Why Pixar’s film Soul Is So Important: 3 Lessons to Take Away

Spoilers?: There are technically spoilers in this. I discuss crucial themes and I mention scenes vaguely, however I do not explicitly break down the plot.

This is best read after watching Soul but if you need a push to watch this movie, this may be the post for you.


Christmas Day is always a relaxing day for me. This year was no different considering the downsizing of festivities. I found myself watching the film Soul, expecting nothing less than marvelous from what Pixar does best – the existential.

Inside Out had a similar feel. The overall message we got from Inside Out was that we need to let ourselves feel sadness and work through all of our emotions to experience true happiness. I think it ties in with the ideas of Soul perfectly. Pixar gave a phenomenal Christmas drop.

I am sure there are already numerous interpretation videos and articles out by now but I will share my take through 3 main lessons I was reminded of:

Lesson 1: How to Really Be Happy + A word on Black stories

Film scenes I thought about here: Joe reminiscing at the piano. Dorothea Williams speaking outside of the venue about the fish looking for the ocean, in the ocean.

We are all seeking happiness. We all want to “make it”, finally having things figured out and “living our best life”. But what if living your best life is actually your current life? As Dorothea expresses in the film – what if you are looking for the ocean…in the ocean? What if you could be mindful of how happy you are already are? There are so many emotions we can feel more deeply, if we just notice them more.

For some, “your best life” is the one you have been living since childhood: Did you ever get sad as a kid on the last day of school because that’s how much fun you were having? That was how much you loved your classmates and teacher? As we learned in Inside Out, feeling sadness in life is a necessary component of understanding happiness – it gives you perspective. Did you ever have a tight-knit friend group, constantly sharing belly laughs when you were together? Did you ever get to go on an incredibly fun road trip or distant vacation spot? Childhood may have been a very happy time, and we may not have fully known it.

Graduations, formals, weddings – these are all cornerstone joyful experiences in our lives. Yet, we sometimes cross these milestones, barely taking them in, charging towards life’s next coveted landmark. I would analogize it to going on an amazing European vacation and stopping in Rome. Instead of leisurely taking in the sights, smells, and sounds – you rush to get to all the tourist attractions for photos on your social media feeds.  We live but sometimes we don’t really live. We sleepwalk.

Soul is in many ways a Black story – fun fact: Kemp Power, co-director of Soul, is the first African-American to co-direct a Disney animated feature. I like to acknowledge firsts like this because they matter. These firsts tell Black people everywhere that someone has paved the way; someone has made space for us. As this story is told through the soul of a Black man, I reflect on other Black stories. When I watch films on Black history in America – whether during slavery, segregation, or present-day hardships – I see an underlying resilience and will to live. I know the word resilience is thrown around a lot, it is a crux of wellness. I will bring in my definition of resilience (I think it’s important to take “buzz words” and redefine them for yourself, in your own words –  to make sense of them and how they make you feel). What we call resilience in my eyes, is the ability to redirect to this baseline: There is a life to live and it can be beautiful in every moment. There are people who were born and died in bondage. Yet, was every moment of their life filled with sorrow? Or were they able to rejoice in something? In each other, in friendships, in flowers, in blue skies, faith in a higher power – anything. Whether it is, Remember the Titans or The Help, I see the sentiment of choosing joy through injustice, in every story of Black hardship.

Important disclaimer: This message is not to take away from the very real mental health struggles that people experience. Nor is it to belittle the role of trauma in people’s life experiences. However, my hope will always be that people who have experienced this in their lives, will eventually recover and move forward with life. Sounds like a wellness cliché but I mean it, as always.

December 21st was the day that Black people were supposed to acquire superpowers. The punchline, for those that missed it, is that we already have superpowers. It is a superpower to inherit the resilience of your ancestors – the ability to find joy in hardship, lead change, and build community in every generation.

Lesson #2: The Impact of Our Inner Voices

Film scenes I thought about here: 22’s mind storm as a lost soul. Joe speaking to his mother through 22.

