Letters to the Editor: “Unmasking Racism in Nursing”

By | 2022-02-07T18:11:45-05:00 September 8th, 2008|1 Comment

The following letters were sent to Nursing Spectrum/NurseWeek regarding the cover story “Unmasking Racism in Nursing” (June 16 issue).

Fed Up With the ‘Race Card’
I am an RN with 20 years of critical care experience in two states, in multiple inner-city teaching university hospitals, and smaller community hospitals. I am an educated Caucasian woman, a mother of four children, and a good nurse. I have been told by my peers, who are from many different cultural backgrounds, that I am the kind of nurse they want to be assigned with. I went into this profession because I am a caregiver by nature, and this is why all nurses should be joining the profession. I have worked every shift, in many types of units, with many types of staffing models. Quite frankly, I don’t see racism in the nursing profession.

It is our job to take care of all people regardless of race or nationality. I think we, as a group, do this better than anyone. A nurse gets report on a patient and his or her first thoughts are, “What do I need to do for this person?”, not “How does this patient’s skin color change how I will give them care?” or “What nationality or color is the nurse I am assigned with?” I feel there are people in this world who claim they are discriminated against because of their color or race when, in fact, they are the ones with race on their mind.

There was a time when racism was blatant and it was wrong and appalling. But times have changed and people have been educated. This generation, as a whole, is not prejudiced. Nurses are judged by their performance and experience. No one they are standing next to in the trenches cares about what race they are, only that they know what they are doing.

— Mary

Sexism in Nursing a Big Problem
Thank you for the timely article “Unmasking Racism in Nursing.” However, you missed a significant portion of the problem: sexism in nursing. I have been in nursing for almost 40 years, and it has not gotten a whole lot better. I am no longer working because of a disability. But I am not sure I would have continued. The struggle continues, particularly for men in nontraditional nurse roles such as obstetrics. You are always on the block with nurses, physicians, and patients. If a patient called the charge nurse and said they did not wish to be cared for by a nurse who is black, would there be a massive shuffling of assignments? I doubt it. But let the patient call and say they don’t want a nurse who is a man and the pencils go flying to rearrange things to meet the patient’s request.

While racism in nursing is certainly an issue, a much larger issue is why the majority of nurses are not male. Frankly, I would never choose nursing again.

— Jonathon L. Cox, RN, PhD
Via e-mail

Unbalanced ‘Unmasking’
The article “Unmasking Racism in Nursing” brought forth many ideas that seemed to be out of touch with the reality I have witnessed. I would like to think the broad stereotypes and anecdotes are not valid on a large scale. As an RN for more than 30 years, this type of “racism” was not in my experience. I am white, but I can tell you unequivocally the finest teachers I ever had in the realm of my specialty — surgery — were black. I had the privilege of lobbying with one teacher in particular for her to become the first black supervisor in a major hospital in Texas in the early 70s.

While I read the accounts of healthcare colleagues being judged based on race, I found it appalling this determining factor for promotion or other recognition could be allowed to stand. At a time when there is a critical nurse shortage, I would like to have seen a more balanced article that included other healthcare professionals’ views who do not see racism as a prevailing issue in our profession. A dialogue only occurs when all voices are allowed to contribute. It would be great to have all who take care of patients, regardless of who they are or what they look like, sit at the table together.

— Susan King, RN, BSN
Texas State Representative

Racism Affects Everyone
I have been a nurse for 30 years, the majority of that time in the inner-city setting. If you are going to discuss racism, then you need to present that it affects everyone. I have been on the receiving end of racist comments during work, and I am white. Where is the research to back up that it only happens to blacks? Your article gives this perception.

— Jackie Wynkoop, RN, MSN, PHRN
Levittown, Pa.

Eyewitness to Racism
I have been an RN for about 15 years, and although racism doesn’t make sense, unfortunately it does exist in the workplace. I have seen it happen time and time again to a lot of minority nurses.

I have encountered minority nurses being fired from their jobs based purely on the race factor and nothing else. I have seen minority nurses being exploited by some unscrupulous employers and judgmental nurse managers. I have encountered minority nurses being passed over for managerial and supervisory positions based solely on being in a foreign and/or minority nurse category.

There may be laws that are supposedly in place to protect against racism in the workplace, but those laws are seldom utilized — if not mostly ignored. Hiring authorities and nurse managers must bear in mind the American healthcare system undoubtedly needs minority nurses to survive and become a force, and it will be in everyone’s best interest to get used to that reality.

We all became nurses because we have compassion and we feel the need to serve our patients well. Isn’t it time we also care for our minority peers in the nursing profession and practice equality and camaraderie in the workplace?

—Dan Reyes, RN, BSN
Plainfield, Ill.

Higher Standards
“Unmasking Racism” is a great article. The problem I find with racism is each group wants others outside the group to be like them or go away. I don’t want to be like whites or Asians or other groups. I want to be a positive, productive member of society. Measuring people in terms of the likeness of a race is not positive. For me, as a Christian, I’d like to be judged by what I do as a disciple of Christ. That is the higher standard I try to live up to.

