Aug 10, 2020, By: Barb Shellian
This article is among the first on Canadian Nurse to focus on the issue of racism — particularly anti-Black racism — in nursing and health care. Our aim is to give a voice to those who have experienced racism or want to speak out against it.
I went to Sunday school (mostly willingly) when I was growing up and my parents expected me and my siblings to live what we learned: to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I came to realize the importance of this command after I left the shelter of my prairie farm home. I observed that some folks felt that they were better than others — deserved more or had different rules. I had trouble with that perspective and lost some so-called friends because they disagreed with me.
Many times in my nursing career I have witnessed the underlying attitudes of some health-care professionals — the covert whispering, overt actions and racist commentary in a caring profession. I regret that sometimes I was complicit in the actions and I lost an opportunity to be an advocate and speak up. I want to be better.
Sometimes it is hard to be a human being. COVID-19 is a small blip in history compared with the treatment of human beings by other human beings. It is distressing to see racism, violence, entitlement and the oppression of others based on their culture and the colour of their skin. It is uplifting to see the support, the marching, the peaceful protests — the voices of many saying enough is enough and change is required to build a future worth wanting. The Black Lives Matter movement is a checkpoint for me to evaluate my behaviour and attitudes. It is an opportunity to be better. I hope the momentum continues peacefully and meaningfully.
Nurses are trusted and our words and actions matter.
What does all of this mean for nursing? The Canadian Nurses Association has issued a statement saying, “[r]acism is an important determinant of health, contributing to unacceptable health and social inequities. CNA believes that ongoing racism and discrimination, as a root cause of health disparity, needs to be tackled aggressively at all levels.” We need to take that statement and generate action — in our practice, in our profession, and in our nation. Carpe diem. Do unto others.
We can start big or small, wherever we see an opportunity. Nurses are trusted and our words and actions matter. We have heard the call to action and advocacy by Steven Lewis, who characterized the nursing profession as punching below its weight. Well, maybe now we need to get into the ring in a different weight class and speak up about racism and forge a better future for our patients, families and the world. Being kind and treating people as if everyone matters could be a start; we need to practise nursing and live life as if the world was watching.
Core nursing values include human dignity, integrity, autonomy, altruism and social justice. The caring, professional nurse integrates these values in practice. Supporting others to be their best and achieve health is our work; the colour of a person’s skin, where they were born, how they pray, who they love is all part of who they are as a person, but does not make them more or less human. Change is coming and we have the choice to stand up and speak out.
2020 has been designated as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. So far, it has been a very interesting year! What should not be forgotten about this year — in addition to the pandemic — is the opportunity we have to call out and eliminate racism and any form of discrimination in nursing care. We must do the right thing and be the role models for a better world.
Editor-in-chief Barb Shellian is a registered nurse committed to nursing practice, health care reform, and people. She is a past president of the Canadian Nurses Association and also Director of Rural Health, Alberta Health Services Calgary Zone, and is located in Canmore, Alberta.