I wish there were a world where separatism, racial bias, and discrimination doesn’t exist. Sadly, it does, and we have to learn to handle it and address it when needed. There are so many times as a Black Nurse I would like to point out things that affect people of color that may or may not be recognizable to those who aren’t observant or maybe just ignorant of their own biases or prejudices. I can’t simply throw caution to the wind. I’m not a celebrity who has the luxury of a substantial bankroll to fall back on in the event my employers are displeased with my concerns.
Unfortunately, society although it says it is, it definitely isn’t at all ready for discussions surrounding race, bias and discrimination. Instead employers do the bare minimum which includes a yearly module to say you read and understand these types of subject matter. That doesn’t skim the surface of what takes place in the workplace. I’ve spoken to, read, and been a part of several conversations with many Black nurses who express the sentiment of holding their tongues about injustices that go on around them and the disparities between how Blacks and other minorities are treated compared to their White counterparts.
This is a problem. My dad, whom I sometimes have these real-life conversations with once told me, “Sharon, you have to learn to play the game.” Now, if you know me, then you’ll know I’ve never been one for games. Not Monopoly, Spaids, Chutes, and Ladders or even Bingo has interested me. I was never that child or now adult. I have a hard time fathoming that I have to conform to bad learned behaviors “games” to be successful. However, I will say that I know this happens.
I worked at a medical facility a while back, where I was poached for a managerial position. All loved me for my ability to garner respect from my coworkers and administration. There were often instances where friction and chaos came about, and I was able to calm everyone down and bring about some level of order. I did not have any formal leadership training, but I accepted the position with the assumption that I would be adequately trained and guided through the process. Instead, there was very little training and no guidance whatsoever. I was thrown into treacherous waters without a raft.
The staff hated me because, ultimately, I was sent in with a “honey-do list” and told to handle it. Well, I tried with a ton of resistance and mainly from people of color and other minorities. This lack of support from “my people” was not at all what I expected. I somehow thought that I would get help from them before anyone else, but I did not. They were in fact the first to lead the crusade to have me terminated. Instead, I fell into a very deep depression. So deep that I couldn’t stand up to get out of bed. Every morning I woke up and started crying and roll off my bed onto the floor. It was my hell on earth. No one in administration supported me, so I was indeed alone.
There came the point where it was starting to calm a tiny bit. Then the administration wanted me to go against my moral compass and ethical beliefs and even ANA code of conduct. Well, that was the last straw for me. I refused, which landed me in deep waters once again. I sat as other Black women in leadership watched me drown and wondered why that was so. Why is it when we see another minority being hoodwinked? Do we sit and say to ourselves, “oh, that’s their problem, not mine.” As if one Black woman’s concern is not or could not be the same thing you go through.
A few years later, I saw something from one of those Black women who was going through a similar situation and reached out to her. She said, yeah, I didn’t understand it when you were going through it, but I get it now. Empathy allows anyone to place themselves in the seat of another and feel compassion for the situation they find themselves in. Why should “you” have to be going through something for it to affect you? I still don’t get it, but my situation and refusal to conform when I was told by HR “you do what we tell you to do whether you agree with or not” caused me to be placed on a PIP (Personal Improvement Plan). And let me tell you they had fabricated so many lies they could work for the police department with pressing charges on people. It was at this time it was explained to me that they chose me because I was personable and could keep things and people in line. No, they wanted me because they thought I was a “yes woman.” This whole situation landed me in the psych unit of a hospital because I fell apart after they tried to fire me. Instead, I ended up resigning and saving them the trouble. Instead, I sought the professional help I needed to recuperate from devastation I alone couldn’t fight my way back from and regain the mental capacity to start over.
What do we, as people of color, do to combat the disparities we face in our workplaces? How do we handle these situations without being labeled as combative, aggressive, or insubordinate for merely standing up against racism, biases, and discrimination? It’s easy to say I’ll start my own business or go somewhere else, but that doesn’t resolve the problem. These are the type of the things that affect mental, physical, and emotional health. It also directly coincides with the decline in nurse retention, increased call outs, FMLA use, and decreased quality of care for patients It is easy being a Black female and a Black Female Nurse. The problem presents itself when an educated Black woman enters the work environment. We work hard, and I’d venture to say even harder, attempting to prove we are just as capable as our White counterparts at doing the same professional duties and responsibilities.
I’m trying to play the game as my dad told me until I can find a better solution. Some days I feel there isn’t ever going to be a change. Some days I convince myself to be hopeful. Overall, I am standing implicitly in my truth. I hear Sam Cooke’s song ring in my ears, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” at least I hope so. But, until then, I will continue the fight, and yes, it is a fight, daily, but God never has and will never place me in any situations or circumstances that He hasn’t already made a way of escape for me.
Until Next Time,