Guest Post: Allies and Advocates – Transforming Cultural Competence

Contributors: Jennifer Weitzel, Jeneile Luebke,
Linda Wesp, Maria Del Carmen Graf, Ashley Ruiz,
Anne Dressel, & Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu

The murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor has prompted a wake-up call to reflect on the pervasive issue of structural racism.  As a nation created through histories of colonization and slavery, these murders—among countless others—have acted as a catalyst for American society to recognize and act to disrupt continued legacies of racism embedded into the fabric of American society1.  As nurses, as a part of this society (and thus a reflection of society) it is incumbent upon the nursing profession to take a stark look at the ways in which the legacy of structural racism has continued to inform nursing practice, education, and research.  Doing so speaks towards the nursing professions commitment towards supporting best health outcomes for everyone.  As the most trusted profession, and largest healthcare profession, such allyship not only recognizes this issue, but acts to decolonize discourses, and provides explicit attention to the impact that racism holds on health outcomes.  Such measures call to realize the reality that racism is a health issue, that must no longer remain on the periphery of nursing education, research, and practice in the U.S. (see https://nursology.net/2020/01/14/decolonizing-nursing/ ) .

Source

Nursing as a science, has historically been constructed from a positivist and Eurocentric framework that serves to sustain the domination of “whiteness as a form of disciplinary power.”2(p.196)  Cultural competence is often the primary concept used to guide the nursing profession in addressing the needs of diverse populations locally and globally.3 The principles of cultural competence are heavily influenced by the social and political history of the U.S.4 Practicing with cultural competence is tainted with the effects of racial bias, as this concept fails to recognize how perceived “cultural differences” are code for modern-day racist ideologies dating back to colonialism.6 Therefore, what is often believed to be cultural knowledge is rooted in White, European worldviews and codified into healthcare practices based on faulty interpretations and observations of “Othering”. 

Calls have been put forth for nursing transform these harmful approaches to cultural competency using emancipatory knowledge development and critical theory. Although nursing has been heavily impacted by the hegemonic ideologies of the biomedical model, we have also pioneered ways of knowing that disrupt oppressive knowledge paradigms.   The very institutionalization of competence within the medical field was one way for healthcare providers to establish a standard of expertise. This was key to the professionalization of many disciplines informed by the biomedical model, which focuses primarily on biological factors of health and excludes psychological, environmental, and social influences.Because of the societal value placed on our education and our expertise (cultural competence), nurses enjoy a position of power in Western models of health care. Operating blindly within the hierarchies of power existent in the Western, biomedical model of health leads to running the risk of de-contextualizing the care we provide. For example, Ilowite, Cronin, Kang, and Mack found that parents of children with cancer, regardless of race and ethnicity, wanted detailed information regarding their child’s prognosis.7 However, the researchers also found that physicians provided less information to Black and Hispanic parents than to White parents. This is an example of how healthcare providers exert power by deciding what information to share with patients based on perceived cultural norms and implicit bias.

Most individuals entering the healthcare field espouse a belief that they need to deliver care with impartiality.  However, without a sufficient understanding of the machinations of racism in everyday society, the ways in which racism are perpetuated in the healthcare system will remain a blind spot.6 In attempting to provide care regardless of race or ethnic background, we might overcompensate (“I don’t see color”) and subsequently fail to see how social determinants of health, including racism, affect our patient’s opportunities to achieve and maintain optimal health. 6

Practicing with cultural competence is predicated on the nurse’s ability to learn and understand cultures other than their own  to predict health behaviors and ultimately health outcomes.7 When these predictions drive how care is delivered, the complexities of how individuals, families, and communities make decisions about life, illness, and death become reduced to single narratives and stereotypes.9 By many of our textbooks and NCLEX review materials still provide content based on assumptions and broad categorizations. These assumptions often boil down to ideas such as the belief that because of their race or ethnicity, people share static traits, values, and beliefs, racial categories are legitimized as objective truths, when in reality, these categories are social constructions shaped by history and politics.

