A Good Somali Brother in Toronto
Anger management issues affect many men in today's world, and teaching such men how to deal with their anger constructively is a huge part of my therapy. My name is Khadija Johnson, and I'm a Howard University-trained psychiatrist living in the City of Toronto, Ontario. I was born in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to the Capital region of Canada right after graduating from Howard University with my Ph.D. in Psychiatry in Washington D.C. in May 2000. Thirteen years later, I'm a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, have a successful psychiatric practice in the beautiful City of Toronto, and life just couldn't be better.
Anyone looking at me would see a six-foot-tall, light-skinned African-American woman in her late thirties. I have long Black hair which I keep neatly braided, a curvy figure, and a toned body that I keep in shape by working out twice a week. I come from good genes, I think. My father, Malik Johnson is a former member of the Nation of Islam. He and my mom are both Muslims, but not very traditional. Our family is more spiritual than religious, I think. Dad's a Morehouse College and Texas Southern University alum and a proud member of the Atlanta Metro Police Department. A bona-fide legend among African-American law enforcement types in the New South. As for my mother, Deirdre Allen-Johnson, she's originally from the town of Galway, Ireland, and moved to the United States a year before meeting my father. Mom used to be a librarian but now she's retired. My parents got married a year before my birth, they are still together more than thirty years later and live in southwest Atlanta.
What am I doing in Canada? I fell in love with the City of Toronto while visiting some friends during my sophomore year at Howard University. I ended up spending a semester at the University of Toronto and after graduating from Howard University, I decided I wanted to live there. The City of Toronto is like many North American metropolitan areas yet it's unique. I love it up here. I like what I'm doing in Canada. You see, in America, where Barack Obama was recently sworn in for the second time as President, people of African descent have made a lot of progress. We still have a long way to go in the States and racism will never completely go away, as evidenced by the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of that racist goon Zimmerman. Still, progress has been made.
In Canada, Blacks have a long way to go. I wanted to show Black Canadians what they could be. They're a diverse bunch, hailing from all over continental Africa and the myriad islands of the Caribbean. I mean, in the City of Toronto alone I've met Haitians, Jamaicans, Afro-Brazilians, Trinidadians, Somalis, Eritreans, Ethiopians, and many others. Christians, Jews and Muslims. All three big faiths are represented among members of the African diaspora whom I've met in the Greater Toronto Area. I love my brothers and sisters from the Caribbean and Africa, but I do wish they were as united as we African-Americans are in the United States. In America, there is a form of unity among Black folks due to shared experiences. In Canada, Black people tend to divide themselves along religious and cultural lines, rather than unite, and that's a shame.
I am very much involved in the Black community here in Toronto, and I must say that through my volunteering and other engagements, my love for my people has grown. I have friends from all over. That's why I felt so strongly when a friend of mine named Amina Muhammad, a Somali woman in her early fifties, asked me for help. I knew what kind of help she had in mind and even though I had heard the same tale a thousand times before, I couldn't bear to say no. Amina Muhammad is one of the first people I befriended when I came to Toronto. Her husband Omar is a good man but he's over in Iraq, with the few Canadian military experts still in place, training the new Iraqi army with the Americans. With her husband Omar far away in the Middle East, she's the only one trying to keep her rambunctious sons in line.
Her oldest son Saadiq is nineteen years old and already walking down the wrong path. Thankfully, her younger son Kader was still in high school and he was studious and friendly, unlike his older brother Saadiq. After a semester at Seneca College, Saadiq decided to put higher education on hold. According to his mother's worst suspicions, Saadiq is involved in all kinds of shady shit, and poor Amina was worried that someday he'd get himself killed, either by the ruthless local gangs or the equally unscrupulous police force. That's why she begged the judge to send him to me for therapy at his last hearing. Saadiq wasn't too happy about it. We've had words before. He called me the female version of an Uncle Tom because of my education, lifestyle and friendships with diverse peoples, including Whites. And now he was in my care. Not that he had a choice. It was either voluntary therapy and good behavior or jail time, so I guess he picked the lesser evil. It's funny how these things work out, eh?
