Here We Go Again

lilywhite

The past few month has seen a lot of talk about racism in the media. Particularly in relation to the Oscars. With it, a lot of eye rolling and people saying they are fed up of black people going on about discrimination and playing the race card. What about the Muslims, the gays, the transgender, the browns, the women, the poor? It is a constant source of irritation and sadness for me when these discussions kick off and people start shouting at each other. My first issue is no one wants to listen. This is why racism and the many other forms of discrimination continue to thrive in our societies. Societies that are ashamed to admit a lack of progress and would rather hide what they consider dirty laundry out of view. As if out of sight is really out of mind. Well, it is humanity’s shame and face it we must. Because if we don’t face it then we won’t ever fix it.

On the Oscar issue: yes, it is inherently racist. Why? Because up until recently, majority (94% according to many internet sources) of those who are eligible to nominate and vote for the winners are white and ¾ of those are men. Human nature, and this is evidence-based, is such that if a selection of talented actors/actresses/directors is presented to a person, the voter will look for common traits to identify with the nominees. The easiest trait to identify: skin colour, gender and other physical attributes. So stands to reason that if 94% are white, they are more likely to nominate and vote for white people. There was a blog by a young black woman who works in the entertainment industry published on mumsnet. The reaction was one that had my gnashing my teeth. Many (white, brown and black) suggested that it was not the correct forum for such a discussion. I was dismayed. If mothers are not the people who need to be educated about the ills of discrimination and who need to be encouraged to socialise their children into seeing beyond colour, then who exactly is going to be the catalyst for change?

mother and child

I cannot for the life of me see which other group yields more influence when it comes to such a fundamental change. As a soon to be mother, I see it as absolutely my job to teach my child to see the inner qualities of every person they interact with and judge them based on their actions and words and not the things over which they have no control over.

queue jump

In Nigeria, there is blatant racism still. The fairer your skin is, the more socially desirable you are in many circles. The more foreign your English accent, the more educated you are perceived to be. Being resident in Europe or America or Asia elevates your self-worth. Doesn’t matter if you do the most menial of jobs abroad or have very little education over there. I was born in Nigeria, left as a teenager and I have now officially spent more of my life outside of Nigeria then in it. I see the discrimination clearly. Sure I am a highly educated and successful professional but most of the strangers I interact with don’t know this. To many it is all superficial. I get asked my opinion on things that are well outside my area of expertise and even when I am confessing to having little knowledge, my opinion carries weight. I get better customer service because of the way I speak. I get less abuse from those who like to abuse their positions of power – the police, road safety, customs and immigration officers. When I go into shops run by foreigners, I watch how they treat ordinary Nigerians with barely disguised rudeness or contempt and how those Nigerians do not complain about it. I speak up sometimes to the surprise of those Nigerians and I get told I am ‘feisty or fiery or outspoken’ with amusement or admiration depending on the age of the Nigerian I am defending. I have been in situations where a non-black person has walked into the place, seen the queue of Nigerians waiting to be served and decided that their time was more valuable that the locals and cut to the front. I wait to see if the officials say anything, rarely will they ask for the person to do the right thing. If nothing is said, I am never afraid to tell the person that there is a queue and we were all in it.

The other manifestation is through skin bleaching. It is so prevalent in Nigeria and indeed many other societies. People, mostly women, spend a lot of money on creams and lotions containing dangerous toxins which ‘whiten’ their skin. Some of the more expensive products do a good job and give them fairer skin that looks natural and healthy. Most do not. It is so ugly to see the patchwork that results from some of these products. You see women prancing around with their face and neck a Caucasian skin tone, their arms brown and their joints black as nature intended. It is so unnatural that it sometimes looks like a comedic caricature. Sadly, for those who do it, they look in the mirror and think they look more beautiful. Heart breaking to me because some of the most superficially beautiful people on the planet are all shades of brown and black. There is nothing more beautiful to me than flawless golden or deeper brown skin. I see photos every day and wonder how those who bleach are unable to see the beauty in brown skin. Of course this is all about superficial beauty. Maybe that is where we fail. We are too preoccupied by the outer image and fail to see the beauty within. I truly believe that for a person to be truly beautiful, their soul, their heart and their mind must have a positive nature. That is why I find beauty in the eyes – a person whose eyes glow with love, happiness, kindness and warmth is a person I naturally gravitate towards.  That is why there is nothing more beautiful to me than a baby (human or other mammals). That luminosity that is unspoilt by life and its many hardships, that bright light.