The external voices or statements from the people we surround ourselves with become our inner voice. One of my inner motivating voices is my mom’s. I can remember her telling me how brilliant she thought I was. She was always proud of my achievements. She was at every assembly if I won “Student of the Month” in elementary school and elated alongside me when I graduated undergrad. Her support was consistent. How different would my life had been if my inner voice was discouraging voices from my mom? Or other members of my primary support system? Through the experiences of the character 22, Soul spoke to education and upbringing. What happens when we push kids or “people looking for their spark” to the point of insecurity?

If we want people to be well and realize their potential, we need to match our words and actions to that intention. This requires a depth of compassion and awareness that many do not recognize. It calls us to be mindful of what we say to each other. We need to always let the people we love know that we believe in them and apologize when we get it wrong.

Lesson #3: Vulnerability Draws People Closer

Film scenes I thought about here: 22’s speech at the barber shop. Joe speaking to his mother through 22.

The final theme I noticed was vulnerability. I am guilty of closing myself off – I often take a long time to let people in on the struggles I am facing in my life. I try to work through things on my own. I think it’s okay to have a balance of privacy and vulnerability in life however, Soul reminded me how important it is to be open. Your loved ones cannot read your mind. (Read that again!). They cannot always figure out why you are making certain decisions or what you are going through inside. We have to communicate that with them. The moments where 22 divulged more than Joe would have normally shared resulted in people Joe thought he knew well, pressing closer to him. From the barbershop to his relationship with his mother, vulnerability helped Joe have his epiphany about what actually mattered in his life. (P.S. Epiphany is my favourite song/scene on the soundtrack.)

Is there someone in your life you should open up to more? Are there things you are experiencing that you do not think anyone else would understand? I will paraphrase a meditation exercise that I heard from Dr. Shauna Shapiro, Clinical Psychologist and world-renowned mindfulness expert. It is on how to respond to our negative feelings and emotions:

  1. Recognize what you are feeling.
  2. Think of what you would tell someone you love if they were experiencing the same thing.
  3. Think about all the other people who are experiencing/feeling the same thing that you are.

This exercise is a reminder that when you love someone, you would offer them words of support through what they are feeling. This is the same way our loved ones want to help us, if we choose to let them in. And this was displayed beautifully in Soul.

Another layer to the exercise is remembering that there is someone in the world who has felt how you are feeling. The more vulnerable we become, the more likely someone you encounter will admit that they have felt the same way as you before. This is an aspect of this blog that I love – hearing from people who have read them that have felt or thought the same way as me. Having people open up to me who otherwise would not have is an experience I do not take for granted.

Conclusion: Animated Films are for Adults

I don’t know if kids will gravitate towards this movie as much as Pixar’s others. But I think that’s okay. Animation is not something that always has to be targeted towards children. I think adults needed to see this one after the year we had. It reminded us how simple life can be through it all. Studio Ghibli and several anime shows figured that out years ago so this is not a hot take. Still, the monopoly that Disney, a children’s brand, has on the market of animated moviemaking has led many to believe that adults cannot gain something from this medium. However, that kid you have always been is still within the person you are today. That kid never has to go away. They are right there inside of you. You can be the person that is drawn to the fictional yet relatable characters and crisp visuals that only can be achieved from pure imagination.

I hope this piece helped you take even more from this incredible film. Thank you for reading!

As always, this is a reminder to take a screen break if you need. Book, walk, meditate – whatever you choose.

Cheers! Sign up here to be notified when I post next. Always on a Tuesday.

Let’s Talk About “Pretty” Privilege

content warning: body image, eating disorders, body dysmorphia

“If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies, how very different our ideals of beauty would be.” – Unknown

The way we look impacts whether an interview goes well. In entertainment, it impacts whether a rising artist gets signed. Most intimately, it affects who wants to be your friend. Sometimes you see an entire friend group or cohort of professional students and ask yourself “why is everyone in this circle so physically attractive?”. Why is it that a staple trope in many well-known movies is the leading lady getting a makeover as part of her character development?

The always stunning, Anne Hathaway playing her character Mia Thermopolis after the makeover in Princess Diaries.

In subconscious and fully conscious ways, we are often extremely shallow.

