Backlogged

Okay, I have to admit it. I’m backlogged on this blog. A number of people have written wonderful comments that deserve responses, but I haven’t had a chance to catch up. I just want everyone to know that I really appreciate your contributions and support. It really means a lot, really. I’ve made some meagre attempts to respond here and there. But I have found that I’ve spent too much time engaging in polemical debates, and flamewars, in my comments sections. That has taken away from developing more engaging conversations to thoughtful comments. So I apologize, especially to those who left questions or were inviting dialogue. As for some of my more lenghthy comments in blogistan, I hope to fully develop some of ideas I have expressed in the past and make them full blown blog entries.

With that in mind, I also wanted to say that there have been a number of issues that I would like to address more. I have been following the Jena 6, the Dunbar gang rape case, and the West V.A. torture case. I plan on writing about Blacks and the Justice system. I still have to write about the 08 Presidential Race, Graft in US bases in Kuwait, Female Genital Mutilation in Africa and in Muslim societies, the Bleaching cream ads in India and the Middle East. As for my travels, I am planning on writing a detailed essay on maids in Kuwait, my observations on the African Diaspora in Kuwait, and American privilege in the Middle East. Plus, I hope to keep regular postings with daily musings and meditations on a number of subjects. So, I apologize for the irregular postings. I also plan to work on adding tags to all my entries and cleaning up a few old ones. So please check back often.

On privacy, blogs, and social networking sites

I am sure there are a few voyeuristic readers hoping for details of my personal life and travels in my blog. I may have a bit of a flamboyant side and can easily recognize my own extroverted personality. But I’m not an exhibitionist. I say this even though I got sucked into the world of myspace and facebook. Oh, and before that, blackplanet (how wack was that site?) There was a recent psychological study about this generation being more narcissistic. The article pointed to websites like myspace and facebook encourage you to be so. But the sad thing is that those social networking sites are made for disconnected people who suffer from lonliness and isolation. But often, people who spend hours on those sites close themselves off from real relationships with people right next to them. In an effort to feel unique and special, people post very personal information. The information ranges from your hobbies, interests, activities and affiliations, your favorite books, movies, classes, where you live, where you have traveled, your relationship status, your opinion, and your amazing circle of “friends.”

I especially find it annoying when the buddies post personal messages like this , “Salaams, Hey, it was so great that I finally got to meet you. We had so much fun with you hanging out at yadda yadda’s house! Joe Blow says hi. Love you! Your sis for reals” on the message board. Now, they know the message board was public. But the message board on myspace and the facebook wall are meant to let everyone else know that you are friends. I found it annoying when people had 1000+ friends on myspace. I always felt like there should have been 6 degrees of sepearation, like “Shared interest,” “A web associate of a friend of a friend,” “A person I added because I think they are kinda hot,” “Page with some remotely interesting content”, etc.

At first, I didn’t have much privacy settings on myspace. Slowly over time, I tightened my settings. I didn’t want any more lame artists trying to add me. I didn’t want to add half naked guys without shirts showing off their abs. Nor did I want half naked women, even though I was suprised to find friends from highschool dressed provocatively. They were models, of some sort. At first, I didn’t make my site private because I had a blog with, what I felt were, important things to say.. Then, I got to know a slightly disturbed young woman. She showed me how women can obsess about myspace. For some women it was an investigation tool. Some try to detail your circle of friends and “intimates” on the page. Or, it was a way that some people used to check up on someone they don’t have the courage to call or write. When I took down all my personal information and pictures from myspace people asked me why. Others understood the weirdness that myspace helped encourage. There were times I only went on myspace to read two powerful blogs, one by a brother who goes by the psuedonym “Dan Freeman” and Kali Tal. But still, I’d run into madness.

Over the past few years, facebook seemed like it was largely immune to many of the social-networking-site-illnesses that were endemic to myspace. Facebook began as a college networking site. And it was limited to a few good schools. And you could only join if you had an email account from one of the schools. It was a nice way to keep up with those who graduated and lost their student email accounts. We all were students and grad students, attended similar events and posted pictures of our volunteer organization activities and campus social gatherings. We also posted up pictures of our families, travels, and other personal pics. Then, it began to open up to the whole world. Now, people can google your name and find your facebook page. Scary, because that means that your professional and academic network can be subject to the same stalker’s scrutiny. I have to make sure I up my security and take down my personal pics. It is not something I want to share with the whole world, let alone my undergrad students.