name spelling

Here in England, racism is everywhere. I have a surname that has 3 syllables. Pronounced exactly as it is written yet many won’t even attempt to pronounce my surname. If I can get my head around Siobhan actually being pronounced as shee-von and Yvonne pronounced as Ee-von, then I do not see how it can be hard to say a name as easy as Ab-dal-lah or Jo-da or Di-ya. Working as a doctor on the wards, I have had patients say to me with surprise ‘you speak good English’ and I turn around and say to them ‘why wouldn’t I? English is one of 3 languages I was brought up speaking’. I overhear staff talking to non-native English speakers (those with foreign accents or limited English) very loudly, as if the issue is with hearing loss. I hear comments about those non-indigenous Brits being ungrateful for asking for what is routinely offered to their white British fellow patients. I see the relief in black and Asian patients when I say that I will be their doctor and I will look after them. I empathise with them even as I feel sad that I make them feel better not because of my medical skills but because of the colour of my skin and how they perceive that I can relate to them better or will treat them with more dignity.

I will never forget the first time I was racially discriminated against. I was in my 3rd year of medical school on my first hospital placement in an inner city English hospital working with a medical team. On the first on-call I did with them (on-call means being responsible for the new patients coming in off the streets as emergencies), I was seeing patients who were then reviewed by the qualified doctors. Of course, there is a triage system so medical students never saw patients who needed urgent care for things like an on-going  stroke, heart attack or acute asthma that needed immediate treatment before information gathering. Anyway, I was allocated an elderly Asian gentleman to see. I walked into the cubicle and introduced myself, clearly explaining that I would see the patient then get one of the doctors on my team to review. The patient did not protest but his 2 sons were affronted. They, in their high-powered suits, did not think it was appropriate for their father to be seen by me. They wanted someone else. I got my registrar and told him what they had said. He, being Asian like them, was angrier than I was. He marched me back to the patient and his family, informed them that I was part of the team and as this was the NHS, they would be seen by the first available medic. Their choice was me or going private. How awkward for me and the patient! They apologised and I got through the consultation. This happened 10 years ago and happens to this day. I applaud my registrar for his stance and anecdotally, it is happening less and less because people like that registrar were calling people out for their attitudes.

random search

I spoke in another post about the attitude the police have when they stop you as a black person. The approach is usually quite different – the black person is more likely to be treated as guilty of some wrong-doing until proven otherwise even where you are the victim reporting a crime whereas the white person is more likely to be treated as innocent until proven otherwise. Same as when you go into a shop, a security man (or woman) is more likely to follow around a non-white person than a white person. Same as ‘random’ extra security stop searches in the airports. Once, I got stopped for a random search twice in 10 minutes in Birmingham International Airport less than 100m apart. I was irritated and the lady was apologetic and wouldn’t meet my eyes. I pointed out to her that her colleague had just stopped me randomly too and in fact he was only a stone’s throw away. What was it she thought would have changed in the distance to her? It is a random search ma’am. Randomly because I am black you mean. She flushed and muttered an apology as I gathered my bags and carried on. Random. Racial profiling is reality.

So whilst I know that majority of white people are not actively racist, just as I know that majority of Muslims are not extremists, it is clear that as a black woman, I have more obstacles to contend with. Life is just that little bit harder because I was born with the colour of my skin. I ask for no special treatment. I just want to be treated the same as my non-black friends are. I want to be treated with respect and given my dues. I want people to judge me for what I have said and done (which I have control over) and not the genetics I have inherited. I want my talents to be recognised for what they are and not the physical package they come with. I want the same rights afforded to me by virtue of being a human being. I want justice. I want acceptance. I want to freedom to be me.

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Champion the Truth

If you don’t live in the UK, you may have missed the junior doctor contract row that has been brewing for a few years but has escalated over the last couple of months. If you live in the UK and rely on major media outlets to keep you informed, you may think the dispute is about junior doctors asking for more money. I would suggest you turn to social media for more accurate information from doctors, other NHS staff and more importantly their families. Long and short of it is that the dispute is about our Government deciding we junior doctors need to work longer hours whilst our pay is cut and refusing to do the simple arithmetic that would show that if you want more junior doctors working around the clock, you need to recruit more of them because we are already working long hours and we absolutely will not do me as it would put our lives and the lives of patients that we hold so importantly at risk. I mean, how is it fair that the Government has voted to pay its MPs more and they can still claim vast amounts on expenses yet the very same Government says we have no money in the coffers to pay for more junior doctors? Isn’t that ridiculous???

