Rebellious Nursing Philly’s statement on Black Lives Matter and Nursing

In light of recent egregious events of police brutality, many are examining the effects of structural racism with renewed dedication.

As engaged members of society, nurses must also examine institutional racism—not only among police and our criminal justice system, but also in the healthcare industrial complex in which we labor.

The burden of disease in the United States falls particularly heavily on the shoulders of Black Lives. These lives are not inherently less healthy. The health of people of color in this country is undermined by income inequality, poor distribution of services, and, yes, prejudice among healthcare providers.

These disparities also have not appeared out of nowhere. The health and access to healthcare of people of color has been impacted by histories of institutional and scientific racism that still persist in all aspects of our healthcare systems, including in clinical practice, research, and education. We must recognize and confront these histories. Here are a few relevant examples:

1) Race is political, not biological. The concept of race and “blackness” continues to be dangerously and misleadingly incorporated into healthcare practice, research, and education as a presumed biological category based on broadly shared genetics. This is an antiquated, racist, and unscientific notion. Instead, we need to address race as a complex social category based on histories of sociopolitical, medical, and “scientific” practices founded in racist ideologies. A focus on race as biological serves to neglect the ongoing social and political context of Black lives and Black health, and it overlooks how the healthcare industry is still caught up in perpetuating racist ideologies and practices that affect everyone’s health and healthcare, especially in communities of color.

2) Black lives are not pathological, nor are they for profiteering. We need to scrutinize how medical and psychiatric practices to pathologize, criminalize, and experiment on Black bodies have been—and continue to be—used to reinforce the power and profits of healthcare, pharmaceutical, and criminal (in)justice institutions. For example, Black lives being disproportionately locked up into a revolving door of psychiatric, abstinence-based recovery, and correctional institutions is not only evident of mass injustice, it is a sign of a public health crisis that the healthcare industry itself continues to be quite lucratively complicit in.

3) Personalized medicine does not mean “post-racial,” nor does race equate to personalized medicine. In the context of personalized medicine and race there are two important points that must not get overlooked: (1) Race may not be really “real” in a biological sense, but this and other factors does not mean that we are living in “post-racial” times where race can be disregarded; the social and political context of race and racism is very much real and matters, and has profound impacts at the personal level on physical, psychological, social, and spiritual health and wellbeing. (2) On the other hand, practicing “personalized” medicine using clinical data from broad racial categorizing (including the data in many clinical trials) is not personalized, rather this tends to reinforce underlying ideologies around a biological concept of race into clinical practice.

These are some important aspects of the institutional racism in our healthcare system. In the face of this how might we—as nurses—best demonstrate that Black Lives Matter?

We can INFORM ourselves and our coworkers about care inequality and institutional racism—this process aligns with the principles of institutional competency.

We can QUESTION the status quo and the effects that certain protocols may have on Black Lives.

We can QUESTION the neutrality of research.

We can employ EMPATHY with all lives, but specifically with Black Lives, Brown Lives, and all those facing institutionalized oppression. We can truly LISTEN to their stories, which have often been silenced.

We can do what we do best: CARE. Care for Black Lives by caring about Black Lives. By listening and speaking up with others to exclaim: Black Lives Matter!

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