It is fundamentally impossible for nurses to provide culturally competent care under the premise that knowledge is based on these singular narratives, beliefs, and stereotypes. We must be open to the use of new frameworks that underpin the delivery of nursing care to meet the needs of diverse populations.  These frameworks derive from epistemologies that challenge Western hegemonic knowledge, how it is produced and who produces it.  For example, cultural safety is a concept originating from indigenous Maori New Zealanders that calls on nurses to engage in ongoing self-reflection about issues of power and privilege. Intersectionality theory, rooted in Black feminist thought, requires an understanding that people identify in a myriad of ways that are fluid and interactive.  These identities, some of which are self-ascribed, and others are socially ascribed, form matrices that confer or deny power. Legal scholars introduced Critical Race Theory (CRT) drawing from critical legal and civil rights scholarship.  CRT is underpinned by the following assumptions:

1.  Race is a social construct with no basis in science.

2. White supremacy does not exist on the fringes of society but is embedded in the everyday order of U.S. life.

3.  The voices of those experiencing racism are essential to knowledge development.

4.  The notion of ‘colorblindness’ is a detour that allows White people to absolve themselves of racial biases and deny the oppressive realities of structural racism.

These are a few of the concepts and frameworks that could inform nursing science and ultimately our practice. Why are we interested in theories from other disciplines? How might we develop nursology discipline specific knowledge that addresses the issues?  In the midst of the world witnessing the murder of George Floyd by police officers, the COVID-19 pandemic continues unabated with its current epicenter in the U.S.  In urban metropolitan areas, we have watched how centuries of disinvestment in Black and Brown communities and systematic oppression has led to health disparities that are also manifesting clearly in this pandemic in disproportionate morbidity and mortality of Black and Brown peoples.  Ethnic minority populations are at greater risk for contracting Covid-19, or experiencing severe COVID related illnesses.10  According to the CDC’s report on COVID-19 in the Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups, cases of COVID-19 are highest among American Indian persons, and hospitalization rates for COVID-19 related illness are highest among Latinos, American Indians, followed by Black persons.10  Since Covid-19 was first reported on the Navajo Nation in mid-March, infection rates per capita have soared to the highest in the country compared with any individual state.11   The COVID-19 pandemic thus only exacerbates the challenges that ethnic minority communities already face, particularly American Indians who already experience disproportionate disparities in health outcomes.

The time for nurses to act is now, not just in the care of people and communities that are most marginalized, but to address the very root of marginalization and oppression through a practice of critical reflection on our own profession: which of our theories need to be contested because they are rooted in colonist and white supremacist ideologies?  How can we embrace of innovative ways of theorizing, through meaningful and intentional care that results from a critical and reflective analysis of the realities going on around us and our role as a profession in fostering lasting change? We leave you with these questions and call upon you as fellow allies and advocates on the path towards health equity and social justice.  When we discuss racism, should we not include all races and ethnicities?

Sources

  1. Paradies Y. Colonisation, racism and indigenous health. J.Popul. Res. 2016; 33(1):83-96.
  2. Puzan E. The unbearable whiteness of being (in nursing). Nurs Inq. 2003; 10(3):193-200.
  3. Rajaram SS. Bockrath S. Cultural competence: New conceptual insights into its limits and potential for addressing health disparities. J Health Dispar Res Prac. 2014; 7(5):82-89.
  4. Kirmayer LJ. Rethinking cultural competence. Transcult Psychiatry. 2012; 49(2). 149-164. doi.org/10.1177/1363461512444673
  5. Wesp, L. M., Scheer, V., Ruiz, A., Walker, K., Weitzel, J., Shaw, L., . . . Mkandawire-Valhmu, L. An Emancipatory Approach to Cultural Competency: The Application of Critical Race, Postcolonial, and Intersectionality Theories. Advances in Nursing Science, ePub Ahead of Print. 2018.  doi:10.1097/ans.0000000000000230
  6. Hester, RJ. The promise and paradox of cultural competence. HEC forum. 2012;24(4):279-291. doi.org/10.1007/s10730-012-9200-2.
  7. Ilowite MF. Cronin AM. Kang TI. & Mack JW. Disparities in prognosis communication among parents of children with cancer: The impact of race and ethnicity. Cancer. 2017; 123(20): 3995-4003.
  8. Brascoupé S. Waters C. Cultural safety: Exploring the applicability of the concept of cultural safety to Aboriginal health and community wellness. Int J Indig Health; 2009; 5(2):6-41.
  9. Carter C. Lapum J. Lavallée L. Schindel ML & Restoule JP (2017). Urban First Nations Men: Narratives of Positive Identity and Implications for Culturally Safe Care. J Transcult Nurs. 2017; 28(5):445-454.
  10. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. 10 December 20.  Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/racial-ethnic-disparities/increased-risk-illness.html
  11. Cheetham, J. Navajo Nation: The people battling America’s worst coronavirus outbreak.  BBC News.  15 June 2020.  Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52941984

