What is our story? We invite you to look at our story through a historical context and the lens of Black Nurses, not an African-American nurse as we are not a hyphenated American. It is noteworthy to be reminded that the Black nurse has endured a variety of identification labels such as Negro, Colored, Afro-American (a hair style), Black and most recently African-American. Our counterparts have not endured such a change in their identification as their labeling is confined to either White or Caucasian. Although, historically the term Anglo-Saxon was used as a descriptor. The burning question becomes if Blacks are considered African-American based on heritage, would Whites be considered Euro-American based on their heritage?
Thus, our story begins as far back as 1878 when Mary Mahoney was admitted into theNew England Hospital training of nurses. Dr. M.E. Zakrzewska was the inspiration for the admission of the first Negro nursing student as her mission was committed to the development of ALL women. Trail blazers like Mary Mahoney have become invisible in nursing curriculums in some sectors of the country. In 2000, Jones and Bartlett Publishers Inc. and the National League of Nursing published the third edition of the book titled “The Path We Tread” “Blacks in Nursing Worldwide from 1854-1994. The first edition spanned the time frame of 131 years. The second edition extends through 1990 highlighting achievements of Black nurses. The third edition was expanded to include Black nurses from 26 countries including Africa and the Caribbean. It is noteworthy to say that the second edition won two prestigious awards from the American Journal of Nursing and the American Academy of nursing for the positive representation of nurses.
Enduring issues in American nursing was published by Springer Publishing Company in 2001.The book is divided into five sections that look at contemporary issues in a historical context, the meaning of nursing, the nature of power and authority in nursing, the nature of nursing knowledge and the conclusion.Chapter two looks at the intersection of race, class and gender. The major issue discussed was the struggle of the Black nurse to be accepted and recognized. Conflict emerged as the result of White nurses attempts to bar Back women into the profession and out right denying them appointments in leadership roles and memberships into professional organizations. Thus, the separate organizations that we have today. I recall after a short time of being admitted into the nursing program, being called into the assistant dean’s office, only to be told I would not be receiving a degree from the university in the nursing program. I was told to go back and study health related sciences that was in the mid 80’s.
Indiana University Press published a book titled “Black Women in White” “Racial Conflict and Cooperation in the Nursing Profession from 1890-1950. This book has two parts. Part one looks at the institutional infrastructure of Black nursing and Part two looks at more than angels of mercy. A chapter is devoted to racism, status, and the professionalization of Black nursing. Following is an excerpt taken from chapter 5, “she acknowledged that although the black nurses performed satisfactory bedside work, their chief defects, in her opinion, were “poor judgement” “irresponsibility” and “limited intellectual capacity.” I can relate to that comment as my credentials are constantly de-legitimized. The question was posed as to why Black nurses was not represented in leadership roles. The response was “White nurse’s would strongly resent any arrangement which would entail a colored woman being given direction of white nurses.” Another excerpt asserted that “Black nurses created problems because of their marked tendency to organize against authority and to engage in political intrigue.” It is important to note that not all White nurses had negative comments about their Black colleagues. As today, it is important that we do not generalized. But, the statistics support a disproportionate number of Blacks that hold leadership positions. Anecdotal data suggest, when Black nurses question an authority figure, they are deemed as insubordinate.
Basics from Fernwood Publishing in 2009 published a book titled “Real Nurses and Others: Racism in Nursing”. The book is separated into six sections. Why study racism in nursing; theorizing racism, gender and class concepts, theories and histories; the political economy of health care; one nurses story; nurses speak out; exploring race and racism at work: deconstructing what was said and the way ahead.
In conclusion, our story is complex and set in a historical and contemporary context. It is hoped that participants in the workshops, trainings and speaking venues will gain insight into the way forward using evidence-based and faith-based strategies. A disturbing trend is an increase of overt incivility within the nursing profession at large, racial bullying. You may be thinking, I’m not a minority, this is not for me. But, emerging research has reported an increase in White nurses experiencing bully behavior from minority groups.
Can you imagine the power nurses have as a caring and compassionate profession? Can you imagine how nurses can change the climate of hostility when we solve the problem internally? That is our story moving forward with solutions for change.
Baer, E.D., D’Antonio, P., Rinker, S., Lynaugh, J. E. (2001). Enduring issues in American nursing. NewYork, NY. Springer Publishing Company.
Carnegie, M. E. (2000). The path we tread: Blacks in nursing worldwide 1854-1994, third edition.Sudbury, MA. Jones and Bartlett.
Gupta, T.D. (2009). Real nurses and others: Racism in Nursing. Halifax and Winnipeg. Basics from Fernwood Publishing.
Hine, D.C. (1989). Black women in shite: Racial conflict and cooperation in the nursing profession. Bloomington & Indianapolis, Indiana University Press.
Miller, H. S. (1986). America’s first black professional nurse: A historical perspective. Atlanta, G. Wright Publishing Co., Inc.