In the fall of 2019, while researching nursing's social mission within the context of health equity, I suddenly came to the realization that when the founders of the United States of America wrote “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, they meant just that—all men; specifically, all white men. The United States has been built on the premise that whiteness is the norm, with laws and policies to support white supremacy. Within nursing and nursing education, we remain a mostly white (approximately 80%) profession. Calls to examine the “whiteness” of nursing are not new, but the public killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and others have created a more widespread call to examine systemic racism. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color have created calls for racism as a public health crisis. But where do we start? What can we, as individual faculty members, do?
The scholarly publishing community created an Antiracism Toolkit for Allies (Toolkits for Equity: Transforming Scholarly Publishing Communities, 2020) that provides approachable steps toward making a difference. They emphasize the importance of shifting learning to action in identifying as an antiracist: “Anti-racist identity respects difference, shares power, strives to eliminate prejudice, examines privilege, uncovers thoughts, changes language, build community, and restores harmony and equity, and increases justice for all” (Coleman, 2020). Further, they describe this process as being “about soul searching, truth telling, relearning history, understanding our biases and their origins, connecting in authentic ways, listening, and building accountability to anti-racist practices and structures” (p. 10). They outline five steps to becoming an ally:
- Become conscious of white advantage
- Listen to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) without judgement and/or defensiveness
- Move out of social segregation and develop truth-telling relationships of accountability with diverse groups of people
- Take action to interrupt racism and white advantage at all levels
- Create work communities where everyone thrives
Become Conscious of White Advantage
When we begin to think about inequity, we think of marginalized groups. The challenge of this first step is to understand the power and privilege that is held by dominant groups. Examining the advantages we hold, just as a matter of being white, will assist us with coming to terms with our own race, seeing the advantages we have and continue to experience, and starting to notice racial dynamics on a regular basis. It is only through first noticing and then understanding our role in the dynamic that we can begin to work on change. A creative way to get started is by accepting the 21-Day Racial Equity Building Challenge© (America & Moore, 2014). This allows you to learn and reflect as you engage in activities designed to “further your understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity” (America & Moore, 2014, “About the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge,” para. 1).
Listen to BIPOC Colleagues Without Judgement or Defensiveness
First, it's essential to listen actively and with empathy, affirming the message that you hear. Second, it's important to lean into difficult conversations instead of distancing oneself. Common defense mechanisms include proving our credentials, denial, minimization, justifying our own biases, focusing on intent instead of impact, competing victimization, and deflection. Finally, accept feedback with humility. These conversations are difficult, and we won't get them right all the time. We need to work on listening with a spirit of gratitude and improvement.
Move Out of Social Segregation and Develop Truth-Telling Relationships of Accountability With Diverse Groups of People
Suggestions for expanding your social circle include purposely going to places where you will interact with people of color, volunteering with racial justice groups, and diversifying your circle of friends (ayo, 2007). It's important to focus on learning and growing on your own understanding of racism and not imposing on people of color to explain it to you.
Take Action to Interrupt Racism and White Advantage at All Levels
Within our hallways and classrooms, it's important to listen for and intervene regarding the use of microaggressions or harassing language. We live in an era of “silence is violence.” It's important for each of us to take action in an effective manner. One mechanism to do so in the United States this year, the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, is to cast your vote (Figure A; available in the online version of this article).
Create Work Communities Where Everyone Thrives
Characteristics of a culture of white supremacy include “perfectionism, a sense of urgency, defensiveness, valuing quantity over quality, worship of the written word, belief in only one right way, paternalism, either/or thinking, power hoarding, fear of open conflict, individualism, belief that I'm the only one (who can do this ‘right’), the belief that progress is bigger and more, a belief in objectivity, and claiming a right to comfort” (Okun, 2020, “Manifestations of White Supremacy Culture,” para. 2). Instead, consider cultivating a culture of appreciation embedded within a learning organization. It is only through valuing the work of all our colleagues that we create a culture of trust and success.
We live in difficult times, and the journey ahead will be challenging. What path will you choose?
Amy J. Barton, PhD, RN, FAAN, ANEF