Note: this post is based on the ANS article published in the spring of 2020 – Weitzel, J., Luebke, J., Wesp, L., Graf, M. D. C., Ruiz, A., Dressel, A., & Mkandawire-Valhmu, L. (2020). The Role of Nurses as Allies Against Racism and Discrimination: An Analysis of Key Resistance Movements of Our Time. ANS. Advances in Nursing Science, 43(2), 102–113. https://doi.org/10.1097/ANS.0000000000000290

L-R: Jennifer Weitzel, Jeneile Luebke, Linda Wesp, Maria Del Carmen Graf, Ashley Ruiz, Anne Dressel, Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu

Jennifer Weitzel, MS, RN is a doctoral student and public health nurse with Public Health Madison & Dane County. Her research examines the use of cultural safety in the delivery of humanitarian nursing in Haiti

Jeneile Luebke, PhD, RN is a post-doctoral nurse research fellow at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her area of research and expertise include violence in the lives of American Indian women and girls, and utilization and application of postcolonial and indigenous feminist methodologies.

Linda Wesp, PhD, FNP, APNP, RN is a Clinical Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the College of Nursing and Zilber School of Public Health, with a focus on health equity, participatory research, and critical theories. She also works as a family nurse practitioner and HIV Specialist at Health Connections, Inc. in Glendale, WI

Maria del Carmen Graf, MSN, RN, CTN-A, is a PhD candidate at UW-Milwaukee. Her research area includes studying the mental health needs within vulnerable populations with an emphasis on the Latina population and women of color in the US using a Postcolonial Feminist approach.

Ashley Ruiz RN, BSN, is a doctoral nursing student and clinical instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as well as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). Her current work focuses on advancing feminist theory in nursing science for the purposes of providing a theoretical foundation for addressing the problem of violence against women. Such advances inform Ashley’s research, which seeks to identify and develop nursing interventions that are tailored towards the unique needs of Black women that disclose sexual assault and seek healthcare services

Anne Dressel, PhD, CFPH, MLIS, MA, is an Assistant Professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she also serves as Director of the Center for Global Health Equity

Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu, PhD, RN is Associate Professor in the College of Nursing at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). Her research focuses on violence in the lives of Black and American Indian women. As a feminist scholar, she seeks to creatively identify interdisciplinary interventions and to inform policy that centers the voices of women in addressing gender-based violence. Dr. Mkandawire-Valhmu also seeks to contribute to the development of feminist theory that would help to advance nursing science.

The Intersections of Nursing Scholarship and Nursing Activism

In the early 1980s  when Maeona Kramer and I first began to put together ideas for a text on theory development in nursing, we were committed to addressing nursing knowledge development beyond the typical boundaries of empirical research and theory development.  We had both completed, in 1971,  doctoral degrees in Educational Psychology (Maeona at Wayne State University in Detroit, and me at the University of Utah) focusing on theory development in education (nursing doctoral degrees at the time were few and far between).  For that first edition we drew on the work of a psychologist named Zygmunt Piotrowsky (1971)  who had proposed that the development of knowledge required contributions from scholars with different personalities, some who were drawn to theoretical abstract thought, and some who were drawn to concrete empirical “laboratory” science. 

In 1987 when we embarked on the 2nd revision of our book now titled “Knowledge Development in Nursing” we introduced Carper’s fundamental patterns of knowing in nursing, which gave us a starting point for narrative clearly grounded in the discipline of nursing. In the 3rd edition (1991) we turned our attention to revising our language from the stilted tradition of what was once considered scholarly writing to language that was more accessible and gender neutral.  By 1999, we realized that simply listing and describing Carper’s patterns of knowing fell short; we needed to project ways in which knowledge is developed for each pattern of knowing.  This evolution made it possible to articulate our belief that nursing knowledge encompasses so much more than that which can be studied empirically.  However, we continued to have this sense that something was missing, and in 2008 we articulated the emancipatory pattern of knowing. 

It was the growing and compelling body of nursing literature focused on critical social theory, socio-political knowing, and social justice that gave us the impetus, in 2008, to develop the emancipatory pattern of knowing. We see this not as simply a fifth pattern of knowing, but rather as the fundamental human capability to see a situation, recognize that something is amiss, and create ways to change the situation – an ongoing process in creating nursing knowledge that is necessary for the development of knowledge related to any of the four fundamental patterns of knowing.   