I digress, please read up on Facebook, twitter and blogs writing on the issue. Plenty of truth out there is you care. The baseline is that at least half of the junior doctors who have voiced their opinions have stated either that they have made up their minds to quit the NHS or are at the very least, looking into alternate careers or going abroad. The simple truth is we as a group of junior doctors think the bottom line is that the Tories have vested interest to tear down the NHS and privatise our healthcare and hence line their pockets. There is also strong evidence out there that the current fool we call our Health Secretary has been a champion of NHS privatisation for many years and probably owns share in private health insurance conglomerates like Virgin Health.

This blog is actually about the one good thing that has come from this attack on junior doctors. We now have an online Facebook forum called Junior Doctors Forum which is by invitation only. It has 63,000 members and counting. Not all of them are junior doctors. We have consultants, medical students, nurses, midwives, paramedics and other allied healthcare professionals plus a few lawyers, journalists and even politicians about the forum. What I want to do is big up the passion of those on the forum and champion them sticking to their guns and being honest about how they feel and what this is doing to us as a group. Never has there been so much unity within the profession. Medicine is a very hierarchical and competitive profession and although we all start as one, we generally sub-divide as we become more senior and choose specialisation programmes. Our world then shrinks even further so all we know is related to the one field eventually. Our only contact with the outside specialities is if they are part of the multi-disciplinary team that we need to make sure each patient’s care is optimal with the inclusion of all relevant expertise.

So it is all good news though? No. Unfortunately when you get 63,000 opinionated voices with the top 1% in terms of IQ and ability to rationalise, debate and analyse, you get varying opinions. I am all for freedom of speech and embracing our differences. However, as with all other aspects of life, some are excessively worried about how other people interpret our opinions. An article was published based around a discussion we had on the forum and people are getting all uppity about all coming across professional and un-emotional. Why? If this was about professionalism only, we would all continue our stony silence whilst we get attacked as we give our all for the greater good. This time, we have stood up and shouted NO because not only have they attacked us (we have thick skin because of the nature of being medics who take enormous responsibilities day in, day out) but they are threatening the very fabric of the health of our nation. Their proposals are not only ensuring that many of us want to leave because we choose life and living than putting ourselves in danger from physical and mental exhaustion, they are also meaning that we are now less willing to carry on doing extra unpaid hours for no thanks.

The NHS has been running on the goodwill of its junior doctors for a very long time and things have been in a steady decline for the past decade yet this is the first year that doctors have threatened to strike. We love the NHS and have been carrying its weight to the detriment of our mental, physical and psychosocial health for far too long. This is the straw that will break the camel’s veritable back. It is because we are passionate that we are fighting the proposed changes which may start with junior doctors but we all know will extend to the rest of the hardworking staff the NHS is lucky to have as its employees. How then can anyone ask that we lie about how angry and betrayed we feel? How upset we are that we are being made to reconsider our futures? Whether we can afford to have children and continue to be there for our patients? How the lies of Hunt et al are demoralising us? How we don’t feel it is worth it anymore to carry on in the NHS when all we get for breaking our backs for a pittance (£11/hr 6 years after graduating for me compared to a plumber who can earn up to £50/hr) is abuse and an Etonian ignoramus vilifying us for caring.

Well, I am here to say that no. I will not be unemotional. If I didn’t care for the NHS, I would have quit after my first foundation year when I became a fully licenced medical practitioner. If all I care for was the money, I would be abroad today with a private clinic, dictating my hours and pay. If I didn’t care, I would not be attending protests and spending what little I have left over after my living expenses and medicolegal expenses on supportive merchandise. I care and I am not afraid to show it.

Hunt is only the face of the Tory campaign to break the NHS and leave privatisation as its only viable option. The Tory Government is libellous, dishonest, spineless and un-democratic. If the general public continues to buy the bullshit the Government is peddling, it will be the British public who will pay the price in the next few years. So unless you are all dying with something that will kill you with certainty in the next couple of years, wake up and realise facts. Fact is the NHS as we know it will be no more unless the whole of the British public fights this. Just google how much it’d cost you to pay for your health insurance in the US and imagine the UK going the same. Doctors are in hot demand the world over. We can and will be forced to leave the UK and the NHS is this horror continues and we will be fine. I assure you. So the fact that I am getting emotional is not because I am a greedy lazy overpaid privileged posh kid as Hunt and co would have you believe. It is because I care and I am not afraid to show it. Fact!

