Join us to learn more about our voices reckoning with racism in nursing. Share your voice in a dialogue, discussion, and future direction inspired by first person interviews and shown through the compelling stories of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other nurses of color.
Featuring Nurses from the “Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing” project: Lucinda Canty, Sue Hagedorn, Raeann LeBlanc, Frankie Manning, Melissa Mokel, Gayle Robinson and StoryCenter guides and media production team: Jonny Chang, Joe Lambert, Sharon Mosley, and Daniel Weinshenker.
A Seedworks Foundation Supported Event in Collaboration with StoryCenter
Systemic racism and racial inequality are two concepts that are deeply ingrained in American history. These two issues come up in every single presidential election where candidates compete for the minority vote by promising reparations for black people and an end to systemic racism. Research has repeatedly revealed that minorities lag in the majority of health-related outcomes and this is often directly linked to racial inequity. In a recent blog post by Dr. Chinn titled, ‘Nursing and Racism: Are We Part of the Problem, Part of the Solution or Perhaps Both’, she eloquently addressed how we as nurses can be a part of the solution in ending racism. This can be achieved by educating ourselves on race relations, teaching our children by example by respecting people that may look different, and being empathetic to black people under our care. Patients trust nurses and easily share their fears and worries and nurses are often tasked with the burden of explaining procedures or give informed consent. Black people have been used in research studies over the years without consent or at times treated without full disclosure. How did this begin and how can nurses help resolve this problem?.
The idea of informed consent began in the early 20th century and thus laid the foundation for the assertion of patient autonomy (Bazzano et al., 2021). Four landmark cases Mohr v Williams, Pratt v Davis, Rolater v Strain, and Schloendorff v Society of New York Hospital set a precedent for patient autonomy and formed the idea of the need for informed consent in medicine and research (Bazzano et al., 2021). In Mohr vs Williams, the patient had agreed to surgery on the right ear but during surgery, the surgeon decided that the left ear was worse off than the right ear and performed surgery on the left ear instead of the right ear (Bazzano et al., 2021, p. 80). The plaintiffs hearing thereafter worsened and she sued the surgeon for battery and assault for performing surgery on the left ear instead of the right as she had previously agreed (p. 82). Mrs. Mohr won the case as the court agreed that the surgeon was wrong for performing surgery on the left ear without her consent (p. 82). I have chosen to discuss informed consent because as much as research is important for the advancement of medicine and technology it is equally important to allow subjects to comprehend what they are signing up for and the potential risks or benefits of research. Participants need to also be aware that if they need to withdraw from a research study they can do so freely without fear of retaliation.
The issue of informed consent is a touchy subject when it comes to minorities especially the black population. This stems from the notion that historically blacks were seen as property and therefore the master did not need permission to do with them as they please. It is well documented that Dr.Marion Sims who is seen as “the father of gynecology” for pioneering successful gynecological surgeries, performed experiments on powerless black slaves without consent. The Tuskegee experiment is another well-known example of racial injustice where young black men some of whom were infected with syphilis were recruited for a research study on syphilis. Informed consent was not obtained for this study and when Penicillin became available to treat the disease the men were not treated. In addition, the men in the study were initially told the study would last six months but it went on for 40 long years where these men suffered the debilitating effects of syphilis without treatment. Fast forward to the 21st century while advances have been made in terms of how black people are treated more is yet to be done.
Working as a primary care nurse practitioner I have encountered countless black patients who distrust the medical system so much so that they would rather forgo medical treatment and seek alternative therapies. This distrust is deeply rooted in medical apartheid that they have witnessed or experienced over the years and it is up to us as nurses and frontline health care workers to empower these patients and provide culturally competent care to ease their doubt. Due to a lack of trust in the healthcare system rooted in racist practices, the black community continues to lag in nearly all aspects of healthcare. This issue has been at the forefront in the past year where we have seen black communities fair much worse on Covid-19 related outcomes, in addition, the vaccination rate among the black community is far less compared to the other races. When I ask my black patients why the hesitancy, the most common answer is, “can’t trust what they’re putting in my body”. One recent example that comes to mind is one of my black female patients was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and advised by her oncologists that she needed radiation after chemotherapy to eradicate cancer. The patient told the oncology team that she did not want radiation because she had a near-death experience during chemotherapy and did not want any more treatment. The oncologist kept pressing the idea of radiation on the patient and per the patient, a “black nurse was brought in to convince me to get radiation.” Ultimately the patient vehemently declined and radiation was not done. This is a classic example of how black patient`s requests are mostly ignored or dismissed with the assumption that they do not know any better.