We had finally arrived at the intersection of social activism and the development of nursing knowledge.  But what does this really mean?  It is now over a decade since we first conceptualized what emancipatory knowing means, and the possibilities that this pattern of knowing holds for the future development of nursing.  We have been puzzled by the fact that it took us so long to see the connections and have speculated why this might be so (the long-standing subservient positions of women and nurses, the socialization to avoid that which is political, the dominant concern with one-to-one “bedside” care, etc. etc.). 

The fact has been that nurses, dating from the earliest days of the profession, have engaged in social and political activism, but have remained reticent to fully embrace social activism as a core nursing concern. Maeona and I both had been actively involved in the 1980’s effort to advance feminism in nursing through the work of “Cassandra: Radical Feminist Nurses Network.”  In 2000, Richard Cowling, Sue Hagedorn and I  wrote “A Nursing Manifesto: A Call to Conscience and Action,” acknowledging that at its core, nursing itself is “political” in the sense that politics is the ability to advance one’s own values in a public context.  Every time a nurse acts to bring nursing values into action, bends over backwards, jumps through hoops, and does cartwheels to obtain what individuals and families and communities need to be healthy, we are acting politically.  We are activists.  

The values of our discipline, expressed eloquently in the theories and conceptual models that form our foundation, guide our thoughts, words and actions. At the same time, our intimate engagement with others as we practice nursing, also informs what we think and do, opening awareness of ways to challenge, question and re-design the nature of our discipline.  The social and political contexts we face in this moment call for a new awareness of distortions, prejudices, stereotypes, social injustices amplified by racism. What is happening in this moment of time has raised alarm bells and demands that we turn our gaze on ways in which we nurses, individually and collectively have been complicit. The situation we find ourselves in today calls for nurses, and particularly white nurses, to finally recognize the dynamics of racism that infect our own “house” and start the tedious, and yet ultimately rewarding, process of healing.

In facing this challenge, we will begin to understand the dynamics of the widespread public health crisis of racism in ways never before attempted.  The development of knowledge demands that we understand the problem, explore the dynamics that sustain the problem, seek new ways to prevent and change those circumstances that perpetrate the crisis, and heal those who are affected.  There are theories and philosophies of our discipline that can guide us as we move forward.  Here are a few to consider:

This website – Nursology.net – is accomplishing the very important purpose of bringing to the fore the rich traditions and values expressed in the theories, models and philosophies of our discipline.  And now the time has come to recognize the ways in which the practices, attitudes, philosophies and thought patterns that derived predominantly from white perspectives are lacking.  This reality now calls for activism of a type not often recognized – a sustained and determined challenge that can change our own disciplinary ways of thought and action.  This does not mean in any way that we discard or denigrate our foundation, or that we disrespect the ways in which our own scholarly work has real value.  What it does mean is that we examine our accomplishments through a new lens, and recognize ways in which we need to re-direct course.  

Take as an example my theory and practice of “Peace and Power.” This theory was inspired in part by the Brazilian scholar and activist Paulo Freire (1970), and is closely aligned with practices commonly used in native American cultures and in Quaker communities. Yet people of color have also challenged this process as reflecting colonized white privilege – despite the commitment embedded in the processes that seek to dismantle power inequities in group processes.  Part of this challenge came from the early descriptions of the process that clearly reflected the concerns of white women and defined by white feminists. The fact is that the lens through which I view these ideas bear “decolonization.” What this means exactly is still in process, requiring a deep deconstruction of the Euro-centric assumptions on which the theory and process is built.  How this will affect the theory itself remains to be seen, and may be actually accomplished by scholars of the future!  

The time has come to shift this process in to high gear – to recognize the ways we have silenced the voices of many of those we claim to serve, ways in which we have excluded nurses of color from participating in our efforts to develop the knowledge of the discipline, and ways in which white nurses have in fact dehumanized, disrespected and excluded nurses of color from full participation in the practices, leadership and development of the discipline.  This is not an activist project that can happen in one or two “training” sessions addressing “diversity, inclusion and equity.” Nor can it be accomplished by performative actions such as recruiting more people of color, or curriculum revisions.  Although of course these kinds of actions are warranted and need to happen they will not in themselves end the inequities and injustices of racism.  There are no formulas.  