Saadiq Muhammad wasn't exactly thrilled to be my patient, and I must say I wasn't happy to be his therapist. I was doing this as a favor to his mother, a good friend of mine. It never ceases to amaze me, how different young immigrants are from their parents. Saadiq was born in Mississauga, Ontario, he's a Canadian citizen. His parents Omar and Amina Muhammad came to Ontario, Canada, from the City of Mogadishu, Somalia, as refugees. They've done fairly well for themselves in the Great White North. Omar worked odd jobs before going back to school and eventually joined the Canadian Armed Forces to provide for his wife and son. Amina is a nurse at Toronto Western Hospital. See? Newcomers to Canada often work hard to accomplish their goals as far as citizenship, education, gainful employment, home ownership, and life in general. It's the second generation immigrants, the sons and daughters of newcomers, the ones born in Canada, that's who often gets involved in drugs, petty crime and increasingly, domestic terrorism. Isn't that a kick in the butt?
Saadiq and I were off to a rough start from our first session. He basically sat down and stared at me until our time was up. The following week, he unexpectedly opened up, sharing his feelings about his father being in Iraq and how it affected his mother and the rest of their family. I listened to this young man talk, and surprisingly, his words moved me. He didn't blame his father or his mother for what happened to him. Rather, he blamed himself. Looking me straight in the eyes, he told me that I had him all wrong. He didn't drop out of Seneca College to run the streets, shoot up drugs, play sports or chase women, but because he wanted to support his family in his father's absence. He proudly showed me his Ontario security guard licence, and told me he'd recently gotten hired by Securitas Canada. I nodded at that. Night shifts mostly, Saadiq said with a grin.
I smiled at him, and shook my head. In front of me sat a very good-looking, tall and well-built young brother with his whole life ahead of him. I wanted to ask him why he got in trouble with the law, but didn't. I figured he'd tell me in his own time. Blessedly, he did. Saadiq told me about that night when he went to a club in downtown Toronto with some friends of his. He went there with his buddies Abu and Laban, both of whom were with their White girlfriends, Amber and Bambi. I smiled at the names White folks continue to give their daughters. Oh, well. Anyhow, the bouncers, who were all White guys, apparently gave them a hard time when they wanted to get into the club. I raised an eyebrow. Now, there could be many reasons why some White male bouncers might object to some young Black men entering a night club. Let's not jump to conclusion and get racial. Too many people, both Black and White, do that these days, and it's not helping anyone.
As if reading my mind, Saadiq rolled his eyes. He looked pissed, but forced a smile. Locking eyes with me, he told me that he and his buddies were wearing their Sunday best. They were dressed for a night on the town. When they tried to get into the club, the bouncers asked for ID. Saadiq showed them his driver's licence, Ontario security guard licence and Seneca College student identification card. He was well-dressed, had money and proper ID, and yet they were bothering him and his friends. After some haggling, they were let into the club. When they started dancing with their girlfriends, the local White dudes were staring. I frowned when Saadiq said that. Toronto is a very multiracial town, I interjected. I've seen lots of White guys with women of color.
Saadiq laughed and told me that White guys with Black girlfriends or those who dated Asian or Hispanic females still didn't like seeing Black men with White women. Squaring his shoulders, Saadiq told me that even though many people said they were okay with interracial dating, they really meant they had no problem with it when the man was White and the woman is a person of color, whether Black, Asian, Native or whatever. Now, seeing a White woman with a Black man still causes a lot of people to get upset, Saadiq said confidently. He cut his eyes at me before saying that some Black women and White guys who dated each other still shot negative looks in the directions of Black men with White women when they saw them. Everyone hates the Black man, Saadiq said with a wink.
I grinned without humor. I wanted to protest, to contradict Saadiq, but a part of me knew he was right. I mainly dated Black men myself, and I've gone out with White men on occasion, just for variety, but I knew lots of sisters who, even though they dated men of all races, still got upset when they saw a brother kissing a White woman. It does happen. And I've had a couple of White male patients of mine use the N-word when referring to Black men, even though they had Black girlfriends. There was some truth to what Saadiq was saying. I asked him to continue with his story. Saadiq nodded and said that he went outside the club that night to feed the meter, and when he wanted to go back inside, the same bouncers who let him in before gave him a hard time. He texted his friends, and when they came to the door with their girlfriends, all hell broke loose. Saadiq boldly accused the bouncers of being racist pricks and when one of them got in his face, he decked the guy. A melee ensued, and the end result was two of the bouncers ended up in the hospital. I shook my head. Saadiq shrugged, and said he'd bet on three Somali guys against a small army of White men if it came down to that.
