Never a Guardian: Remembering Breonna Taylor

Want to learn more about Nursing and Racism? Read the following Nursology blogs: Nursing and Racism and Decolonizing Nursing.

Artwork used with permission of the artist Ariel Sinha

The Guardians of the Discipline is a series featured on Nursology.net as a way to commemorate the giants whose shoulders we stand on as we forge our nursing paths. Today, we – the Nursology Theory Collective – would like to memorialize someone who never had the chance to join the discipline, though we understand that she intended to be a nurse (Oppel & Taylor, 2020). Her name is Breonna Taylor. Murdered by the police executing a “no-knock” warrant, Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, was murdered as she slept in her home. Startled by the unannounced and forced entry of Louisville law enforcement, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend – a licensed gun owner – began firing his gun, assuming their home was being invaded. The police returned fire, striking Breonna who died six excruciating minutes later, no aid ever rendered (Simko-Bednarski et al., 2020). Final analyses showed the police had invaded the wrong home and that she remained alive for minutes without critical aid being offered. Lack of further investigations suggests that  Breonna Taylor’s life has seemingly been brushed aside. To date, no one has been held accountable for her murder. The no-knock policy remains uninterrogated (Oppel & Taylor, 2020).

We wish to honor Breonna Taylor, recognizing the structural missingness her death signifies in our profession (Hopkins Walsh & Dillard-Wright, 2020). NTC members Jane Hopkins Walsh and Jessica Dillard-Wright (2020) “synthesized the concept of structural missingness to capture the state of exclusion from healthcare due to inequalities within a system, a country or globally” (p.1). The concept was imagined to capture the injustices and inadequacies of talking about healthcare as a structurally-sound starting place for any kind of analysis, recognizing the people and groups who are all too often missing in colonized and capitalism driven spaces. In this blog post, we wish to extend this concept, recognizing the implications that the murder of Breonna Taylor has for nursing, acknowledging that nursing will never have the opportunity to learn from her knowledge and experience. 

Breonna Taylor’s murder is a structural missingness double-jeopardy. Her murder points to violent systemic racism, inequities and injustice. As a discipline, nursing is part of the racist system, and carries this internalized and systematized racial prejudice (Barbee, 1993; Barbee & Gibson, 2001). Nursing bears the hallmarks of normative whiteness, part of the hidden curriculum of nursing enacted through practices rooted in the received values around respectability; what are accepted dress codes, hairstyles, body art, leading to gatekeeping, professionalism codes, and civility policing that narrowly define what a nurse looks like (Allen, 2006; Puzan, 2003).  Scholar Ibraham Kendi refers to this implicit racist system as the “White judge” (Kendi, 2017 p. 4). Nursing professor @UMassWalker recently spoke to this idea in their critique of the vague and subjectively worded term “good moral character” bound within their university’s prelicensure nursing syllabus (see Twitter post from July 22, 2020). Dr. Walker’s blog post the next day further expanded upon the issues of institutional racism in the system of nursing education. These enshrined messages and images of how nurses ought to look, speak and act connect back to our received historical narratives- the stories that tell stories (Haraway, 2016). 

The Nightingale chronicles are an example of how this image of normative whiteness in nursing continues to be the dominant legend for all who enter the profession. The reified Nightingale history embeds systemic values that intersect race narratives alongside received norms for behavior, gender, sexuality, and class. Mary Seacole who self identified in her writings as a Creole person, was a Jamaican nurse and peer of Nightingale’s who was awarded international medals for her service in the Crimean war. She was a published author, commented on political issues of slavery and racism, made scientific observations around cholera and diarrhea, but historical letters suggest she was deemed unsuitable for service by Nightingale and other British authorities. Her contributions to nursing are underreported, diminished and debated to this day (McDonald, 2014; Staring‐Derks et al., 2015).

Breonna Taylor will never graduate from nursing school. Murdered in her sleep, she has been rendered structurally missing by virtue of her death by brutal aggressive police actions, a victim of the very institution that purports to serve and protect. Breonna is forever erased from our discipline. We recognize this injustice and by honoring her memory, we refuse to ignore the political ideologies that fail to interrogate aggressive policing systems that neglect to bring her killers, who are still free, before the court. Her death speaks to the complex and structurally violent structures that silently continue to collude, reifying nursing’s hegemony through systematic exclusions and injustices surrounding Black people who are systematically oppressed and erased. We, the discipline of nursing, are not immune from the effects of police brutality, and as a result a future nurse and colleague is missing. Furthermore, nursing is not immune from perpetuating racist systems. We must actively work towards a more just, equitable, and inclusive discipline, recognizing that the minimum bar of humanness demands actively protesting and opposing police brutality and the unacceptable murders of Black people, including Breonna Taylor.

What can you do to support Breonna Taylor, who never got to be a guardian of our discipline?

  1. Learn more about Breonna Taylor and her murder.
  2. Sign a petition demanding justice for Breonna Taylor’s murder.
  3. Read the Nursology Theory Collective anti-racism statement and commit to be actively anti-racist. 
  4. Use the platforms you have to name, address, and dismantle racism and white supremacy in the systems in which you work and live.
  5. Contact your local, state and federal elected officials weekly to inquire about legislation they are enacting to combat violent police practices against Black people and other Non Black People of Color.
  6. Consider running for elected office to embody the change we want to see.
  7. Constructively critique existing nursing theories and philosophies to deconstruct the effects of colonization of our formal knowledge base and to understand the ways that racialized systems and structures influence the development of our discipline.
  8. Use these insights to develop anti-racist research, theory, education, practice and policy that is aimed to decolonize nursing.

References

Allen, D. G. (2006). Whiteness and difference in nursing. Nursing Philosophy, 7(2), 65–78. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1466-769X.2006.00255.x

Barbee, E. L. (1993). Racism in US nursing. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 7(4), 346-362. https://doi.org/10.1525/maq.1993.7.4.02a00040

Barbee, E. L., & Gibson, S. E. (2001). Our dismal progress: The recruitment of non-whites into nursing. Journal of Nursing Education, 40(6), 243-244. https://doi.org/10.3928/0148-4834-20010901-03

Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.

Hopkins Walsh, J., & Dillard-Wright, J. (2020). The case for “structural missingness:” A critical discourse of missed care. Nursing Philosophy, 21(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1111/nup.12279

Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. One world.

McDonald, L. (2014). Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole on nursing and health care. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 70(6), 1436–1444. https://doi.org/10.1111/jan.12291

Oppel, R. A., & Taylor, D. B. (2020, July 9). Here’s What You Need to Know About Breonna Taylor’s Death. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/article/breonna-taylor-police.html

Puzan, E. (2003). The unbearable whiteness of being (in nursing). Nursing Inquiry, 10(3), 193–200. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1440-1800.2003.00180.x

Simko-Bednarski, E., Snyder, A., & Ly, L. (2020, July 18). Lawsuit claims Breonna Taylor lived for “5 to 6 minutes” after being shot. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/18/us/breonna-taylor-lawsuit/index.html

Staring‐Derks, C., Staring, J., & Anionwu, E. N. (2015). Mary Seacole: Global nurse extraordinaire. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 71(3), 514–525. https://doi.org/10.1111/jan.12559

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