As someone who identifies as a woman, I have explored this end of the gender spectrum most closely. Human society has always been visual. In the 1800s, full-figured or “desirably plump” women were a symbol of wealth and being well-fed. When I was growing up, large breasts and thigh gaps were what a lot of girls wanted. Today, big hips and tiny waists are what many women strive towards. It never ends, it just evolves. It can never be as simple as, do you feel good, strong, and healthy?

Important disclaimer: The point of my post is not to promote disdain for all the conventionally attractive people in our lives. Rather, I want to start more honest dialogue and perhaps wake us up to the societal environment we all live in. I hope we all can have a conversation with a friend or loved one about pretty privilege and its implications. This article is not to give you permission to spew hate on those you think do not deserve their achievements. This article for me is to remind us all of this form of privilege and check our biases in interactions hereafter.

What is pretty privilege?

I use the term pretty privilege but, in my mind, I see it more as the benefits of being conventionally attractive according to societal beauty standards. I suppose that is a mouthful. However, I feel conventionally attractive is more all-encompassing than “pretty.” There is no “pretty” and “ugly”, there are only standards that we have been subconsciously fed our entire lives through movies, television, and other forms of mass media. I think the term pretty privilege and the connotation around the word “pretty” also leaves out an important fact: masculine people can have this privilege too. We just as often see conventionally attractive masculine figures achieving more success than their counterparts.

Pretty privilege is like all other forms of privilege (male privilege, white privilege, able-bodied privilege, etc.) in that it is unearned, societal benefits from an aspect of oneself that you cannot really control – the way they look. This aspect of society fuels the beauty and cosmetics industry, I mean look at the empire that is Sephora. Ultimately, it comes down to who wins the “genetic lottery” or who can afford the products or plastic surgery to amass this privilege.

If we want to get nitty-gritty, there is research on this topic. Attractive people get paid more. Attractive people get lesser criminal sentences. Even attractive kids and youth reap the benefits from teachers in school. This is not a benign form of privilege and we see it in the people who often are among the highest rewarded or highest achieving in society. There are sometimes implications that folks who are pretty, especially femme-identifying individuals, have “more to prove” or are perceived as “less able.” In fact, the present data shows this is quite the contrary.

It is found within society’s preference towards certain body types – and these body types often change. Body type standards disproportionately impact women and we see this in the prevalence of eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

Brilliant women who also have some element of pretty privilege. Bonus: AOC discusses the politics of beauty in her video with vogue.

Why is pretty privilege so hard to talk about?

In my opinion, it is difficult to talk about because it is an odd feeling for someone to acknowledge their own conventional attractiveness. Many grappling with self-esteem and body image issues themselves, may not even realize that they fall into this category. Since checking our privilege is crucial to talking about, it, I will uncomfortably admit that I think I live with some “pretty privilege.” There is nuance to pretty privilege and its intersections with Blackness (coming up!) but its validity in my life does not strip all of the internal work I have done for myself.

Pretty privilege has implications to some folks that everything you may have earned, you only earned because of how you look. This is not true in my eyes. You can be incredibly ambitious, hardworking, and competent – but also have pretty privilege. If you “work hard”, you should not be threatened by the idea of a world where merit wins over our conventional standards of beauty.

Pretty Privilege, Colorism, and the Black Community

Colorism: prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

A pivotal yet complicated layer to this topic is how it applies to the Black community. I feel it is complicated because often Blackness and attractiveness have been treated as mutually exclusive. Black women are the farthest away from our white-centric beauty standards, particularly dark-skinned Black women. However, it would be naive to deny that pretty privilege does not exist within my community. Many would say it manifests most through colorism and I would agree. However, there are other facets to conventional attractiveness – certain body types, specific eye shapes, facial symmetry, clear skin – that impact which Black women we find attractive as well.

Living as a Black woman, I still grapple with the idea of my own pretty privilege. Growing up as a little Black girl in Western society is essentially being told for your entire life that most people at baseline are probably not attracted to you. It is often parsing out, does this person find Black women attractive? In the age of social media, I feel for the young girls these days being succumb to “Dark Skin vs. Light Skin” videos on TikTok. As I have grown up, I have come to realize my worth is not tied to any societal beauty standards and my confidence is rooted in self-assuredness above anything else. The way we Black women “win” is by rejecting that notion entirely and coming into our own – comfortable within our skin, not wanting to trade it for anything. I may not shout from the rooftops how much pride I have in my “melanin” but I truly feel it every day when I look in the mirror and that personal feeling for me is everything and more.