Therefore, as nurses, we must take into account the complicated history of black people with medicine while providing care. We have to be empathetic to the needs of our black patients keeping in mind that they may have fear of not only the physical ailment but of the providers and the healthcare system as a whole and may need a safer environment. Jean Watson who is one of my favorite theorists once said. “Maybe this one moment, with this one person, is the very reason we’re here on earth at this time.” If we approach each patient with this in mind you never know if you might be the one person who changes their view on the distrust of the medical establishment.
Bazzano, L. A., Durant, J., & Brantley, P. (2021). A modern history of informed consent and the role of key information. Ochsner Journal, 21(1), 81–85. https://doi.org/10.31486/toj.19.0105
About Harriet Omondi
I have been a nurse practitioner for the past seven years, I graduated from Texas Woman`s University in 2014 and immediately started working in a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) where I oversaw a clinic for patients with a dual diagnosis of mental health. When I started at the FQHC the clinic was new and only had five patients and after a year I had a panel of 100 new patients. Currently, I work for UT Health in Houston and care for patients in a primary care clinic. Prior to that, I worked as a nurse for six years with adult medical-surgical patients, pediatrics, and home- health caring for medically fragile children. In the Fall of 2020, I took the bold step of enrolling at Texas Woman`s University to pursue a doctorate in nursing where I have completed two semesters. My primary areas of research interest are obesity, women’s health, and preventative medicine with an emphasis on health promotion.
Over the past year those of us managing the Nursology.net website have experienced two unintended consequences – growing awareness of the importance of fundamental nursing/ public health knowledge and action, and the imperative to examine the structural and interpersonal dynamics of racism. As the web manager of this Nursology.net site as well as the NurseManifest.comwebsite, the home of “Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing,” I have had a front-row seat from which to witness and participate in these two complimentary processes.
From the NurseManifest sphere, we have addressed (explicitly and implicitly) questions such as: “How does our activism contribute to our discipline?” “What are the fault-lines in nursing created by our failure to address racism in nursing?” “How can we engage in authentic reckoning with racism in nursing?” “How can this reckoning shift nursing to more fully engage in facilitation of humanization for those who have historically been harmed by racism?” “How can nursing knowledge be decolonized to fully embrace the knowledge and wisdom of Black, Indigenous, Latina/x, and other nurses of color?”
From the Nursology.net sphere, we have addressed (explicitly and implicitly) questions such as: “What does decolonization of nursing knowledge mean?” “What dynamics have persisted to bring us to this point in history where the scholarship and theorizing of Black, Indigenous, Latina/x and other nurses of color are strikingly absent from our historical record?” “How can we move away from performative action, to fully abandon white privilege in nursing, and to welcome nurse scholars of color to the center of our discourse?”
