Why Tolerating Racism Against Black Nurses Needs to End

Please note: The names of all parties involved have been changed to protect their identity.

What a week this has been! The issues of color that have come up as one of the few black nurses at my hospital has been eye opening. We all know racism is real but so is Cultural Insensitivity for those that don’t believe they are racist. Growing up in Sacramento and different parts of the bay area I have never really interacted with populations that engage inappropriately on a racial level but working in Napa I’ve experienced more in 6 months than in my entire life.

Several weeks ago I had an incident in the workplace that highlighted the need for cultural sensitivity training and implementation of policies that don’t tolerate racial behavior or ideologies.

As previously noted I work in Napa, CA and let me first say that I have had wonderful experiences for the most part but during my shift a few weeks back this caucasian patient of mine who is a high fall risk became irate because I wouldn’t allow his door to stay closed.

We had a code red which automatically closed all the doors of the patient’s rooms for safety purposes. When I went to re-open the door after the code cleared the patient became verbally abusive and jumped up out of the bed to slam the door shut in my face. I re-opened the door again and saw that things were going to keep escalating so per hospital protocol I called a code grey, which alerts security to come to our floor. This patient has been placed in an Enclosure bed because he spits on staff and is notably violent,etc.  I have spoken to multiple nurses who have cared for him who have had to put him in restraints call code greys and when I received my shift change report from the “caucasian” day shift nurse she told me he is a violent and unpredictable patient who behaves poorly .

Although my nurse lead was aware of his behavioral issues he said that the patient was like this with me because I’m black and that it’s not fair to me so he’s going to switch my assignment. He said I told him how great of a nurse you are and your skin color is not something you can choose…(Like if I could I would choose not to be black.. what a bizarre statement right?!) It was the most uncomfortable exchange. Additionally this is said to me as the only black nurse working that night at the time and I quickly felt singled out.

My nurse lead than began to tell anyone that would listen that he changed my assignment because the patient doesn’t like black people. I had multiple staff come up to me and say, “Max told me what happened, did it hurt your feelings being discriminated against?” or “Your so nice I don’t know why a patient would act like that just because your black” and the worse one I walk into another one of patient’s room the next day and she said, “So happy to see my pretty nurse, Max told me that crazy patient was treating you poorly because your black”. I couldn’t believe he would share that with a patient that wasn’t even involved.

I have now talked to the other non-black staff who were there that night who said he handled it in a way that made it uncomfortable but they couldn’t read how I felt so didn’t know how to interject… The caucasian nurse, Mallory who he gave my patient too said she never heard the patient say he doesn’t like black ppl and I didn’t as well everything this patient would say was being yelled, he never used an inside voice throughout his entire stay lol. Me and her were outside the room when Max was speaking to him and he never said that. Lastly when Max introduced Mallory to the patient he begins cursing her out and attacking her as he does with us all. Max says Sir! this is a different nurse this isn’t Audra, this is Mallory… again, what the hell because that translates to look, this is a white nurse, not a black nurse and I’m sure you can guess the patient’s reaction lol. The end result was to have Mallory not administer anymore care for the rest of the night. No vital sign checks and to just let him stay to himself to see if he will be calmer in the morning. Well I could of done that right?!

The way Max was telling everyone about the incident was like he wanted everyone to know he was my “hero”. I find it to be very unprofessional to tell other patients what happened, to force this as a black thing when my angry patient never made that distinguishment.

Prior to this he would wave his finger at me in a joking way as if he was shu-nae-nae from that show, Martin when speaking to me. This happened with Mallory present and me and her both looked at each other like whats this about. She then said why are you talking to Audra like that when she never uses those mannerisms. He then got flustered and walked off.

Everyone kept telling me to talk to our manager about it or speak to the Ethics Dept. but because I didn’t believe he was trying to be malicious but just isn’t aware of how much his behavior is affecting the environment of the floor I decided I’ll just sit on the issue and let it go this time around.

Fast forward to this week. One of the Nurses we will call her Angie for privacy purposes comes up to me and says, “Girl, Max was telling me what happened and how upset he was to see this patient is back in the hospital because last time he was here he was so disrespectful to you and was yelling the N word at you and said your “too dark” to be his nurse”. I was for one shocked this is still being discussed and most notably shocked that he is flat out fabricating what occured. The Patient was nuts but he never yelled any racial slurs at me and at this point I just needed all this commotion surrounding the topic to end.

Angie also shared that she brought up the incident in her new grad class and the higher-ups said they were aware of the situation and working on a policy that better protects us who are being discriminated against. I never said anything to anyone so I was surprised they knew of the incident but if Max told them I wanted to make sure what really happened is documented. I ended up having to talk to my direct manager because too many people were talking about the incident.

Things are currently still unfolding so stay tune….but in closing I just want to highlight that as a black nurse it’s difficult at times to feel like you have to defend your blackness on top of all the other responsibilities that come with being a critical thinking professional. I love the quote,

“My skin absorbs the sun’s rays and my hair defies gravity. You can’t tell me I’m not magical.” –Unknown

because it reiterates the pride I have as a black woman. It’s easy to want to quit and work in a more diverse environment but if we aren’t present in certain spaces how will these environments evolve and properly confront the protocols in place that don’t support our melanin? My blackness is a gift and I’ve been queening since birth which will never change… so to all my melanated beauties who are traveling the world to particular locations or working in places where we are underrepresented continue to shine bright and never allow anyone or any “word” dim your magical light. 👸🏽

Update: Jan 21, 2019

I and Max have since talked and it ended in a hug and mutual understanding. Unfortunately, another staff asked me and the only other black nurse if we were really black because we are nice and not loud. The other things that have been inappropriately said to both me and her are mind-boggling. The first thing I can do is bring forth correction and do what I can to implement initiatives that create a better work environment for people of color. The second and best thing is to look for another job lol.

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