Pretty privilege often compounds with racism and colorism. For instance, we see many Black women succeed because they have some kind of physical appeal along with their talent. We primarily see light-skinned Black women receiving praise in the media. Being beautiful does not take away the talent that women like Beyoncé and Rihanna have – their talent is simply undeniable. It does make me ask, how much talent are we missing when “making it” is precluded by how much how you look will sell? (Probably a lot.)

What can we even do about pretty privilege?

There’s a lot of privilege being brought up these days and you feel like you can’t keep up. This form of privilege is a bit different because unlike other forms of privilege, this one is not as objective. What constitutes “pretty” is different to a lot of people and often how people carry themselves can profoundly shape if they are perceived as “pretty.” Like anything else I will talk about on here, mindfulness is key. When you are speaking to someone new or conducting an interview, if you happen to find the person physically attractive, notice that. Likewise, if you do not find someone attractive by your beauty standards, remind yourself not to let that cloud your perceptions of the person – the human being in front of you.

Learning to give non-physical compliments is your friend. A society that does not value people based only on how they look starts in our mind. We can choose to complement people on their generosity, patience, hard work, and more.

Finally, do not stop looking your version of your best to feel your best. Do not stop being happy with how you look and accepting yourself. Definitely do not stop being hygienic and keeping yourself clean or “polished” in whatever way that means for you. Sometimes people we see as “pretty” are just aware of how they present themselves and carry themselves with confidence. However, when you encounter others who seem just as happy and comfortable in their skin, let them be – regardless of what standards you feel inclined to impose in your head.

People do not need to look like our conventional standards to be valuable human beings. There should not be secret benefits to simply winning the genetic lottery that is physical appearance.

I hope this post initiates some fun conversations within your own circles.

Thank you for reading and remember to take a screen break if you need today.

Cheers! Sign up here to be notified when I post next. Always on a Tuesday.


P.S. A donation opportunity this holiday season: https://prisonfellowship.ca/angel-tree-christmas/

“There are 357,000 hidden victims of crime across Canada – the children of incarcerated parents. These children, often forgotten in their community, experience challenges like shame, isolation, developmental delays, poor school attendance and performance, poverty, addictions, homelessness and more because they have a parent that has been or is incarcerated.”

Donating here helps connect children with gifts and support during this time of year. Hope you choose to give a little!


Other articles and videos on this topic:

1. Women’s Ideal Body Types in the Last 100 Years- Natacha Océane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY9BxTuYtcY&t=483s&ab_channel=NatachaOc%C3%A9ane

2. Pretty Privilege Is the Most Useless Privilege: https://medium.com/an-injustice/pretty-privilege-is-the-most-useless-privilege-e1d446caa373

*Do not love the title, but good content.

3. Is “Pretty Privilege” Real? – Not Even Emily: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoPihs0nDRE&ab_channel=NotEvenEmily

4. AOC’s video: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Guide to Her Signature Red Lip | Beauty Secrets | Vogue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXqZllqGWGQ&t=1s&ab_channel=Vogue

5. Why Women in Movies Get Makeovers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJClnOgtdJ8&ab_channel=TheTake

Where Our Attention Belongs: A birthday reflection on insecurity and some BLM thoughts

[content mentions: BLM, police brutality, insecurity]

C.G. Jung — ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’

This piece has little to do with celebrating my 366-day-loop-around-the-sun but perhaps the fact that I recently turned 23 will give you the bits of motivation you need to finish reading. I always doubted I’d be someone who recalls exactly what age they were when significant events happened to them, but I will remember being 22 and the year 2020 for a very long time.