For me blogging has raised a number of similar important issues. I have shifted my focus away from writing about my personal life. Numerous people have told me that I should write a memoir. As a creative writer, I’d prefer to write fictional accounts of some events of my life (but I’m not going to write anything until I push out this dissertation so that’s a long ways away). I really want to respect the privacy of the people I care and have cared about at one point in my life. Even though you can find out some general things that I’m into and doing in this blog, it is not a diary. I hope it doesn’t come off as a pity party either. I definitely don’t intend my blog to substitute for personal interactions with interesting people. But on the top of my list, I really hope my blog does not invite stalkers or people trolling for personal details of my life. But, the blog world does sort of invite that. And I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting on this issue. I write details of my life as they come up and are relevant to the social issues that I’m exploring. My blog entries are not articles, nor are they essays. Nor are they polished writing (if I have ever achieved that in my entire life). My blog is also not a newsblog nor is it full of political commentary. I’m not interested in quantity, although I have read that the most popular bloggers post something everyday. I’m not interested in popularity either. I have written earlier about why I write . Some say my blog is provocative, but I don’t write in order to provoke people or agitate them.

Clearly, this blog is not solipsistic. I enjoy feedback. Much of it has pushed me to think. And in some ways this blog fulfills a basic need we all have, to be known and understood. But while I have a tolerance for some aspects of myself to be known by the public, I also value my privacy. I will continue to write and share personal reflections. But, I have come to learn the importance of maintaining some semblance of boundaries.

Full

I woke up this morning happy. I felt full…warm and safe. Then there was a bitter sweet moment as I thought about how my life will change dramatically. I thought about what I’d have to let go. In a few weeks, I will take an intensive course for 6 weeks. Then, two weeks after that I will leave the country for the hustle and bustle of Cairo. My naive dreams of longing will be held in suspension. I can’t pack up those that I care about and bring them with me. No more 40 minute drives to the place where I grew up. I will be thousands of miles from my mom’s the plum, orange, and lemon tress. No long rides along scenic windy highway 280 to San Francisco or 580 to Oakland or Berkeley. I’ll be far from the high tech Martin Luther King Library and shrimp tacos and chicken qesadillas at Iguanas on 3rd street in San Jose. I’ll miss the smells of the ocean. I’ll miss the expanse of the Pacific and driving on bridges that span the Bay. More than anything, I’ll miss the sun streaming in my window filtering through the white comforter that envelops me in a waking dream. The bittersweet moment passed and the joy of being took over. This morning, I laid in bed suspended between the world of dreams and world of conscious action. As I drifted in and out, the lines between those worlds blurred. Wishful…dreaming…feeling…full…feeling…me…like myself again.

Long Time No Blog

About a month ago things became really hectic.  I stopped writing and disappeared from the Stanford community. This became kind of cloudy and I had to reassess a lot. I was exhausted and had to get some priorities in line. I was definitely on the grind, hustling to make things happen. At the same time, I was still reading some dense and difficult theoretical works and thinking about my research. I have stacks of works to review, about 30 books from the library. I’m going to plow through them before August, I promise myself.  Right now, I’m juggling two jobs: temping at various sites and my research assistant position at Stanford.  I’m still saving and raising money for my trip. I’m focusing on spending time with my family and real friends, because I won’t see them for a year when I go to Egypt.

 After the storm had passed, I attended a few events that reminded me of the reason why I am taking this path. One was a conference on the Islamic library and the other an awards dinner for Muslim scholars and entreprenuers. Over the past three years, I have felt like I paid a huge cost. I worked myself into exhaustion. Grad school is trying, and my trade is an isolating field. I didn’t want to write some woe is me blogs. Instead, I focused on commenting on blogs. Sometimes what I read was depressing, other times they present me with challenges that are motivating. But overall, I guess I am aware of the obstacles that  I face and I have to have faith that it is worth all the efforts of trying to overcome them. In doing so, maybe we can encourage each other to face our struggles and be better by doing better.

Why I write

I write precisely because I don’t know yet what to think about a subject that attracts my interest. In so doing, the book transforms me, changes what I think. As a consequence, each new work profoundly changes the terms of thinking which I had reached with the previous work…When I write, I do it above all to change myself and not to think the same thing as before.