Be Your Own Yardstick

I will start by admitting that I, like most other people, did not like the way I looked for a long time. More accurately, I had insecurities about some parts of my body, some of which remain to date albeit in a very passive way. So I understand that as humans, we always want what we don’t or can’t have. I have worked very hard not to measure myself against people who bear no resemblance to me. I realised very early on that my genetics are out of my control so wanting to be someone completely different was a futile aspiration.

I have always been skinny or more politically correctly slim. I used to hate the word skinny when I was a teenager because to me, it represented a person who was gawky, awkward, boy-like and unattractive as a young woman. I realise that most girls put on weight around puberty and looking at the stick-thin waifs gracing runways, magazines and Hollywood movies, it is easy to see why they would aspire to be skinny like I was. I was completely oblivious to this as I was quite the tomboy and did not have any time for magazines when I was around puberty. The movies I loved were mostly animation and even if the girls/women portrayed in most Disney movies were on the smaller side, they all had the beautiful curves I adored. My mother has lovely feminine curves and so does my glamorous older sister. Perhaps being African where the culture predominantly celebrates curvaceous women had a bigger influence than I was conscious of too. My celebrity role models were Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez and later Beyoncé and Alicia Keys all of whom have (and celebrate their) curves. All of those things meant that instead of the usual Western ideals of being a size 6, I was self-conscious. I wanted to be bootylicious and packaged in a short petite perfectly proportion frame.

The worse part for me was having to go shopping. Again, another aspect where I differ from the norm. It probably started out because I used to accompany my grandmother to the market in Lagos and she used to take her time visiting stall after stall finding the best quality food for the best price. I would follow impatiently, wishing she would speed up and within an hour, I would develop a painful ‘stitch’ in my side, making me want to sit on the ground (a massive no-no as it was rather murky in Lagos markets).

As I grew older and had to start participating in shopping for my own clothes, it was okay because my mama like me is impatient with shopping and she used to be quite military with it. When I became an adolescent, my mama decided to give me money for clothes shopping and it became my responsibility. The shoes, underwear and bags were easy enough because it was just a matter of looking to see what caught my eye. Clothes on the other hand was a nightmare! I vividly remember days coming back dejectedly after 6 hours on Oxford Street in London and trying on top after top and jeans after jeans and none of them fitting well. I would look in the mirror and see this anorexic figure staring back at me. Some of those days, I would be so demoralised that I would cry. Thankfully, although I haven’t put on much weight over the years, I have acquired some (slight) curves which means that I am now a proud standard size 6 or 8 depending on the shop. I can confidently go out to buy new clothes knowing now I will find things that fit. It is just a matter of finding the style I want for the price I am willing to pay for it.

The lesson I taught myself early on was that there is no use aspiring to become curvaceous like J-Lo overnight. Rationally I knew I was going through puberty and it would take time before I developed curves. Also I had seen pictures of my mama in her 20s (pre-children) and she didn’t have much in the way of curves back then. I also looked around my family and realised that most of the young girls were rather skinny. Fulanis in general are skinny folk anyway (think Masai-like physique, same ancestry). I would tell myself that just because Britain was predominantly British and it catered to the genetic makeup of that population did not make me unattractive. Many of my friends and family told me countless times that they would rather have my body than theirs but I thought they were lying to boost my confidence. I only started to believe them once I grew my curves and became more body-confident and got strangers complimenting the way I looked.

I am still not a massive fan of the mirror and often forget to look at myself in it. I still find some of my features surprising and often when someone mentions something about my facial features, I have to go and look in the mirror to work out what they are talking about. I’ll give you a classic example of my lack of self-awareness. I was 14 years old when my sister and I went into a shop I had never been too. I turned a corner and caught sight of a girl who I thought looked vaguely familiar and I mentioned that to my sister casually. It probably didn’t help that at that age, I was still in denial about my short-sightedness so did not have perfect vision. My sister looked at with a smile like I had made one of my endless jests. I was confused. It dawned on her in seconds that I genuinely had seen myself and did not realise it was me staring back from the mirror. Oh well!

In general, I guess it is a good thing that I am not self-conscious about what others see when they look at me. I care more about presenting a professional look when I am at work and a ‘nice’ look outside of that. All my adult life, I have chosen an extra 5 minutes in bed over putting on makeup in the morning. Thankfully, being sexy or desirable are not issues I care about. My dear husband assures me that I have those characteristics in abundance anyway and it is only in his eyes that it is important I am those. To anyone else, it really doesn’t matter to me what they think of how I look as long as they see that I am a decent and caring girl inside.