I have been grappling with posting more about BLM because after July, I will preface with the fact that the growth I have seen from many people in my life and on my feed has been one of the greatest highlights of this year. But for others in my life, I honestly cannot tell if people are working behind-the-scenes or have simply forgotten commitments they made. I was flooded with vows and commitments in July and regardless of what I outwardly see, I hope with all of my being that people feel even half as empowered as they did then to participate in the movement: the donating, the rallying – the real work. Still, I have decided I am going to keep talking about Black life, Black joy, and my experiences as a Black woman as we watch our world – slowly but surely – change around us.

But first – insecurity story time.

I spent the majority of my adolescence silently grappling with insecurity. And I rarely showed it. I went to school, I saw my friends, I put myself out there and tried my best – then I came home and didn’t look in the mirror if I could help it. A lot of people have probably been here before. Insecurity can present itself insidiously – in those we find the most confident, in those who speak up the loudest in our social circles. This is all part of the show – what we reveal of our lives is in many ways, an act. Even with good intentions, every day you present yourself in some manner of your choosing to the people you encounter. Accordingly, it can become easy to live in the lies we tell ourselves – committing to an act on a day to day basis (living our real-life version of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige).

High School Iku

I will admit that it’s not always a bad thing. When you act like something long enough, you become it – and this can also apply to beneficial feelings like happiness and gratitude. This phenomenon can be a reminder of the roles we play in defining our own stories when we have the privilege of control over certain circumstances. I think this “act it, become it” ideology is ultimately what pulled me out of my own insecurity.

Beyond this, my insecurity then and the bouts of insecurity I have experienced since, have all been affected by what I was paying attention to in my day-to-day life.

What Had My Attention

I grew up glued to YouTube and these were the girls on my screen:

Videos I used to watch throughout my adolescence

This is no fault to them or their content. However, it’s unsurprising that constantly seeing and admiring teenage girls who looked nothing like I ever would, often made me spiral without even realizing. This reigns true today – I spent a lot of time this summer muting and unfollowing accounts that were definitely subconsciously feeding my insecurities. This may also apply to you and wherever your insecurities stem from – often others and what we are feeding ourselves.

I followed new accounts that were better for my well-being and a couple of content creators who at least looked like me:

Accounts I follow now

Now at 23, I can say that the vast majority (if not all) of the time, I am unapologetically myself and would not change who I am for anything. I know this sounds very cliché but that’s the great thing about cliches: they’re almost too good to be true but when you discover that they are, it’s a beautiful thing.

Our attention is our life.

I can admit, I was “sleepwalking”, “on autopilot” – for years. These are lofty characterizations of what it’s like to be out of control and often blissfully unaware. It is not as outrageous as it sounds.  We complain constantly and scroll endlessly. We forget about gratitude and we forget to truly wake up when we “wake up”.

There are a lot of hints that you may be living this way. In my experience, one hint is that you are (whether you are ready to admit it or not) finding your worth in the external world rather than the person you are inside. This can include spending several hours of the day on social media and spending a lot of time complaining about never-ending grievances. Everyone has been there, just some are willing to admit it about themselves and to themselves. A good friend has recently reminded me that awareness is the first step to addressing most struggles – so just admit things to yourself. You should be able to be honest with yourself – you are your home.

It’s uncomfortable to shift your attention from the everlasting dopamine cycles of me, myself, and I. So uncomfortable that sometimes for me, it’s about formally structuring things in – reading time, nights for movies and documentaries, enrolling in an online course. I also rely on some designated accountability partners to make sure I don’t fall into certain patterns of behaviour.

Now where is BLM in all of this?

In the months since the George Floyd protests and Black squares, I’ve been observing how easy it is for people to return to doing little to stand up against oppression. It is not something I always call out – but it’s palpable. It’s a cycle as old as time – outrage leading to complicity. And even with subtle changes and progress, the big picture solutions are still not completely in sight. It’s the distractibility of our minds. Before we know it, 50 years have gone by and the same events repeat themselves – waiting for someone to figure it out for us. We wonder why humanity has been so stagnant – a collective sleepwalking. We had President Trump attempting to unite his “proud boys” and general voter base to reject the 2020 election results. This is the same energy that fuelled the formation of the Confederate States and the start of the American Civil War following Abraham Lincoln’s election due to Lincoln’s anti-slavery stance. The common denominator across centuries has been – the attempts to uphold white supremacy. Regardless, what is going on in America is a distraction, pulling our attention from everything that is still happening at home.

