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It’s time to use my voice to support Black Lives Matter

  
https://www.infirmiere-canadienne.com/blogs/ic-contenu/2020/08/24/lheure-est-venue-dappuyer-de-ma-voix-le-mouvement
Aug 24, 2020, By: Erin Weisbeck

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.

Takeaway messages

  • More needs to be done to support people who face systemic racial discrimination and subtle racial aggression.
  • Black people and other visible minorities often do not speak out in order to avoid the high mental, spiritual and emotional toll it takes to confront racism when it happens.
  • Racist attitudes have cumulative effects that are extremely painful to a person’s spirit, confidence, self-esteem and health.

I wrote this reflection piece because I want to enact change through awareness of racism in Saskatchewan that negatively impacts Black, First Nations, and visible minority lives. I am a bi-racial Black nurse practitioner in Saskatchewan.  My journey throughout my nursing career has not been easy because I am a member of a visible minority. I am speaking out now because it’s time to use my voice in support of the Black Lives Matter cause.

I have so many personal examples of uncompassionate, unkind, and unfair treatment throughout my nursing education and career that I could write an encyclopedia on it. The most recent example was in the lunchroom of one of my workplaces. A white co-worker made a brash comment about how she acknowledges there is racism against Black people “in other places,” but “didn’t think racism against Black people exists in Saskatchewan.” I was shocked by her lack of awareness. I would have normally just kept quiet about a comment like this, as I do not like to be perceived as “an angry Black person with a chip on my shoulder” — or even worse, as “a person who plays the race card” — to gain advantage or for false protection.

I know that other Black people and visible minorities do not speak out on inappropriate comments or other subtle aggressions, opting to sweep the issues under the carpet to avoid the high mental, spiritual and emotional toll it takes to confront racism when it happens. Furthermore, speaking out and challenging systemic racism places a visible minority at a perceived risk of being released from your job for seemingly other excuses, like not being a good fit in the work environment or not being a team player. A white person’s unduly harsh, intolerant or uncompassionate treatment of a visible minority, on the other hand, may be excused as a colleague simply “having a bad day” or “under a lot of pressure, so just let it go.”

Speaking out and challenging systemic racism places a visible minority at a perceived risk of being released from your job.

Oftentimes it is very difficult to identify the deeply toxic micro-aggressions, like sideways glances or sarcastic laughing, when speaking at a workplace meeting. Additionally, there have been times where I have experienced exclusion from social events organized by predominantly white colleagues.

Change is overdue. This time, in the lunchroom incident, I did speak out about racism. I informed my coworker of a few small examples of my experiences as a bi-racial Black person. I asked if she has been followed in a drug or grocery store by security guards as she shopped, like I have. I asked if she has had her work re-assigned due to a patient not wanting a Black nurse caring for them, like I have.

I have asked if after a major accomplishment she did not get any acknowledgement from co-workers — not even a congratulatory card. In my case, I faithfully contributed money for five years to the workplace social fund for cards and gifts for other co-workers’ important life events. Nonetheless, when I finished my master’s degree as a nurse practitioner, I did not get an acknowledgement from my home base co-workers — not even a goodbye card wishing me well at my new job as an NP. I must disclose that not all work environments are bad, as I did receive a very nice send-off from another area that I was working in at the time; interestingly, this area was a more racially diverse workplace.

I reflect back on my nursing undergraduate degree, being told that my “critical thinking” is not good enough. I have heard numerous other visible minorities being told the same thing by instructors. However, this feedback stood in contrast to objective measures, such as test scores, throughout my education. Furthermore, I have over 12 years in my professional nursing career for which I am proud to have provided safe patient care without incident.

Black people, First Nations people, and other visible minorities have to work harder to obtain their accomplishments because they do not have the luxury of white privilege.

Finally, I am tired of being asked where I come from because people assume I must be from somewhere else due to my skin colour. I was born in Ontario in 1975 and was raised in that province as well; I have lived in Saskatchewan since 2003. My family roots in Canada extend back to 1904. I was recently rehired at a former Saskatchewan health region and attended a general orientation on March 16, 2020. As I walked up to the orientation check-in desk, the first question I was asked was if I was hired in the food services department. Why was this assumption made? Racial profiling needs to stop!

These are just a few of my many experiences, and I know they are very subtle and it is difficult to say with complete certainty that it is racial discrimination, but it does feel like it to me. Nonetheless there are cumulative effects that are extremely painful to a person’s spirit, confidence, self-esteem, and health as a result of subtle racism. Furthermore, I truly believe there needs to be acknowledgement that Black people, First Nations people, and other visible minorities have to work harder to obtain their accomplishments because they do not have the luxury of white privilege.

I initiate this discussion because racism is a core issue identified in the Canadian Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses and because it is an important determinant of health. Where, when and how will these concerns be addressed? I know that I am not alone with these concerns.

We need to do more to develop and support the lives of people who face systemic racial discrimination and subtle racial aggressions on a daily basis. Ignoring or remaining silent about the racism that exists in Saskatchewan and around the world perpetuates racism. This is an expansive global and also a prevalent local issue, and I ask what we are doing as a society and an organization to enact positive change in support of the Black Lives Matter cause.


Erin Weisbeck is a bi-racial Black nurse practitioner living and practising in Saskatchewan. Her interests include learning, raising awareness about, and advocating against, racial discrimination within health care with the intention of abolishing systemic racism, thereby improving the everyday experiences of Black people, First Nations people and visible minorities in Canada.

#racism
#discrimination
#opinions
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