My message is simple – I value what sort of a person I am inside more than out and because of that I do not compare my ‘beauty’ to others. I have simply learnt to embrace and even love the body I was blessed with. I see beauty in all body sizes and shapes, colour, height etcetera. As Christina Aguilera says in her song Beautiful and I paraphrase – ‘I am beautiful, no matter what they say. Yes, words can’t bring me down. I am beautiful in every single way. Yes, words can’t bring me down…Oh no! So don’t you bring me down today…And everywhere I go, the sun will always shine.’ Preach! Belief in your beauty, regardless of what people say because there will always be critics but that is their problem, not yours my friend.

It is Not a Popularity Contest

Some people have thousands of friends (and followers) on Facebook (FB) and it makes them happy because it makes them feel popular. Or maybe they truly are friends with that many people. Lord only knows how they would have the time to have so many friends. What with so few hours in the day and probably needing to do something to earn a living (work anyone?).  But anyway, if you have that many friends, good on you, you social butterfly you.

At one point, I had more than 500 FB friends. I cannot remember what inspired me to look through my list of friends about a year after joining FB and I realised how many ‘friends’ I had not spoken to, called, text or even heard any news about in over a year. And how that lack of contact did not affect me in any way. Which led me to the conclusion that a fair few were not really friends. Hardly even acquaintances. So what did I do? A deletion binge. I looked through the list of friends and if I was struggling to remember how we met, they were deleted. I also deleted everyone I had not had any interaction with in over a year and those who were friends of friends who had added me and I felt obliged to accept but had actually never said a personal word to (virtually or in reality). At the end of my binge, I had less than 200 friends. That was nearly 300 friends who had access to a lot of personal pictures and thoughts and insight into my life that I had got rid of. I also then made my FB settings more secure. People cannot read many of my posts unless we are linked. They cannot see most of my pictures and they cannot send me private messages in many cases (if they do, I have set it up so it goes into a ‘spam’ folder). This experience was so cathartic, I now fondly think of it as my ‘spring clean’.

The spring clean is now an annual event. It is not always in the spring mind. It is whenever I have a quiet moment but usually once a year. Since this ritual started, I have noticed one thing. I don’t get ‘spammy’ messages on my wall anymore. I do not get ‘friends’ judging me because as a Muslim, I choose not to wear a scarf. Or those who judge me for cutting my hair. Or for expressing my candid opinions on politics, religion, gender equality, relationships, sexuality and other controversial issues. I do not have to defend anything I post on FB because what you see is what you get with me. If any of those who have made the cut decide to go all judgemental on me, I am not shy pressing the unfriend button. I mean, there are plenty of strangers out there who could (and do) judge me for all the wrong reasons. My race, my colour, my religion, my accent, my slim build, my honesty, my kindness etc. I think those I choose to label as my friends should be able to take me as I am. Of course, they are unlikely to love every aspect of me (let’s face it, even my dearest mama doesn’t love my stubborn resolve or my willingness to take on fights/arguments). They are entitled to their own opinions and they can debate their point of view but if we end up at an impasse, I expect them to be able to agree to disagree.

Lastly, being human with all of my flaws, sometimes I unfriend people who may have good reason to disappear off FB. God knows that I have done that on occasion so perhaps it is not a lack of friendship between us two. In some cases, I find that out and I add them back on. I will also accept them back on should they request me after I have unfriended them. In a nutshell, what I realised when the spring clean commenced was that if I do not surround myself with too many ‘friends’, I will expose myself to less B.S.

N.B although FB has many drawbacks, it does allow me my spring clean. Much harder to do in real life although in real life, I am not friends with people I do not get on with genuinely. One advantage of being a busy paediatric doctor is that my social life is limited so I have to choose carefully how I spend my precious time. Therefore, only true friends remain naturally. In reality, I would probably say I have less than 50 proper friends and of those, less than 10 that I would not hesitate to call and say I need you or can I come round for a cuppa? Less than 10 who I would call with good news as soon as I get it. Less than 10 who would know about all of my major upcoming life events. Less than 10 that I would not mind seeing whenever they or I needed to spend time together. The few who would always have my shoulder to cry on, my ears to listen and my laughter to share. Those who have an open invite to stay at mine should they need to. Those are my true friends. How lucky I am to have those few special ones in my life.