Updated September 7, 2021
About our Host, Lucinda Canty
I am a first-generation college graduate. I attended Columbia University, Yale University and recently received my PhD in Nursing from the University of Connecticut. While my resume is impressive, it is not what I value most about myself. What I value most about who I am, is that I am a Black, African American woman. Being a Black woman is the foundation of everything else that I represent. I am a Black woman first then I am a mother, nurse, nurse-midwife, nurse-researcher and nurse educator. Being a Black woman in this country represents a painful history, but it also represents strength and resilience.
Racism has always been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. As I reflect on my childhood, I remember experiences of racism. I did not fully understand at the time, but I remember the feelings of being treated differently or made to feel that I was not important or valued. As I became older, I found myself in spaces that were not designed for me. Where people saw the color of my skin, my Black skin, and felt they knew everything about who I was, such as, where I am from, how I got there or my ability to succeed. I had to work harder than most. I had to sacrifice more than most, but I refused to give up. Nursing is my life and my passion, I always felt I had a right to be in this profession.
Nursing is where I began to really understand the magnitude of racism and the structures in place that made life more challenging for BILNOC. I have been a nurse for 29 years, a nurse-midwife for 25 years, and a nurse educator for 10 years. When I entered nursing, racism was the back drop of my everyday experiences.
Becoming a nursing educator was an unintended road for me. I started as an adjunct faculty member but discovered I had a passion for teaching. I am currently an assistant professor of nursing at University of Saint Joseph where I teach undergraduate and graduate nursing students. One of the most important things that I learned in this role is that students want to be able to express their concerns without judgement. Students want guidance and support in developing who they are going to be as nurses. They want to feel safe in their learning environments. What I found was that not all students, particularly BILPOC students, are given the same support or opportunities. I feel an obligation to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. I am sharing my experiences because I want people to understand how racism is manifest in nursing. Structural racism is embedded so deep in our society and its construct cannot be easily dismantled. We have to work together if we want to make a significant change.
I come from a family of nurses that found nursing to be an honorable and caring profession. I attended Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana and received my MN in Health Care Leadership from the University of Washington, Tacoma. Through the years, I have worked in a variety of nursing areas from mental health to emergency nursing and directing my own nursing health care agency.
Because of our slave history in America, growing up in this country has been difficult for the majority of African Americans. The foundations of this history have been difficult to penetrate. The discrimination and marginalization that is experienced occurs even in nursing. Although I have been a nurse for a number of years, it does not change the structure of racism or caste in which I am affiliated. I continue to experience micro-aggressions from colleagues, patients, and when a nursing student. As a nursing student, I failed my first med/surg exam. My professor told me I may have to retake the class again which would put me back a semester. She came to this conclusion after one test. I was never offered any assistance or explore what happened. I let my professor know that I would not be repeating the class again.
Are patient/clients of color treated differently because of their culture, color, or ethnicity? I can say with a resounding yes! Nurses from the dominant group use micro-aggressions against Black and patients of color. Report is often used as a way to voice their opinion about a patient or family member in a stereotyped manner. This perpetuates the ethnic stereotype, reinforces the overt prejudices, discrimination practices, and implicit biases. Nurses have also been observed to neglect these same patients. Patients may experience inadequately medicated for the level of pain experience or the neglect of their dietary, toileting, or just plain insensitive to their cultural needs. If they are not English speakers, they may experience remaining soiled all shift because the nurse did not request an interpreter. These are just a few of the adverse experiences that patients of color may endure.
As a Black nurse, I am encouraged to be a part of the Reckoning of Racism in Nursing. Here I find nurses of color have a forum to share our lived experiences, which offers a safe place and space for healing. This is also a forum where the nurses and nurse educators of the dominant group can come, listen, and learn to become self-aware. By recognizing their role in maintaining the structure of racism/caste the dominant society nurses have an opportunity to make different decisions, better decisions for their behavior towards patients, students, and colleagues.
For the kinship it brings with the team and the participants, I am honored to be a member of the Reckoning of Racism in Nursing team. Together we will openly work to address racism, enabling us to be strengthened to do the work that will dismantle the foundations of healthcare disparities and inequities that are found in nursing.
I had my first view of racial injustice during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, but that view was from the distant observation towers of schools built for white women. As a young nurse, a few black nurses welcomed me into their worlds, shared their families, food, music and thoughts with me. They captured my attention about how racial injustice hurt them, our patients, and our students. I became personally committed to keeping my heart open to my black nurse colleagues, but remained on the periphery of true activism in overcoming injustices from racism.
I moved to Washington in 2013 to work in the nursing program at Heritage University on the Yakama Nation Indian Reservation. Our nursing students are 80% from Native American, Latinx, and Filipinx families. They reflect the community around us. I was invited to collaborate in the Ttáwaxt Project, a movement among Native women on the Yakama reservation, to reduce the high rates of maternal and infant mortality. Those women taught me how to listen to their family stories of intergenerational cultural genocide. I began real deep reckoning of my own complicit racism. In the past few months, I and my white nurse colleagues have revitalized our efforts to confront racism. We are reading the books, listening to the podcasts, and getting educated. But this is just the beginning. We need a deeper reckoning. Our work cannot progress without deep attention to the voices of BILNOC nurses. I believe we will come together to create spaces for nurses who often have been silenced. I hope we listen to their stories with a sense of humility, empathy, curiosity and concern. I anticipate they will move us to check our own thoughts, actions and language with the sincere intention of unwrapping the harm we are complicit in. I look forward to our time together!
Even though I have a lifetime of personal experience dealing with racism, and an occasional active involvement in anti-racism projects, it has only been in the past 5 years that I have dedicated regular, deliberate and intense investment in understanding and addressing white privilege. Among the many things I have learned is how hard this work is, and yet how necessary it is to address this in nursing in ways that we have never before attempted. It is my hope that this series of discussions will open the way for all of us to envision and do what needs to be done.
I consider this project to be among the most important of my entire lifetime. It reaches deep into all aspects of my life. Everyone in my circle of family, friends and acquaintances has learned about what we are doing through “Overdue Reckoning” – a fact that illustrates the far-reaching consequences of this work beyond those who actively participate. Several of my white friends and colleagues just stare into space when I talk about this work, but many more are drawn to reflect on their own histories and present practices related to race and racism and want to engage in conversation to learn more. Even my multi-racial granddaughters (Chinese/Hawaiian, Middle Eastern, English/German), when we talk about this project, are becoming aware of their own ways of navigating the white cultures in which they live.