I believe that the activist commitment of all nurses now and going forward is to learn all we can about the mechanisms of both systemic and everyday racism, question each choice we make in light of our growing awareness, challenge one another with loving kindness, and create spaces that challenge white privilege.  The “Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing” discussion series has now ended but in those discussions we established a starting point, including important resources for becoming well informed about the challenges we face. Now we have new actions to continue this work, centering nurses of color and engaging white nurses in meaningful processes consistent with the ideals of “truth and reconciliation.”  

While these actions are labeled as “activism” they are also vital in shaping nursing knowledge going forward.  Becoming immersed in social and political activism to address the public health crisis of racism, guided by the values of our discipline, we provide the best of nursing care to heal ourselves, to heal the damaging effects of racism in our communities, and build a stronger future.  We create the ‘hermeneutic circle” of thought and action – where our actions inform how we think, and how we think shapes our action in a constant process that changes and shapes both thought and action going forward.

Sources

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy 0f the oppressed. Seabury Press.

Piotrowski, Z. A. (1971). Basic System of All Sciences. In H. J. Vetter & B. D. Smith (Eds.), Personality Theory: A Source Book (pp. 2–18). Appleton-Century-Crofts.

How Evidenced Based Practice Supports Inequality

Guest contributor: Mike Taylor,
Member, Nursology Theory Collective

About six years ago, the Maryland Department of Health sponsored a conference for all state stakeholders with an interest in chronic disease, including nursing and medical groups, hospitals, EMS and diabetes product companies. The latest evidenced based practice models were being presented but I was only half listening because I, like most of those in the room, already knew what we were going to hear. Which is what happened, in session after session we heard that non-white patients had the highest incidence in all chronic disease states, probably related to genes or culture, and the major solutions were primarily public awareness and ethnic specific education without any mention of the role of racism.

So, I decided to shake things up and during the break went to the Department of Health table in the exhibit hall and asked the two representatives there if we were ready to tackle institutional racism or if we were still playing around the edges. Looking unsure what to say, one of them responded “we are still playing around the edges” but offered that there was a new director who may be willing to talk with me and she would send her over to my table. She never came and the chance for a different conversation ended there.

While the department of health representatives didn’t deny the existence of institutional racism, unless evidence of institutional racism and other inequalities are allowed to be presented as part of the discussion nothing will change.

In addressing institutional racism, we tend to spend 80% of our time on awareness which is only 20% of the problem and not on changing institutions which is 80% of the problem. In this first of a series of blogs, I will argue that evidenced based practice (EBP) is a key component of the institutional structures that support racial and economic inequalities. The evidence about any clinical subject is often contradictory even in well-designed studies which is not a problem but simply a feature of the difficulty of doing science. The fact that the evidence found in scientific journals provides a range of possible answers, requires practioners, practice organizations and health systems to make choices about what evidence to include and not to include in their own practice and in practice guidelines. The science of EBP may appear to be objective but the process of choosing the subject and design of studies along with what evidence to use and how to use it is inherently subjective and open to bias that perpetuate economic and racial inequalities.

Institutional selection of what evidence to include in policy and practice is based on the degree of fit with an existing institutional theory. The institutional theories that support inequalities in race and poverty, are unspoken but widely accepted theories of health without theoreticians and based on unquestioned assumptions which can make them hard to challenge.

If we in the Nursing Theory Collective specifically and in nursing in general, are to undertake this fight to change the intertwined histories of these inequalities we must concentrate on changing the institutions and the false assumptions they are based on, and demand alternatives. Follow-up blogs will examine the use of EBP in supporting three areas of institutional inequalities including the maintenance of structural racism, control of nursing practice and control of patient autonomy. Please reach out to me and tell me what assumptions you have found in your work that you feel need to be questioned.

About William (Mike) Taylor

Mike Taylor is an independent nursing theorist specializing in the application of complexity science to health and compassion. His Unified Theory of Meaning Emergence takes a major stride in connecting the mathematics of complexity with self-transcendence and compassion. He has spoken at international, national and regional conferences on complexity in nursing, health, and business. He is a member of the board of the Plexus Institute where he is the lead designer of the Commons Project, a web based platform for rapid social evolution in climate change.

Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing

Our Nursology.net community is committed to addressing the burning issue of racism, how this systemic condition has influenced the development of nursing knowledge, and how this situation can be changed (see our statement on racism in the sidebar for more information). The NurseManifest project has just announced a series of web discussions “Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing” that will interest many nursologists! Starting on September 12th, and every week through October 10th! This initiative is in part an outgrowth of the 2018 Nursing Activism Think Tank and inspired by recent spotlights on the killing of Black Americans by police, and the inequitable devastation for people of color caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Racism in nursing has persisted far too long, sustained in large part by our collective failure to acknowledge the contributions and experiences of nurses of color. The intention of each session is to bring the voices of BILNOC (Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other Nurses Of Color) to the center, to explore from that center the persistence of racism in nursing, and to inspire/form actions to finally reckon with racism in nursing.

Lucinda Canty, Christina Nyirati and Peggy Chinn have teamed up to create the plan – you can see the details here; it is also easily accessed from the NurseManifest main menu!

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

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice, and the Future of Nursing Theory: A Webinar of Disciplinary Reflection

To learn more about the Nursology Theory Collective,
or join us in future work, please click here.
See video and full report here

On Friday, June 12th, the Nursology Theory Collective hosted a live webinar titled, “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice, and the Future of Nursing Theory.” In this webinar, Dr. Lucinda Canty and Patrick McMurray addressed the interrelated concepts of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in nursing. They discussed nursing’s homogeneity and how the absence of diversity in our discipline contributes to and reinforces inequity, injustice, and exclusion, even as our professional organizations purportedly value social justice and strive to reduce health inequities.

It is long past time for nurses and nursologists alike to take a stand and actively work towards an antiracist future for nursing. This is nonnegotiable and the time for action is now. We challenge you as readers of Nursology to watch this insightful webinar, reflect on your role in advancing equity and justice, and comment how YOU are going to contribute to transforming nursing into a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and just discipline.

We understand that this topic may be uncomfortable – and if so, we encourage you to reflect and unpack that discomfort. Maybe you feel defensive as if you have done nothing personally to warrant interrogating your own positionality. Maybe this resonates with you because you see and know this truth as congruent with your own experience.In the words of Monica McLemore, “this can all be different,” if we choose to make it so. The starting place for this is critical self-reflection which paves the way for antiracist growth which creates the possibility for community-building and envisioning new futures for nursing. Embracing the discomfort we can become a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and just discipline. As Patrick McMurray stated, “nursing is an act of justice,” and it can be if we do the work.

In Solidarity,
The Nursology Theory Collective

For more background on this webinar as well as the presenters, please click here.

Nursing and Racism: Are We Part of the Problem, Part of the Solution, or Perhaps Both?

One of the first “lessons” in my now-long-ago nursing education was “the nursing process.” This was in the early 1960s, almost a decade before anyone spoke of nursing theory, but the University of Hawaii (my alma mater) had modeled the curriculum on that of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) which was designed around the ideas of Dorothy Johnson. These ideas would ultimately become known as Dorothy Johnson’s Behavioral Systems Model (See also the history of the UCLA School of Nursing, pgs 43-48).

Of course this same problem-solving process is widely used in many walks of life, and many see it as a mere pragmatic outline for making good decisions and forming appropriate action – a necessary process but several degrees removed from developing foundational knowledge of the discipline. In reflecting on the situation in which we find ourselves today I fear that as a discipline we have not adequately faced the realities before us as a discipline and as a society – both as a problem, and as a health experience. As I wrote in my January 20th post titled “Decolonizing Nursing”

Despite the fact that race and racism so repeatedly rise to the surface with a clear intent to address this issue, there is typically little or no substantive discussion that begins to reach deep down into explanations or understanding of what is really going on (see https://nursology.net/2020/01/14/decolonizing-nursing/)

I know that I am not alone in recognizing this challenge, but I continue to wonder — when and how will this begin to change? This is not merely a “political” matter — it is a matter of life and death, of health and sickness. It is a pandemic of proportions far beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has been infecting our lives for decades. In recent weeks we have witnessed the public killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, of Ahmaud Arbery shot down while jogging in February, and Breonna Tayler, an EMT with plans of becoming a nurse, killed by police in her own home in March. Then just a few days before this post published, the killing in Atlanta of 27-year-old Rayshard Brookes, shot in the back several times by police after indicating that he was able and willing to walk home to his sister’s house.

These tragic murders in plain sight, coupled with widespread recognition of the over-proportioned number of Black and Brown people suffering from COVID-19 – give us a glimmer of opportunity to finally act. The calls for change are so pervasive and so sustained, that those of us ready and willing to make change have a real opportunity to do so. And so I return to my earliest nursing education and the foundational ideas that have been baked into my very fabric – the processes of active listening and observation that are vital to assessing and “diagnosing” a problem(1).