What admirable bravado, I said sarcastically. This young brother was seriously starting to piss me off. What is about young Black guys that makes them think they're invincible? I glared at Saadiq and told him that not every White man was his enemy, and not every Black woman who dated interracially had a grudge against the brothers. Saadiq smiled innocently and said he was sorry for getting under my skin. If looks could kill, he'd be dead. I willed myself to be calm, and told him that the world didn't revolve around him. Saadiq grinned, and told me that while he respected people of all races, especially Black women, he wasn't the type to bow down to anyone. Only God, he said, pointing upward.
I looked at him, and asked him why he felt like he had to fight the entire world sometimes. Saadiq looked at me, and there was a smoldering intensity in his eyes that took me aback. He slumped a little bit in his chair, a pensive look in his handsome face. He told me that the world judged him daily without giving him a fair shake. If people bothered to ask him about who he was, they wouldn't think he was a thug. He got into ONE fight with some racist White guys, whom he beat up because they deserved it, and now the whole system was against him. Charges against him and his friends were withdrawn, because one of the White girls, Amber, testified to the cops that one of the bouncers called the Somali guys the N-word when they came to check up on Saadiq.
Saadiq told me he was relieved they were letting the whole matter drop, though more for his mother's sake than his own. He pulled something out of his bag, got up and handed it to me. I took it. It was a University of Toronto application form. I just got accepted, Saadiq continued. I applied through the Ontario Universities Application Center, Saadiq said. Seneca College is alright, it's okay, but since I want to go to law school someday, U of T is the place to be! I looked at the folder, which contained an acceptance letter, an OSAP form for financial aid, and various other documents. I didn't know what to say, to tell you the truth.
Saadiq smiled, and told me that not every brother out there wanted to be a rapper, run around making babies with random women, or play ball. I nodded, and asked him why he wanted to be a lawyer. Saadiq grinned, and then got serious. More serious than I'd ever seen him. There is power in being a lawyer, he said. Lots of brothers out there don't know their rights, and the system mows us down. We need to start looking after our own. I smiled at him, genuinely impressed. I congratulated. I looked at the clock. Our time was almost up. Saadiq pulled out his cell phone, excused himself and spoke to someone. Cutie, I'll be there in a little while, he said before hanging up. Hot date? I asked, feeling a slight twinge of envy. No, I'm not into him. It's just that it's been a while since I've been on a date. In Toronto, both Black guys and White guys are intimidated by a successful Black woman. To the White guys, I'm either an exotic anomaly or a threat, and to the Black guys, I'm like a unicorn. It's sad but true.
Saadiq showed me his touchscreen phone, and the picture I saw on it stilled my heart. A good-looking brother with dreadlocks in a red silk shirt was on the screen. That's my boyfriend Ibrahim, Saadiq said proudly. We've been going out for three months. I stared at Saadiq, dumbfounded. Wow. I did not see that one coming. This guy was tall, athletic and well-built. He was fearless, and if he pursued his dream of studying Law at the University of Toronto, he'd have a bright future ahead of him. Of course he was gay. All the good ones are. I smiled sadly and told Saadiq that he and Ibrahim looked good together. As if reading my mind, saadiq smiled and said that after years of going back and forth between Black women and White women, he realized what he needed was a good Black man. Are you bisexual? I asked him. Saadia nodded, and said he'd had sexual relations with both women and men, but he was staying faithful to Ibrahim.
I looked at this infuriating, confusing and amazing young brother. I smiled and shook my head, then I got up and gave him a hug. I wished him the best of luck with his date, and his life, and told him that I'd sign the papers. Saadiq stared at me, amazed. I smiled and told him that I'd get the judge off his back. He'd convinced me. He wasn't a threat to society. He was a good brother with his whole life ahead of him. All he needed was a second chance. Saadiq hugged me back, thanked Allah for His blessings, and then practically leapt out of my office. I looked out my office window and watched him go. Damn it that lad could run! I smiled. What is it about Black men? They piss me off, they infuriate me, and yet I'll fight tooth and nail for the right one, should he come along to claim me. Oh, well. Saadiq has got himself a good Black man. May Allah send me mine someday. Soon. Alhamdulillah!