2020 is a year for the history books. Events that shaped the past 12 months will be recorded for future generations: a pandemic that caused over a million deaths and shut down entire countries, social isolation, unprecedented travel restrictions, toilet paper hoarding, and financial ruin for millions of families and businesses. Along with the devastation caused by COVID-19, other visuals remain implanted in our memories forever, including a knee on the neck of George Floyd, the violent assault on Ahmaud Arbery while jogging, and bullets blindly fired into a mistaken apartment, hitting Breonna Taylor. All three of these incidents resulted in the wrongful death of each victim—all three individuals were Black. The separation of immigrant children from their families and the poor conditions reported in detention centers at the US-Mexican border and in other Southern states exist despite American ideals that welcome immigrants into the country. The disproportionate number of deaths via COVID-19 among Black and Brown people highlighted a stark reality: the palpable influence of institutional racism on health inequities in our nation leads to poor outcomes for specific populations.
Garcia and Sharif suggested that factors that define the social determinants of health, often used in an attempt to explain reasons for health disparities, are actually euphemisms for institutional racism.1
Voices for change
Toxic relationships between police and the communities they are sworn to protect, racial tensions, rising unemployment, instability for families and businesses, and acts related to ongoing discordant attitudes ingrained in our society's fabric and subsequent injustices have prompted social unrest, peaceful protests, and louder, more diverse voices insisting on change. Some police departments have implemented reforms in collaboration with key stakeholders. Businesses, schools, and other organizations are supporting discussions about race, racism, diversity, equity, and inclusivity. Peaceful protests against and for major issues have become common and consistent. However, extremists continue to kindle fires, at times instigating violence.
Celebrating essential workers
With all of the bad 2020 has brought upon us, there have been countless acts of kindness to counter the negativity during these unsettled times. Service workers have been designated as “essential workers.” We must remember that it is because of the essential workers who return to work day after day that others can feel safer and access essential services, such as food, housing, transportation, energy, water and wastewater, child care, healthcare, critical retail, and critical trades. After the pandemic ends, will the restaurant worker, maintenance person, garbage collector, patient transporter, grocery store clerk, meat packer, postal worker, teacher, and healthcare worker receive compensation appropriate for their new designation, including affordable, comprehensive health insurance? Memories can be short, but the memories of 2020 must remain vivid, active, and enduring to help promote change moving forward. There is no room for pause in nursing advocacy efforts and legislative action as essential workers. The World Health Organization Year of the Nurse and the Midwife 2020 did not unfold as planned, but celebrating ourselves should be a lifelong commitment. Here's to beginning 2021 with a positive outlook.
Jamesetta A. Newland, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP, DPNAP, FAAN
Editor-in-Chief [email protected]
1. Garcia JJ, Sharif MZ. Black Lives Matter: a commentary on racism and public health. Am J Public Health