One of the notable signs that appears in all of the protests says “I see you, I hear you.” For me, this is a key to meeting the challenge before us. It starts with our interactions among our own colleagues. Throughout my nursing career I have seen many Black nurse colleagues come and go, and every single one of the nursing faculty I have served with have repeatedly decried how “difficult” it is to recruit and retain Black nurse faculty. Yet all too rarely have I witnessed concerted, deliberate efforts by the predominantly White(2) faculty to stop, step away from our privilege, seek the authentic stories of our Black colleagues, and actively hear (understand) their experience. Equally egregious is the fact that there are myriads of situations that, viewed through a lens of anti-racist awareness, could be instantly recognized as potentially harmful to a Black person, even dangerous. But over and over again we turn a blind eye, and fail to act. I have all too often been just as complicit in all of this as anyone else – we have all been caught up, and participate in a systemic web of injustice. And I suspect that this pattern is not unique to academics – that it runs deep in every setting where nursing is practiced.

Further, there is the all-too often deflection of the problem by the insistence that the “problem” is not unique to Black people – that all lives matter. Of course all lives matter and Black people are not the only ones who suffer injustice and discrimination. But this sentiment turns the lens away from the specific voices, experiences, and challenges faced Black people. We can listen to all people – but until we listen to, and sincerely seek to understand, Black people and recognize the experiences of trauma and harm that Black people uniquely suffer, and how we participate, we will not be able to truly understand the problem.

It is undeniable that the prejudice and hate toward Black Americans, and people of African descent in many other countries is profound and amplified by the historical trauma of slavery and in the United States, the fall-out of the civil war fought to end slavery in the United States. I hear many White nurses in my circle expressing true outrage about this situation and we are all sincere in our desire to see it change, yet the problem persists. Until we White nurses face the reality of our privilege and the injustices that flow from this, until we learn ways to step away from our privilege and engage in serious anti-racism work, until we create spaces in which we can authentically engage with our Black colleagues to understand the problem, the injustices in our own house will remain.

We can all shift in the direction of being part of the solution. There are signals that point us in the direction of actions we can all take – particularly those of us who are White – to seize this moment, start to address the scourge of racism in our own house, and make real change. The circumstance of the COVID-19 shift to virtual reality offers ample opportunities for all of us to engage in antiracism work! Here are a few examples that I can personally recommend – if you start searching, you will find many many others!

  • Nurse Caroline Ortiz organized a “platica” (Spanish for discussion) held on March 9th over Zoom. Caroline recorded the session, which you can access here: https://vimeo.com/397047962. You can organize similar discussions – we are all now expert Zoom organizers!
  • African-American activist Nanette Massey holds a weekly discussion with White people from all walks of life to discuss the ideas in Robin DiAngelo’s book “White Fragility: Why It Is So Hard for White People to Talk About Race.” I have participated in many of these informative, interesting and affirming Sunday discussions. Learn more here.
  • The “Everyday Feminism” website has pages and pages of content on ethnicity and racism – https://everydayfeminism.com/tag/race-ethnicity/. Just browsing titles is a rich experience! Their 2014 post of 10 Simple Ways White People Can Step Up to Fight Everyday Racism is precisely relevant today!
  • Invest 1.5 hours into Everyday Feminism’s founder, Sandra Kim’s excellent session on “Why Healing from Internalized Whiteness is a Missing Link in White People’s Anti-Racism Work.” White nurses can benefit especially, but knowing that White people are facing this challenge, and how this can happen, can be helpful for everyone.
  • Practice generosity of spirit toward your nursing colleagues – each of us are being challenged in this moment to examine our own attitudes, actions and words. Many of us are just starting on this journey. This demands kindness and understanding toward one another as we work together, often in uncomfortable situations, to make meaningful change. Let us call forth the best we can be, and support one another with compassion and understanding when we mis-step.
  • Consider how application of many tenets of our own nursing theories can be activated in the quest to address racism. Consider Peplau’s approach to meaningful interpersonal relationships, the very important insights from Margaret Newman “Health as Expanded Consciousness,” and any one of several theories of caring such as Watson’s Theory of Human Caring, or Boykin and Schoenhofer’s Theory of Nursing as Caring, While these and other nursing theories were not created specifically to address racism and social injustice, we certainly can draw on their wisdom to bring nursing perspectives to the center in our anti-racism work.
  • Follow the opportunities provided by the Nursology Theory Collective to join discussions focused on creating equity in nursing
  • Find, read and cite nursing literature authored by nurses of color. Learn the names of these authors, and seek out their work. If you teach, make sure you include this literature in your syllabi(3).
  • Explore the work of scholars in other disciplines who are also committed to anti-racism work. The “Scholarly Kitchen” blog posts regularly on matters of racism and discrimination – see their June 15, 2020 post titled Educating Ourselves: Ten Quotes from Researchers Exploring Issues Around Race
  • Make your own video, as a nurse, speaking to these issues and how your values, ideas, nursing perspectives inform your actions to fight racism! Post it on YouTube or Vimeo .. and then share it with us – we can consider posting on Nursology.net or another nursing website. See this wonderful video (below) by de-cluttering expert Mel Robertson for inspiration!
Notes
  1. Ultimately the concept of active listening formed a basis for the essential processes of “critical reflection” and “conflict transformation” in my heuristic theory of Peace and Power.
  2. See this excellent article from the Center for the Study of Social Policy on the capitalization of the terms “Black” and “White,” which I consulted in refining this post: Nguyễn, A. T., & Pendleton, M. (2020, March 23). Recognizing Race in Language: Why We Capitalize “Black” and “White” | Center for the Study of Social Policy. Center for the Study of Social Policy. https://cssp.org/2020/03/recognizing-race-in-language-why-we-capitalize-black-and-white/
  3. See Kagan, P. N., Smith, M. C., & Chinn, P. L. (Eds.). (2014). Philosophies and Practices of Emancipatory Nursing: Social Justice as Praxis. Routledge. This collection includes many of the leading authors, including many nurse scholars of color, whose work focuses on social justice.

