With everything in the media right now, it is very easy to feel discouraged and frustrated about how we treat each other- both in COVID times and outside of that. For me personally, I have removed myself from a great deal of social media lately because I’ve just been feeling so burnt out by everyone’s bad behaviour. And I guess I shouldn’t paint everyone with that brush, because although it’s only a few people behaving poorly, they unfortunately have such a big impact.
I think what has most disappointed me through the be conversation around George Floyd and his death is the number of people who don’t think we have a problem in society with how people of colour (or POC for short) are treated.
I am first one to say that I live a very privileged life. I wouldn’t call myself entitled because hard work and perserverance are qualities that have been instilled in me from a very young age, but I don’t pretend to be a disadvantaged individual like even some of my family experienced. My dad immigrated to Canada at a young age, and I have certainly heard stories about some of the challenges he faced being a person of colour. You’ve probably heard me joke about how “white washed” I am or my “year round tan”, but there are many people who genuinely don’t know that I come from a mixed background until they see my last name.
My experience is certainly not the one that everyone of colour has had, and I am not black. But when things like this happen in high functioning and developed countries like the USA and here in Canada, my heart breaks a million times over because it is just another reminder that there are people out there who truly believe I am less than them simply because of the amount of melanin I carry in my skin.
I have read a few really good posts this week, one explaining the problem with saying that “all lives matter”. It’s not about “all lives matter”. It’s about the fact that black individuals and other people of colour (YES ALSO HUMAN BEINGS) are treated less than their peers, friends, family, coworkers that have a different colour of skin than them. That is what it’s about. I think of that photo that describes “equality vs equity”, and how it’s not about everyone getting the “same”, but really about people having an even playing field. And that means recognizing things that disadvantage people and ADDRESSING them.
The worst part about all of this, is after this “fad” of this media story fades, the inequities these people face are not going to fade along with it. It’s about you being a privileged white person or a person of power utilizing your influence in a positive way to stand up against these social “norms” and saying this is NOT okay. And we need to do something about it finally.
I’m going to move in a bit of a different direction with this post, because I am certainly not going to provide any more insightful important information about all of that than those who are way more qualified than me have. However, I will share some of my experiences with you to highlight that racism DOES still exist. In this country. The polite, politically correct country we live in. It’s evident in the interactions I have every time I am “randomly” searched at the airport, or have to go through secondary screening, for the times that I have had to consider certain things that the average white person does not when they think about their career. If I do pursue travel nursing the future, will it take longer for me to be screened for a VISA because of who I am? Being an educated, female, brown nurse, knowing I am like the least favoured group of the people currently in power? These are things that nobody should ever have to think of.
When I was in university, we drove to Florida for the Christmas break to visit my family. I don’t know why but this trip was one of the first that I really felt like I came to terms with the fact that racism is very alive and well. First off, I remember walking into a store, and as I was crossing the parking lot, two individuals in their truck (honestly guys, the only word I can even think of to describe them is ratchet….) were yelling out their windows a bunch of racial slurs at me because they thought they should be able to drive 70 miles an hour down the parking lot road…. I don’t think I even told my family or anyone about that because in some subconcious way I was feeling embarrassed? But why I should I?
This. is. the problem.
My grandparents had a trailer in a retirement community (predominantly white), and when we were there my dad was definitely the anomaly. Probably the only person of colour that has ever stayed in that community, and although people would never say it or admit it, many of the comments they made were extremely ignorant (please note my grandparents lived about 10 mins out from the movie theatre in which a man shot and killed someone for chewing their popcorn too loud so there you have it….)
Fast forward to a couple years ago- I was a new nurse, with a couple years of experience. I vividly remember a lady (who was also of an ethnic background) calling in to us frequently because she had dementia and was looking for company and someone to talk to. I always make a point even if a patient or family is labeled as “difficult” to be a judge of character on my own, instead of letting others’ perceptions affect my own. I remember distinctly going above and beyond for this woman, trying to organize additional supports she needed.. and then one day- there it was. When I asked her why she went so far to pick up her medications instead of the pharmacy across the road from her building she said: “I’m not going there, the man who works in that pharmacy wears one of those things on his head”.
Guys- that thing on that man’s head was a turban, and that MAN was Sikh. But still a human being.
I was so astounded I almost had to pick my jaw up off the floor. However, this was not the first time nor the last that I felt this feeling.
Working with a lot of individuals from the mennonite communities in our catchment area at work, we often care for these children and families in an ICU setting. I would like to think I am a good nurse and I know I provide the best care I can for each patient and family I care for. But I have had 2 experiences now when working with mennonite families where I have been singled out or treated poorly because of the colour of my skin and my last name. I know this is due to a lot of cultural differences but I have to say I’ve been extremely disappointed when the “concerns” brought forward from these families are not called out when they are blatantly untrue and these families have been heard speaking about people of colour in a derogatory way. I am not ashamed of my name or the colour of my skin, but it always still surprises me when this happens because I was brought up in a household where everyone was accepted despite what they believe or how they look. I always just remind myself the motto I’m living these days which is “you can’t change how others treat you but you can control how you treat others”.
I thought of this today because I saw an incredible post (below) that sums up a lot of what I’ve felt in those situations. And at the end of the day, I know that I care and do great work, which if someone refuses because of the colour of my skin that’s their loss.
People are typically well meaning, but often play off a lot of racist comments as “jokes” even when the people who they are at the expense of are very uncomfortable. In the workplace the other few people of colour I work with discuss with me often how insensitive this is and how much it really upsets them. And they should. But I don’t think the people who make these comments even realize what they’re doing or saying. We are so caught up in ourselves and making people laugh, or wanting people to like them that they say things they think will make them “fit in” even if they’re inappropriate.
Before I just rant, I’ll probably just close in saying that “what we do matters”. I’ve said it about a million times over the past while while we fight COVID, but on the flip side how much POSITIVE conversation has come from the tragic death of George Floyd? These conversations NEEDED to happen. The real test will be after the spotlight is turned off, in the everyday actions of each person who needs to be accountable for what they say and what they do. In being an ally for every other disadvantaged individual simply because they are a person of colour.
So do something about it. Have the hard conversations and enlighten those who don’t know or maybe don’t understand the impact of what’s really happening here. We have to do better, and be better human beings. Ignoring this opportunity, and ignoring it is a lost chance to make change.