So, here are reminders of what’s still going on to wake us all up a little:

  • Police brutality in Canada: Another Black life lost to police brutality in Canada did not receive justice this fall. Abdirahman Abdi was a Somali-Canadian man who died following a violent arrest by Constable Daniel Montsion and another officer. The result was an acquittal.
  • COVID-19: The Toronto Fallout Report was released in November 2020 and revealed astounding disparities in COVID’s impact on racialized populations.
  • COVID-19: Coast to coast, cases continue to arise disproportionately affect people living in low income circumstances with little done by our government to protect them. In BC, “about 45 of West and South Asian respondents and 37 per cent of Black respondents reported having trouble meeting their financial needs during the pandemic, compared with 29 per cent of white respondents.”

Example finding from the Toronto FallOut Report

Other than on our own wellbeing – this is where our attention belongs.

Cheers! Sign up here to be notified when I post next. Always on a Tuesday.

P.S. This is a reminder to take some time away from your screen if you need. Some ideas: go for a walk, meditate, read a book. 🙂


  1. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/officer-monstion-judgment-abdirahman-abdi-family-supporters-reaction-1.5758515
  2. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/11/12/a-fight-for-the-soul-of-the-city-report-shows-how-covid-19-has-deepened-torontos-racial-and-economic-divide.html
  3. https://thetyee.ca/News/2020/11/19/Vancouver-Poorest-Neighbourhoods-Highest-COVID-Rates/

Awakening: One Story, My Story

Originally published in Queen’s Medical Review: https://www.queensmedreview.com/134-black-lives-matter/awakening-one-story-my-story

“You have to tell the whole truth, the good and the bad, maybe some things that are uncomfortable for some people.”
– John Lewis (1940-2020)  

I have never sat down and documented my experiences as a Black woman. I think this is partially because I, like many Black women, have dedicated a lot of time assimilating and distancing myself from tropes that are associated with my Blackness. Still, at times these tropes become labels that I cannot avoid. This concept of tropes – the “angry Black woman”, the “sassy Black woman”, and even the “strong Black woman” have lingered in my mind as well as all my interactions subconsciously for years. I certainly do not want my story to become part of any stereotypes or to be implicated as the experience of other Black women – perhaps another reason I have not written much of this down. However, individual experiences are qualitative evidence – they are valid and I hope they can contribute to learning especially within my personal circles.

I named this piece Awakening because that is how my story begins and it is a recurring theme in snippets of my life so far. It begins the moment in my childhood where I realized being Black was different and to some people, “a big deal.”

I became awake to it.

I did not grow up initially thinking my skin colour was something of note. The people I loved and admired the most were Black. Some people were also Black or not Black – it was that simple. Just like any non-Black person does not grow up thinking their race is going to be this definitive aspect of their identity, I grew up the same. As a child, you are probably not thinking about how your race could impact your experience making friends, getting jobs, or even within public structures like health care and the criminal justice system. I was not awakened to this fact on one particular day of elementary school, but rather it was a compilation of what I saw in mass media and having other children comment on our differences. There were few Black characters or even Disney Princesses when I was young to dress up as in costumes. There has always been odd commentary when people try to dress up as characters that do not “look like them” – as if this really should matter. Suddenly, I was 7 years old and very aware of my Blackness.

Me (at not likely 7 years old but I love this photo!)​

My story of awakening is also a story of untangling myself from my own anti-Blackness.