I do not have direct answers to any of these questions. In fact I believe there are no specific “action” prescriptions that can provide “answers.” The response to all of these questions is what I believe to be critical emancipatory process — a process that begins with a recognition of the fundamental realities of racism and dedication to the hard work of deepened awareness and action for change. In the first chapter of the text “Philosophies and Practices of Emancipatory Nursing,”(1) Kagan, Smith and Chinn identified the following characteristics of emancipatory knowledge and critical theory that informs emancipatory action, as revealed by the chapter authors who contributed to the text:
What is “critical’ –
Interrogating historical/social context
Framing/anticipating transformative action
What is “emancipatory”
Disrupting structural inequities
Taken together, these characteristics point to a deep understanding of what it might mean to bring knowledge and action together as one – the process and understanding that emerges from “knowing what we do, and doing what we know.” In my experience growing up and becoming an “elder” as a fully colonized white woman, I know all too well the experience of separation of mind and body, of understanding and experience. But there is a glimmer of recognition when I encounter instances – my own and those revealed to me in stories others recount – when experience and understanding come together as one – when we recognize the importance of personal knowing and doing. And, recognize when that unified experience reveals new knowledge, new understanding. This process of action/reflection is theorizing at its best. African American scholar Anthony James Williams described this process of theorizing that he observed in his mother and grandmother:
Everyday black women theorists are often forgotten, undervalued and rarely considered theorists due to their lack of formal training and scholarly publications. But for my maternal lineage, the social patterns they observed became lessons. Those lessons then became theories about the social world they incorporated into their daily lives. Keen observation on their part lead to mental maps of where it would be safe to walk as black women, raise their children and avoid white violence. As the wife of a man in the military, my grandmother inevitably had her own theory of residential redlining based on her lived experience well before any academics published on the topic. (2)
Now is the time to engage in the critical emancipatory act of centering the voices of nurses of color who have been undervalued and discounted, only rarely recognized as theorists. The privileged white gaze from which nursing scholarship views the world recognizes only that which appears consistent with white experience, white culture. To face the realities surrounding white complicity that perpetuates racism is a possibility that is either far too frightening, or simply not comprehensible. But comprehend we must if we are to ever move to a reality where all experience is celebrated as valid and valuable, where skin color is not a determinant of whether you live or die.
The time has now come for all in our discipline – nursologists, nurses, students, educators, administrators, policy-makers – to make a strong and unequivocal turn away from all words and actions that render advantage for those whose skin is “white” and that disadvantage all of those with dark skin. It is time to abandon performative words and actions that claim to care for all, and turn instead to dismantle dehumanizing forces of racism and restore full humanization for all. For those who have white skin, it is time to reckon with your own complicity, unveiling the fault-lines (rifts, splits) created by the persistence of racism, and engage in the healing that must be done. For those who have dark skin, it is time to gather the courage to speak your truth, calling on your keen capabilities to discern injustice. For all of us together, it is time to form strong bonds of connection and support for this difficult path. It is a difficult path, but it is the path that will lead us to mental maps – to theorizing the healing that must take place. As we have experienced in our “Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing” journey, it is also a path that is lined with moments of pure joy!
Kagan, P. N., Smith, M. C., & Chinn, P. L. (2014). Introduction. In P. N. Kagan, M. C. Smith, & P. L. Chinn (Eds.), Philosophies And Practices Of Emancipatory Nursing: Social Justice As Praxis (pp. 1–20). Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
We are delighted to launch a database that provides information about Black, Indigenous, Latina/x and other Nurses of Color (BILNOCs) who are (or have been) leaders and scholars who have contributed to the development of the discipline. This will be a significant resource for scholars and students who seek to recognize and honor BILNOC leaders. This database will fill a huge gap that contributes to the underrecognition of the contributions of nurses of color to the discipline.
View the BILNOC Submission Form to review the information we are seeking. You can find a link to the this form from the website “Resources” menu anytime later.
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/ ) .
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.4 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?
Paradies Y. Colonisation, racism and indigenous health. J.Popul. Res. 2016; 33(1):83-96.
Puzan E. The unbearable whiteness of being (in nursing). Nurs Inq. 2003; 10(3):193-200.
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.
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
Hester, RJ. The promise and paradox of cultural competence. HEC forum. 2012;24(4):279-291. doi.org/10.1007/s10730-012-9200-2.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
Use the platforms you have to name, address, and dismantle racism and white supremacy in the systems in which you work and live.
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.
Consider running for elected office to embody the change we want to see.
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.
Use these insights to develop anti-racist research, theory, education, practice and policy that is aimed to decolonize nursing.
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.