MSNCB President's Message: As a Nursing Profession, We Must Elect Not to Tolerate Racism
Antoinette Falker, DNP, RN, GCNS-BC, CMSRN, CBN
As a black woman, my journey in nursing is probably quite different from the journeys of many of my white peers. One of my earliest memories in nursing school was when a white instructor instructed me and my all-white nursing peers that “when bathing a black person do not be surprised when the water changes color because black people are usually dirty.” Needless to say, as an 18-year-old student, I was stunned and at a complete loss for words. As I progressed through nursing school with very good grades, I was chastised for things like my shoes not being polished white enough or my nursing cap not being straight enough. After completing my last clinicals, my instructor took me aside to talk about my need to improve my clinical skills. However, the manager of that clinical division recognized my clinical skills and offered me a position as a GN immediately upon my graduation from nursing school.
In the following years as a bedside clinician, I have had a fair share of patients indicate they do not want to be taken care of by a black nurse. At first it was extremely painful to hear those words from my patients and to recognize that my clinical skills were not the problem, rather it was the color of my skin. Over time, the organizations, I have worked for have clarified their positions that all of their nurses were qualified to provide nursing care and this type of bigotry would not be tolerated. I am very pleased that these policies were enacted, but I am saddened that they needed to be enacted.
In my current role, I still hear concerns from black nurses such as: “Because I am black I am always given the assignments with difficult people because they feel only I can relate to them; I feel that as a black nurse I always have to prove myself and my skills to my peers and my patients; or I feel it is very challenging as a black nurse to move into positions of leadership.”
Truly, in order to rectify these problems, we as a nursing profession must elect not to tolerate racism in any form whether in creating patient assignments or in the hiring process. We need to use our collective voice to help combat systemic racism in all its seemingly innocuous manners including the ways we discuss and provide care to our patients of color. Benjamin Franklin once said: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
Now is the time to pledge to take a stand, to speak up and make a difference in our homes, communities, and workplaces against both overt and covert racism:
I pledge to open my eyes, my ears, and my heart to become more attuned to racism in all its forms.
I pledge to stand up against racism in all its insidious practices.
I pledge to speak up even when it is uncomfortable to do so.
I pledge to be the best clinician and the best person I can be.
Please join me in this pledge so we as a community of healthcare providers can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.