I would describe myself as outspoken, social, and keen. I have always been keen when it came to academics but also keen to get to know people deeply and earn their respect. Still, I have always had this feeling that at the forefront of who I am is my race. I constantly feel like in each of my initial interactions with people, that I am dismantling stereotypes they may come in with – this may be a pessimistic approach, but I have always found it to be the safest. In light of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, I have come to realize how much of how I viewed myself was tainted by internalized racism. Imagine growing up and consuming content all the time that is covertly or overtly anti-Black. The same anti-Black content that non-Black people subconsciously internalize is what most Black people are also exposed to and internalize. Sebene Selassie, meditation teacher and author, described it like a form of “double consciousness”, surviving in an anti-Black world but also being a Black individual. Outside of historical fiction, Black people were more often portrayed in relation to gang and gun violence, as troublemakers in school, or as sidekicks lacking depth. Films like Akeelah and the Bee where a young Black girl from a poor background eventually wins the National Spelling Bee were constant replays because frankly, there was not much else remotely positive that centered young Black girls. Even in elementary school, I remember constantly watching the Black kids be treated as “the bad kids” and experiencing this at times myself.  As discussed in Netflix’s Dear White People, you become scared of your own community and its potential for violence. Concurrently, you become scared of being perceived as violent or as the other negative tropes that are constantly shown in mass media. A survival tactic is to distance yourself so far from this so that you are non-threatening, can assimilate, and succeed – so I did this and have continued to do it until this point.

My story of awakening includes recognizing the need for the Black role model – the feeling was palpable for me when a Black role model was in a space.

Black role models have not been in short supply in my life. My parents are well-educated and self-employed business owners, my late maternal Grandfather was a well-loved physician and senator in Nigeria, I have physicians, engineers, nurses, teachers, and everything in between on both sides of my family. I think it showed throughout my life as I always knew and was often told how much potential I had and saw what I could achieve. Yet, there is something truly comical about being asked if I knew how to speak English while dressed in full professional attire at my Bed & Breakfast the morning of my Queen’s Medicine interview –  my Grandfather himself gave a full speech, in English, to a class of medicine graduates in Nigeria in 1989. My Grandmother was also an English teacher and eventually a principal.Microaggressions like this are painful because they reveal to how much (often white) people do not understand the state of knowledge in BIPOC communities around the world. The same ignorance is riddled throughout anti-immigrant rhetoric, despite Canada being built through settlers with the ideology of colonialism, and this hatred is rarely directed towards white immigrant populations.

Black role models; My late grandfather, Dr. (Senator) Elijah Emezie, – physician and founder of his own rural hospital (St. Luke’s Hospital Orlu)Black role models
My grandparents in front of their house in our village in Nkwerre, Nigeria.

Black role models however, were in short supply in all my public institutions. I had three Black teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 12 and I can name them: Mrs. Findlay, grade 7, Mr. Kouadio, grade 8, and Mrs. Brown, grade 12. Not coincidently, these teachers are also among the ones who I never felt doubted my abilities. Throughout school I often found my teachers described me as excelling in a way that seemed to surprise them – it was never clear to me why. I do not think my elementary school had a single Black teacher on staff the entire time I was there. I mention these teachers because yes, having Black teachers did make a difference to me. Seeing them always made me feel safer and my presence among my peers felt more normalized. It is challenging to describe the feeling of being a child or teenager, and just instantly feeling a bit more like you belong. This is the power of representation – a privilege that many do not recognize they have. Imagine yourself in school and never seeing a teacher that looked like you – not even in the hallways – not the most comfortable reality to picture. Yet, this is the norm for many Black children growing up in Canada. Even in the “cultural mosaic” that was Mississauga for me, the lack of explicitly Black representation or even Black celebration in our education was notable.

My story of awakening continued in higher education where I have discovered in short, the existence of ongoing institutional racism and the ignorance of students, faculty, and community members to this fact.

My undergraduate experience can be summarized by two main realizations. The first being that the war on drugs is really a war on poor and racialized communities as I have never seen more drugs so openly used as I have within “elite” university populations. As someone who grew up seeing drug use only portrayed in racialized communities and perhaps in elite corporate culture, its normality in everyday life was astounding. This alongside the copious amounts of binge-drinking that many of my peers attested to participating in since early in high school (I cannot relate). The second was that dating culture is certainly not the same experience for Black women. A lot of my interactions at outings consist of filtering out fetishization from genuine interest or having people suggest only Black men towards me because they assumed only those men would have an interest in me. 