Michel Foucault in Remarks on Marx, 1981

I didn’t expect to discover something about myself today. I discovered something about the way that I communicate, write, and conduct my research. Foucault went on to say that in the beginning of a project, he never knows what the conclusion will be. Work is experience. This insight is something that Western academics rarely talk about. That is because there is this standard of removed and objective scholarship. But we all have something at stake in the production of knowledge.

We should have something at stake and be transformed by our work. Louis Brenner’s study of education reform in Mali, Controlling Knowledge shows us how traditional methods of Islamic education linked knowledge with practice. Knowledge was supposed to be implemented, knowledge was transformative, with every level of education from early Quranic school to higher Islamic sciences, students’ daily lives were changed. Now, people learn a subject without changing, or at least they imagine themselves to remain objective and removed from the subject. I think that Western orientations stress the mastery of knowledge and stockpiling information. It is like a hoarding of knowledge without applying it or using it effectively. Through modernizing reforms in Islamic education Western orientations have shaped Muslims and their approaches to knowledge. Knowledge is less linked to practice (praxis), and just knowing does not make one a better Muslim, let alone person.

But back to why I write. I write because I am wrestling with difficult issues. I don’t know the conclusion of my life will look like. I have so many questions and I’m not sure what to think about many things. But I know that I want to change and be better. I have often had a difficult time writing about the present, but have looked to the past–distant and recent. One of my primary interests has been the ways knowledge is passed on in the Muslim world, and how it is spread across space and through time. Often, as a historian, I am confronted with limitations of what can be known about people’s experiences. There is always the problem of evidence–skewed evidence and lack of evidence. We can barely talk to each other and understand the ways people now order their lives and make sense of their worlds. It seems like an impossible task to interpret fragments of evidence to get at the lived experiences of those who are long gone. I write because I don’t know what to think about those fragments in documentary evidence or those tales that were passed on in oral traditions. I write to make sense of those bits. It is a narrative, but is it fictional? Perhaps in a sense that it simplifies, creates analogies, comparisons, and connections that the people who lived in the past may not have seen. Yet, what was legible to them is not longer legible for me. Ultimately, I am subject to the whims of knowledge and what can be known.

With all the limitations of an impossible task, I am seeking knowledge, truth, and the reality of my lived experiences. If al-Haqq (Ultimate Reality and Truth) is infinite, then mere mortals can only grasp a finite sliver of Truth for an ephemeral moment. Postmodernists point argue that there is not a universal truth. Not one that we can fully grasp, at least.

Randomness, I know…The things an insominiac writes late at night.

Top Searches that People Used to Find My Site Today

Sometimes, I wonder what is the intention of the people who google “Why you shouldn’t marry a black woman”? Was the searcher a man? Was it a woman? Were they black? Were they joking? Or do they have beef with black women? What do they think of what I have to say? Or has gendered racism prevented them from valuing anything that I have to contribute?

When I think of the people who visit my site I wonder if they have been weighted down by the same issues that have made my life feel heavy? Do I help give voice to something that they had trouble articulating? Is my blog divisive? What about those readers that I challenge? How mad do I make them? Well, I don’t feel bad because I make someone angry when I express my own subjective position. I am angry, and there should be a whole bunch more people angry about injustice and deceit. I have always had my identity and my personal choices tested, questioned, and challenged. Learning can be painful, as many of my undergrad students will attest to. Students have their presuppositions challenged, they get tested and critiqued, they have to stay up late at night trying to make sense out of seemingly incomprehensible problem sets and dense readings. Maybe some of those who visit my site find something reflected back at them that they don’t like. Some may find a reflection that affirms the struggle they have been going through. Ultimately, I hope to give speak for the voice-less, the groups whose voices have been submerged by the dominant narrative.

Search Views
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why you shouldn’t marry a black woman 1
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The Resolution, 2007

I have contemplated doing the New Years Resolution thing. It is a nice ritual, but we often fall short and slip back into our vices within months, if not weeks. One New Years Resolution I had was to be good to myself. I haven’t done a very good job, but I have been treating myself better than I have in the past few years. Or maybe I’m feeling less beat up because of a complete turn around in my academic career. 2006 was a rough year for me, career-wise and personally. Today I ran into a professor who has been supportive of me work and continually encouraged me to keep fighting the good fight. He said that something must be wrong, because I looked happy. I looked happier than I had in the past two years. I think happiness is relative. But I’m going to try to be happy. And when times aren’t happy, I’m going to embrace the hardship, loneliness, and pain. Riding through those will make me stronger and during those times, I will draw closer to the Creator.

