I have been called out of name by a 2-year old playing in the yard as I walked by, by an 88-year-old resident with dementia in a long-term care facility, and by a nursing colleague I worked with and supervised. I was called, “the girl with [whatever I was wearing]” in class instead of by my name throughout secondary school. I have been followed around in a store from the moment I walked in until the moment I left. I have been ignored as my party waited in line to be seated at a restaurant. I have traveled in a car through states where being stopped for any reason meant danger, and everyone prayed the car would not break down. I was shown real estate only in selected neighborhoods when house hunting. I have been told that I received an award because the organization needed to select a Black person.
The child mimics what he or she has learned from parents or other significant individuals in his or her life. The senior lives in the past and regresses to language that was the acceptable norm in his or her younger adulthood. My colleague is not okay with having a Black supervisor. Teachers emphasized my “difference” as the only Black student in class by not using my given name. I am Black, so I must have come into the store to steal—I could not possibly afford to pay for what I wanted. I could list so many more personal experiences that were not unique to me but represent a daily reality for people of color, whether Black or Brown in America. Growing up in a segregated town, I learned early on how to decipher the palpable and subtle expressions of racism from individuals, groups, and systems.
Outer versus inner drive
Today, corporations and organizations are quick to declare their intolerance for any expression or behavior that might represent an act of racism or discrimination based on an individual's outward appearance, race or ethnicity, gender orientation, religion, or any other identifying group characteristic. Offenders often face consequences, policies are restated or revised, and employees are required to attend special training. These actions are well intentioned and include explanations of concepts and broad directions but do not address the real issue.
I remind you of a statement made by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” Laws and regulations then act as metaphors for maintaining equality and social justice. During the current social unrest, the demonstrations and support of people from all walks of life for Black Lives Matter, I think of the lyrics from Michael Jackson's song, “Man in the Mirror”:
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.
Change through action
This is how change must begin. It is hard to examine and acknowledge our own deepest beliefs and attitudes around racism. The process can be painful but also liberating. We can then move on to address the collective beliefs and attitudes that have shaped the structure of our society throughout history. What follows is hope that change can be sustained. Dr. King also said, “No one is free until we are all free.” Think about it, but then become actively engaged.
Jamesetta A. Newland, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP, DPNAP, FAAN