May 29, 2020
Nurses have a responsibility to lead for change
We are saddened, appalled, angered, and above all concerned about the events that led to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not abstract concepts or politically correct ideologies—they are values that must be fully embraced by everyone, or the lives of tens of millions of people in this country will be lived under constant threat of having someone’s knee on their neck until they speak their last words: “I can’t breathe.” We also acknowledge that George Floyd’s death can lead to re-traumatization for many of our students, staff, and faculty of color, who consistently experience microaggressions, discrimination, and even the threat of violence.
To each and every one of you, we are thinking of you and are here to support you.
As nurses, we are taught to save lives. That makes George Floyd’s life being taken all the more painful. We struggle to understand what could bring about lack of compassion, so callous about the value of life, and to have such disregard for another human being that they would force the last breath from another.
As members of the African American community continue to fall victim to killings, we are hearing louder calls of “I can’t breathe” not just from a singular voice, but from the collective voice of communities across the nation. As we would jump into lifesaving action when hearing an individual call out “I can’t breathe,” we as nurses need to respond to this same call coming from our communities. A call that reminds us how societal systems of oppression, namely racism, marginalize entire groups of people based on skin color. Oppression that leads to disproportionate burdens of disease, illness, injury, and, death. The list is now far too long and far too black and brown to deny that there is something deeply wrong.
George Floyd’s death is not just about one police officer and one black man. As many recent events have made crystal clear, the issue is about racial inequities in America. It involves everyone, and affects everyone. It’s not someone else’s problem; it’s our collective problem and it’s one we need to confront and solve. Like the coronavirus, it is contagious and deadly and will persist until we have the leadership and the will to extinguish it. Concurrently, we see continued reports of discrimination directed at individuals identifying as or perceived to be of Asian American descent. This hostility serves to instill fear in these targeted groups, compounding the risk for adverse impacts on well-being. Again, racism is at work exploiting minoritized status and perpetuating xenophobia.
Oppressive systems rely on groups of people with power and privilege to “other” those different than them— different by race, ethnicity, gender identity, nativity, or socioeconomic status or any other characteristic. This “othering” in America enables systems of oppression, like racism, to result in George Floyd’s death and the death of many more.
It’s what has also caused a spike in microaggressions on our campus, in this community, and throughout the country. Sometimes it’s an overheard comment, sometimes an innuendo-filled social media post, and sometimes it’s a direct and aggressive confrontation in which a person is told they “don’t belong here” or should “go back to your country.” The hallmark is that the “other” is blamed for some ill, slight, or condition they had no role in creating as an individual.
What can we do to have an impact? First, commit to accepting and appreciating the value we each bring as individuals. Second, examine our own biases and behaviors, and make certain we are not overtly or covertly helping to sustain the “othering” that has such negative and sometimes deadly consequences. Third, do not accept “othering” behavior from friends, colleagues, or people on the street. Confront wrong. Demand right.
As nurses, we have a special responsibility to lead on this issue. We are in a profession that serves others—all others—without regard to race or any other identity except their need for our compassionate care. The commitment and work start here, in this UW School of Nursing. It must begin with each of us, individually. Bullying is unacceptable. Microaggressions are unacceptable. “Othering” is unacceptable. There are neither excuses nor justification for failing to treat one another as individuals and to do so with respect.
There is an urgent and compelling need at this moment for calm, thoughtful discussion and response. This is a time for reflection on not only what our society is, but also what we want it to be. The result of that reflection will be our future. Let’s make it a positive one.
-Azita Emami, Robert G. and Jean A. Reid Executive Dean
-Butch de Castro, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
-Rebecca O’Connor, Assistant Professor, Diversity Committee Chair
Learn about how systemic racism manifests in daily life in the US and what role we all play in this intentionally created system. Resources include: the documentary ’13th‘ by Ava DuVernay, https://www.urban.org/features/structural-racism-america; books like ‘So You Want to Talk About Race’ by Ijeoma Oluo and ‘How to Be an Antiracist’ by Ibram X. Kendi; and podcasts like ‘Seeing White, the second season of Scene on Radio by John Biewen of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University with help from Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika).
Learn about how our implicit biases are a byproduct of our natural cognitive processes: https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000004818663/peanut-butter-jelly-and-racism.html); learn about your own implicit biases by taking Implicit Association Tests at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html); and take efforts to minimize their impact (see resources here: https://www.mtvact.com/features/Look-Different).
Seek out resources and training on how to be a genuine ally/advocate for individuals who are the target of discrimination and harassment (https://www.ihollaback.org).
Learn how the use of race in health care threatens health equity by watching Dr. Dorothy Roberts’ TedTalk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/dorothy_roberts_the_problem_with_race_based_medicine/up-next?language=en.