Chapter 4: Anti-Racism and Nursing Communication
You may have already started the journey to becoming an anti-racist. If you have been consciously and reflectively reading the previous chapters of this book, you may have developed an awareness and empathy related to the harmful impacts of racism and how they play out in health inequities. You may also have become more aware of how certain dominant narratives are continually reproduced, such as the narrative of “The Lady with the Lamp” dominating nursing history books. These narratives are slowly being dismantled as readers like you learn about the stories of Black nurse leaders such as Bailey, Salami, Cooper Brathwaite, and Onagbeboma.
But this is only the first step to being anti-racist.
Everyone’s journey to becoming an anti-racist will be different. You might have grown up in a family and culture of anti-racists and take up the fight daily. You might have grown up in a family and culture where everyone claimed, “I’m not racist.” Or you might have grown up in a family and culture that is racist. Let’s explore the steps to becoming an anti-racist.
Interrogate your positionality. How you position yourself in relation to race and racism is informed by your identity and culture, so you must reflect upon your own positionality to possibly revamp it. Take time to reflect and write about it. Are you a racialized person? Are you white? How has this affected your life? This is an important beginning point to become an anti-racist in your general life and your nursing career.
Be courageous. You should challenge anti-Black racism and all forms of racism. Becoming an anti-racist is a choice – and it is a radical choice because racism has historically been ingrained to such a degree that it seems natural, to some. It is difficult to see, particularly when you are privileged. Be courageous: recognize your positionality and acknowledge your racist ideas and the ways you have not been an anti-racist. Remember, there is no neutrality in racism. If you haven’t been actively anti-racist – if you have not acted to dismantle racism – then you have been racist.
Do your homework. It is not the job of other people to teach you about racism and its consequences. Recognize that speaking about racism is difficult for everyone, particularly marginalized populations who have experienced racism, often on a daily basis. Think about what it is like for them to talk about it and to be asked ignorant questions, even if unintentionally. Racism and its consequences are traumatic, so do your homework. A large body of literature is available: as a nursing student, you might start with the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO; 2022) Black Nurses Task Force. Read, listen, and learn.
Dismantle the scaffolding. Recognize that racism is continually nurtured, sustained, and reproduced by an intricate and complex scaffolding of whiteness (Patel, 2022). Explore this ideology of whiteness and your accountability in sustaining it, and work to dismantle it as part of your journey to become an anti-racist.
Institutionalize anti-racism. Advocate for, and get involved in, actively institutionalizing anti-racism (Patel, 2022). Act as an activist to create change and de-centre whiteness. When you see or sense racism, name it. Speak up. It is important to use your voice to name the idea or thinking or policy or process that is racist. Words are powerful. It’s okay if you stumble over your words and struggle to articulate yourself and what you see. Silence is even more powerful than words, so if you are silent, you are conveying that you are not an anti-racist. And if you are not anti-racist, you are racist – remember, there is no neutrality when it comes to racism (Kendi, 2019).
Centre the voices of racialized people. Being an anti-racist involves centring and privileging the voices of Black, racialized, and marginalized people and examining practices from diverse perspectives (Patel, 2022). This is also a part of de-centring whiteness and creating spaces that counter dominant narratives (Patel, 2022). It is particularly important to engage in conversations about racism with Black and racialized people because this can provide a foundational understanding of inequities and how to move forward (Iheduru-Anderson, 2021). As a racialized person, believe in your voice and speak up. As a white person, this de-centring involves taking cues from marginalized groups and working to uplift them and provide them with opportunities to speak and lead. But remember: this doesn’t mean they should always have to be the first one to speak up – this work is difficult and often traumatic. Your voice is needed, along with a diversity and collective of other voices, to institutionalize anti-racism.
Take a political position to be anti-racist in your day-to-day activities. This process is not about blame and guilt, but rather about critically examining how power upholds racism and how you can disrupt whiteness in day-to-day practices (Patel, 2022). As an anti-racist, you must play an active role: engage, step up, and enter conversations. In a documented conversation with Maya Angelou and Melvin McLeod, Bell Hooks referred to creating space for healing and positive forward movement by thinking about how to “hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed” (McLeod, 1998, para. 61). This involves holding yourself accountable and recognizing each other’s humanity through humble, difficult, and non-polarizing conversations. “Non-polarizing” doesn’t mean that diverse perspectives won’t exist, but rather that the individuals engaged in conversations have a common goal of dismantling racism. Inviting this kind of dialogue will enrich and strengthen the process of institutionalizing anti-racism.
Institutionalizing anti-racism is a collective responsibility in which we commit to a new dominant narrative and system of anti-racism. The next section explores how to be a critical ally.
To be an anti-racist takes courage and constant reflection. You must intentionally act each day to be anti-racist and work at dismantling racist structures. When you see racism, you should identify it, discuss it, and work to change it.
Activity: Check Your Understanding
Iheduru-Anderson, K. (2021). The White/Black hierarchy institutionalizes White supremacy in nursing and nursing leadership in the United States. Journal of Professional Nursing, 37(2), 411–421. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.profnurs.2020.05.005
Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. One World.
McLeod, M. (1998). Angelou. Shambhala Sun. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/249.html
Patel, N. (2022). Dismantling the scaffolding of institutional racism and institutionalising anti-racism. Journal of Family Therapy, 44(1), 91-108. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-6427.12367
Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. (2022). Black nurses task force report. https://rnao.ca/sites/default/files/2022-02/Black_Nurses_Task_Force_report_.pdf