I can say that although I attend a heavily white institution for medical school, Queen’s, I truly am surrounded by the most open-minded and inclusive friends – the majority of whom are BIPOC. It was a disheartening experience to learn within the first two months at Queen’s Medicine that from 1918 to 1965, my school had a formal ban on Black medical students[1]. A ban that was still technically in documentation until it was formally repealed in 2018 – the year I started at Queen’s. At one point it felt like everyone I knew had felt the need to send or tag me in articles about this – a constant reminder of the mistakes of the institution I would be attending for four years. I always ask myself, when Queen’s put this ban on Black medical students into effect, where was the public outrage? Where was the support for these students from all the other medical institutions in our country that are supposedly faultless? I am curious what is yet to be revealed about the racist practices of institutions in their history. In my eyes, it was obvious that the intergenerational effect of this was still occurring at Queen’s due to the blatant lack of Black medical students.

In March of this year, I was grateful to attend the historic inaugural meeting for the Black Medical Students’ Association of Canada in Toronto. Being in a room full of people in your field who look like you is a privilege that many Black medical students do not have every day. It was invigorating and rejuvenating of many things I believe about representation that I felt like I was starting to lose sight of. The family we have across Canada is undeniable and listening to their experiences, some being the only Black student in their class, saddened me. Through my work as Co-Director of Communications hereafter, I have further disentangled some of the internalized racism I had towards the knowledge and potential of Black students. Many believe Black students are not in medical school because they lack merit and for a time, I bought into this as well. However, I can confidently say now that meritocracy is an illusion that benefits those that life already favours with opportunities and who do not experience systemic oppression. We need our system to reward individuals with consideration of the various backgrounds, context, and circumstances that result in the advantages or disadvantages applicants may face.

Now let’s talk about silence.

Institutional racism also became evident to me when a Dermatology lecture could start with “I’ve pretty much for all of the slides given examples of Caucasian skin. […] once we move through today and move forwards into the months and hopefully years ahead, hopefully I’ll be able to come and I will bring you other skin types.” Spoiler: there has never been a session during our Dermatology block or any time in the upcoming years of medical school scheduled for lectures on Skin of Colour– this was an empty promise. A start like this would have gone unquestioned if not the for the vocal advocacy of myself, one of few Black students in our medical school. I hope in response to recent calls to allyship, others will feel comfortable advocating loudly alongside me to direct curricular change. It is also important for institutions to act on the saying, “nothing about us, without us.” The desire and act of not consulting Black stakeholders is rooted in white supremacy and superiority in our culture. Seeing Black people as the most knowledgeable makes people uncomfortable and it should not when you are talking about changes that impact the Black experience.

It is eye-opening to see classmates and future physicians who are normally vocal about their own life affairs and perhaps select issues like climate change or feminism, be completely silent when it comes to advocating for Black lives. It is in seeing people post and like content about #MedBikini who never did the same for the Black Lives Matter movement even though “professionalism” biases affect Black women in even greater magnitudes (many of whom would not feel comfortable sharing a bikini photo publicly out of these fears). This awakened me to a simple realization: receiving a medical school acceptance letter does not guarantee any individual is empathetic. In many ways, I have realized that people in medicine are among those with the largest egos. Many forget that medicine is a public service funded by the federal government, inherently political, and that these deceivingly “soft” social issues are actually blatant health concerns for the people you will treat. Furthermore, people in medicine are among those who may never have their ego checked again due to how society holds us on a pedestal. In June, Toronto Board of Health declared anti-Black racism a public health crisis and this sentiment has been shared among physicians and health organizations internationally. Yet, numerous medical students, the future of this profession, think that ignoring this issue is completely okay. Thank you to those who have acted otherwise and believe that participating in this movement and becoming an ally hereafter is part of an ethical obligation we have as a part of medicine. It is important to do so without projecting your own white guilt onto Black individuals who actually live with racism on a daily basis. All of this is not about white guilt, it’s about actions to centre on and change the experiences of Black people. My inbox is always open to those who are still finding their way and may need a hand.

My story of awakening is also a story of acceptance.

Acceptance of my community and all their potential despite others’ attempts to claim otherwise. And acceptance of myself, love for who I am, and all that I am capable of doing for the good fight.​

Happy me in Prague the summer before starting medical school in 2018.