Finally, I’m glad some attitudes are beginning to change in this area. It needs to be understood that just because you’re white, Asian, black, Hispanic, or whatever, you should not be excluded.

— Name withheld

Tolerance Filters Downward
Thank you for addressing a sensitive issue in “Unmasking Racism in Nursing.” I have been a nurse for 24 years and have been passed up for promotions throughout my career. What I was allowed to do was the work of an administrator behind the scenes, which I did well because I’m highly educated and have a tremendous amount of skills and knowledge. It was hard to explain to others why I wasn’t in a role of administrator, CNO, etc., if I was so capable, when the answer was related to racism in the workplace.

Racist attitudes in nursing start at the top and filter throughout the facility. If interventions don’t change the attitudes of those in command, there will be no real change in attitudes in the organization as a whole. Those in charge define tolerance.

Secondly, a word of caution to those who think reporting racism will help them solve the problem. All too often it only brings trouble to those who report it. Unless you have witnesses or written statements attesting to what happened, my advice is to deal with it by setting limits on the interaction with racist people or leave the organization and find one that treats people based on their skills and knowledge and not based on race.

— Cheryl G. Campos, RN, BSN, PhD
Marina Del Rey, Calif.

Obama’s Candidacy Spurs Racism Debate
I applaud Nursing Spectrum for its penetrating, timely article on racism in nursing (“Unmasking Racism in Nursing). At a time when Barack Obama is the first black standard bearer for president for a major political party, the fact still remains that rank and file blacks and other ethnic minorities still experience racism on a daily basis. Racism, in many instances, is entrenched, institutionalized, and pervasive.

However, as a black nurse, I am encouraged when I see publications such as Nursing Spectrum, address the issue. U.S. Sen. Obama’s candidacy has spurred a long-overdue discussion about race in this country. Even conservative-leaning newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune are publishing series on race. That is the only way this problem will finally get resolved. Racism must be exposed, confronted, and eliminated. I hope Nursing Spectrum will continue the dialogue in the future. May I suggest future articles highlight institutions where they understand that diversity is strength, where they demonstrate a firm commitment to eliminating racism, and where minorities can demonstrate their commitment to excellence in nursing? Thank you.

— Pamela Johnson, RN, BSN
Chicago, Ill.

Strive for Diverse Employment Pool
I enjoyed reading the article “Unmasking Racism in Nursing.” I think people of color have always been aware of the issues that mainstream society is forced to recognize because of this year’s Democratic presidential candidates.

The vignettes in the piece were right on point, including how people overlook staff members of color. We must recognize there are many issues that some institutions are attempting to address; for instance, actively recruiting a diverse nursing staff and so on. As nurses we must continually question and confront organizations/institutions whenever they do not actively seek a diverse employment pool from the first tier to the upper echelon levels of management.

By having a diverse workplace, people are able to view each other in a totally different light.

— Twila Renee Ferguson, RN, JD
Via e-mail

Victim of Reverse Racism
In the article “Unmasking Racism in Nursing.” I saw no mention of racism against white people. I worked for many years in a small community hospital that was staffed by nurses who were mostly Caucasian. The town I worked in had very few people from other races.

I never thought about racism until I transferred to a large hospital in a big city where many of the nurses are from other countries. At first, I was excited because I am very interested in learning about different cultures. But then reality hit, and I was shocked to see the amount of prejudice against Caucasian nurses. I had never been the subject of racism before, and it was very uncomfortable. Here is an example of reverse racism: Groups of non-white nurses speak in their native tongue to each other in the presence of English-speaking nurses and patients. They do not feel the need to share what they are saying, which causes those who don’t understand what they are saying to feel uncomfortable. They only help each other in lifting, turning, and cleaning patients and tell the nurses of different racial backgrounds they are too busy to help. If a non-white nurse is in charge, she gives the easiest assignments to her peers. When complaints are filed with the manager, we are told not to say anything or we can get sued for discrimination. What about us?

I travel the world and have friends in many countries. I do not consider myself to be a racist. We must remember racism can occur the other way also — not just against non-white people — and we should be free to speak out against it.

— Name withheld


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One Comment

  1. Avatar
    Nicole November 7, 2018 at 4:50 am - Reply


    I have been in the health care field for over two decades. I have been a nurse for the past 4 years. I started my career as an aide working in an MRDD facility when I was 16 years old. I have always wanted to help people, even if it was just one person that I helped. As a nurse you r to make sure that your patients are well taken care of and that they are respected.
    Last week I reported what I thought was inappropriate behavior from an aide towards a patient. This aide has decided that my feelings and opinion were racist and she has reported this and an investigation is being done. I have been taken off of the schedule until the investigation is complete.
    I have never been so saddened, so disrespected, so embarrassed, so hurt and heart broken over something. I feel like there is nothing that I can do to protect my name, my professionalism, my family, and my licences.
    I guess I am hoping to get some thoughts and advice?
    Thank u in advanced

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