Uncovering Racial Bias : Journal of Christian Nursing

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Department: Think About It

Uncovering Racial Bias

Schoonover-Shoffner, Kathy

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Journal of Christian Nursing 39(3):p 137, July/September 2022. | DOI: 10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000983
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But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. ...May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:12-14, NIV)

These words were penned by Israel's great King David, described as “a man after my [God's] own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22, NIV). David's words make me wonder about my hidden faults.

Tajuane Dockery's article, “Bridging the Racial Divide: Nurses Leading by Christ's Example” (pp. 162-165), also pricks my conscience. I have witnessed White patients not wanting a Black nurse to care for them, but I have not given much thought to racism in nursing. Nurses are compassionate and caring, not racist, right? Sadly, the facts say differently.

In January 2022, American Nurses Association (ANA) president Ernest Grant sent out a call to comment on the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing foundational report (Grant, E., ANA member communication, January 19, 2022). The Commission, established in January 2021 by 20 nursing organizations, is examining the impact of racism on nurses, patients, communities, and health systems. Their goal is to motivate all nurses (i.e., me) to confront systemic racism in nursing (ANA, n. d.).

Reading the Commission report was sobering. I learned how the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) fought to be recognized by the White ANA. I discovered that the Army and Navy Nurse Corps only accepted nurses of color after a military nursing shortage in World War II and the offer by NACGN of desperately needed nurses. I read stories of Black nurse educators treated horribly by White students, of underfunded minority nurse researchers, of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) nurses victimized in multiple practice settings. The Commission's report is being finalized for citation and public distribution and is a must-read when it becomes available.

The Commission conducted a national survey of 5,623 nurses in October 2021. Sixty-three percent (63%) said they personally had experienced racism; 57% said they had challenged racism but of those who did, 64% said confronting racist acts did not lead to change. Racist treatment came from leaders, patients, and colleagues for 92% of Black nurses, 73% of Asian, 64% of Hispanic, and 28% of White nurses in the study (Commission, 2022a).

The Commission report compels me to ask, What is my implicit racial bias? I am deeply ingrained in White privileged America, a nation entrenched in systemic racism since its inception. How do I discover my bias? How do I start to see things differently?

The best place to start is prayer and self-examination. What hidden faults does God want to bring to light? What would God reveal about my heart through Bible study?

Another strategy is to examine racism. Race is a socially constructed concept invented hundreds of years ago for organizing people by “race” to make one people group dominant over other groups. Racism has been used to justify slavery, the Holocaust, apartheid, and segregation (Smedley, 2021). Understanding the origins of racism and studying how it has impacted our world opens my eyes.

I need strategies to engage differently with racism. The Commission (2022b) created a downloadable infographic of the Top Ten Ways to be an Antiracist in Nursing, starting with becoming a story catcher to intentionally learn and develop empathy. The American Academy of Family Physicians (2022) offers resources for reducing implicit bias, including eight tactics following the acronym IMPLICIT: Introspection, Mindfulness, Perspective-Taking, Learn to Slow Down, Individualization, Check Your Messaging, Institutionalize Fairness, Take Two.

Change isn't going to be easy. I'm praying David's prayer and asking God to help me debias and engage.


American Academy of Family Physicians. (2022). The EveryONE Project: Implicit bias resources. https://www.aafp.org/family-physician/patient-care/the-everyone-project/toolkit/implicit-bias.html
American Nurses Association. (n. d.). National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing. https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/workforce/clinical-practice-material/national-commission-to-address-racism-in-nursing/
National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing. (2022a). Survey shows substantial racism in nursing. https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/workforce/clinical-practice-material/national-commission-to-address-racism-in-nursing/survey-shows-substantial-racism-in-nursing/
National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing. (2022b). Top ten ways to be an antiracist in nursing. https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/workforce/clinical-practice-material/national-commission-to-address-racism-in-nursing/antiracism-in-nursing/
Smedley A. (2021, October 22). Racism. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/racism
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship