STORIES
June 16, 2020

I'm a White Nurse, and I Just Realized White Privilege In My Profession

Nurse holding stethoscope hanging around neck

By: Emily Bryant

As nurses, we take pride in saying, “are you a convict, prostitute, alcoholic, drug user, republican, democrat, infectious, gay, straight, homeless, victim, perpetrator, abuser, or any color under the sun? It doesn’t matter, I will care for you.” It’s easy to take these descriptors and clearly see how we, as employed and well respected professionals, have obvious social advantages to many of our patients. 

So, as a white woman myself, I have a question to propose to white nurses: 

Why, as white nurses, have we been ignoring the lateral biases and our own personal blindness to some of our own coworkers’ daily struggles? 

As Layla F. Saad once said, “white privilege protects people who are white and white-passing from having to discuss the causes and implications of racism. The privilege of whiteness means that one’s day-to-day life is not impacted by skin color, so conversations around racism tend to be shallow and filled with platitudes.”

Over 80% of nurses in the U.S are white.

During a time in which many of us are crying out for a change, one of the most meaningful and transformational steps we can make is to simply take the time to acknowledge our individual privileges or challenges that are associated with our race. 

My personal white privilege as a nurse has meant that I haven’t been noticing or acknowledging some of the inherent benefits that my fellow co workers of color have had to work for. It means that my pale skin has blinded me towards many of the basic comforts I receive at work. 

  1. I have never had to wonder if I would get a job by the name written at the top of my resume.
  2. I have never had to wonder if a patient started yelling at me due to the color of my skin.
  3. I have never had to wonder if a patient doubted my medical knowledge or skills due to the color of my skin.
  4. I have never had to wonder if I didn’t get the job due to the way I pronounced certain words or the sentence structure I used during my interview.
  5. I have never had to wonder if I would be surrounded by coworkers with similar backgrounds and families like mine.
  6. I have not looked at the options under the “Skin Assessment” and not been able to find an option that matches what I look like.
  7. I have not had to ask Security to walk me to my car after my shift for fear of getting assaulted due to the color of my skin on the way to my car.
  8. I have not had to wonder if I ever go to court for a patient’s case, if I will receive less grace and mercy than other nurses.
  9. I have, however, unknowingly been taking these privileges for granted for far too long.

If we truly want to make a change, if we want to follow through with the words we are speaking now, it all begins with taking the time to sit with the discomfort of the apathy and lack of acknowledgement we have had for far too long about what it means to have white privilege. 

  1. I’ve taken the time to reflect on my personal privilege and implicit bias and I acknowledge that I have a lot of work to do. I made my list above, try making a list of your own. 
  2. I’ve started asking my co-workers lots of questions and have engaged  in some difficult conversations. 
  3. I’ve sat humbly with myself and have contemplated how my actions (or lack of action) has been hurtful in the past. 
  4. I’ve used this forward motion to propel a new awareness of my own actions within my department and my engagement with patients and coworkers of color.

As nurses we pride ourselves in providing quality care to all patients, and I know I might not be speaking for all white nurses but, I know that my white privilege has shielded me against having to address the daily concerns and struggles of my fellow nurses of color. 

Some of the most impactful and powerful work we can be doing right now occurs by examining our own biases and taking the time to listen to people who are hurting. Let’s collectively create a culture that vows to do better, put in the work, ask the hard questions, humbly sit and listen to their stories, and be an advocate for our nurses and patients of color.  

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