Black Lives Matter: Building an Antiracist Nursing Future

Register for June 12th Webinar

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

We, the Nursology Theory Collective, in light of the current events surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, cannot be silent.

Image created by NTC member Jessica Dillard-Wright

In partial answer to this, we have included our anti-racism position statement below, and invite you, as nurses and nursologists, to join us this Friday, June 12th from 4:00 – 5:00 PM EST to discuss the future of nursing theory and its interrelationship with diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. We understand that many of us don’t know where to start, but it is in times like these that as the most trusted profession in the United States we must use our privilege to create a more equitable and just world and do something. It’s time we actively listen, learn, unlearn, discuss, and take a stand for those who have been oppressed for hundreds of years, raise their voices, and be better together.

To join this event, please register here in advance to save your seat. 

  • We support the protests in the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDeade, recognizing that their murders are some of the innumerable instances of anti-Black violence that corrode our collective consciousness 
  • We condemn police brutality, a state-sanctioned violence, and recognize its deleterious and disproportionate impact on the lives of Black people
  • We recognize the collusion of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy as the root cause of the ongoing violence that is experienced by Black people
  • Structural racism and white supremacy are public health crises, socially-constructed, legally-entrenched systems of power that benefit and privilege white people
  • We will act to dismantle the structural racism that has characterized the status quo in the United States for over 400 years as a critical, urgent, and essential nursing intervention
  • We recognize our disciplinary complicity with white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy, which has shaped modern nursing from its beginnings
  • We collectively commit to do the work: to continue reading and promoting anti-racist work, donate to funds and support initiatives that advance antiracist work, divest from groups that promote hate, promote Black leadership and cite Black scholars, speak out against racism in all its forms, hold space to support and center this essential work while acknowledging this as a forever initiative
  • We commit to uphold anti-racism and anti-oppression, and acknowledge that this commitment must be an ongoing and eternal process

The statement above is a collaborative project, commenced on June 1, 2020. We invite you to join us in this initiative, continue the dialogue, create a better world, amplify Black voices, and show that #BlackLivesMatter.

To join us and sign your name to acknowledge support for the NTC formal position statement, please follow this link: https://forms.gle/NpYWRHtsKe7WZmrD9

In solidarity,
The Nursology Theory Collective

The Nursology Theory Collective is a group of scholars and students that formed after the landmark conference, “Nursing Theory: A 50 Year Perspective Past and Future”, on March 21-22, 2019 at Case Western Reserve University. The mission of the Nursology Theory Collective is to advance the discipline of nursing/nursology through equitable and rigorous knowledge development using innovative nursing theory in all settings of practice, education, research, and policy.

To join the Nursology Theory Collective, and be added to our email list, please send us an email at nursingtheorycollective@gmail.com.