What lies ahead for me during 2007 seems like a scary and seemingly impossible journey. My journey will span a year or two and will take me to Egypt. Going to Egypt for so long is a big leap for me, but I’m committed to going. It is something that I knew I would have to do since 2002 when I decided to take this path. Going abroad is essential for my career as a researcher and scholar. Historians of Africa pride themselves with the emphasis on fieldwork. I will earn my stripes as a legitimate scholar. Going out into the field means living amongst the people you are studying for extensive times. Historians of Africa are in many ways similar to anthropologists. Years ago, anthropologists spent years, sometimes 4-5 years in the field. Great historians like Jan Vansina and Steven Feierman spent years in the field and are both trained as anthropologists and historians. They became fluent in the languages and cultural repertoire of their subject populations. (But for me, I am a member of the community that I am studying. For anyone that hasn’t noticed: I am of African descent and I am Muslim. So my research directly relates to my identity meaning that I have more of a stake in my work. I am transformed by my work and my identity transforms the meaning of my work. )The average Africanist spends 10 years getting their degree. Becoming an Africanist often entails language training in another European language besides English, such as French and German and an African language. We draw on various disciplines and sources to reconstruct past lives and events. We use ethnographic studies, collect oral data through interviews or collecting poetry, oral histories, epics, stories, and songs. We visit archives set up by colonial and state governments. A historian of Islamic Africa requires the skill sets of an Orientalist scholar who can master Arabic texts, European languages for colonial and state archives, and a ethnographic skills of an anthropologist. Stanford provides funding for 5 years. There is university funding for the 6th year. Fortunately for me, my research subjects speak modern standard Arabic. My research focuses on race in Muslim societies and I will be examining a communityh of West Africans in Cairo. I am taking a leave of absence for language training and research, which means my degree can take 7-8 years.

But who wants to be in their early thirties, during the prime of my life abroad surrounded by strangers? I’m not really happy with what that means in my life right now. Often, I think about what I’m putting on hold to go there. It extends my studies. It prevents me from establishing roots or real connections here. It in many ways leaves me vulnerable and alone. Being a woman in the Middle East is not very easy. There is less freedom to move, more chaos, cultural misunderstandings, and increased vulnerability. Then, there are all the people who see me as a walking visa, a ticket out. Sure, I have a few friends that live in Cairo, but I’m going to be far away from my family and people who have looked after me for years. I’m also trying to brace for a new flavor of racism, the Middle Eastern type. Sometimes, when I think about the journey ahead, I already feel the homesickness. I can imagine the loneliness, since I remember how alone I felt in Morocco at times. I can also feel the culture shock coming on. On the other hand, a huge part of me is relieved to be leaving the Bay Area, this isolated pocket community. I’m tired of the weird incestuous nature of both the graduate and Muslim community here. I’m restless and want to do something and be exceptional. I want to master Arabic, which I have been studying for almost four years. I want to pay my dues as an Africanist and maximize my field experience. I want to be around spiritual and good-hearted people. Sometimes I don’t mind the break from the struggles of being black in America. But really, I want to be around people who make me want to be a better person. Here, I find myself agitated, but not stirred, shaken, but not moved. I would like to surround myself by exceptional people who inspire me. Maybe there will be people like that in Egypt. The people I know who are there are good people. I hope there are more like them.

My mixed feelings about traveling and living abroad really reflect my acknowledgment of the benefits and sacrifices of undertaking this endeavor. I still have a long road to go to finish my degree and many obstacles ahead. In order to finish in that time, I must write and research expeditiously. I must be focused. I have to focus my energies, doing away with frivolity and nonsense. This is why I have extricated myself from chaotic and distressing situations and relationships. I must be good to myself and follow some of my unwritten New Years resolutions in order to take on this task.

I don’t think I’m going to find what I’m looking for in Egypt. But I do think that I’m going to have one piece of the puzzle figured out. Then it will be on to figure out the next stage. But everything I’m doing right now is preparing me for that. When I come back, I will be different. But I’ll also come back hungrier to finish my Ph.D. and ready to do the damn thing. Cairo is more real to me in my dreams. Sometimes those dreams feel more real than my reality here. Today, I spoke with a jewelry vendor. She said that I spoke of Egypt like I’m already there. While Summer is still far away, I’m there somewhere in Cairo.