How Would You Respond to a ‘No Black Nurses’ Request?
My mother was barely 15 years old when she began her first real job
working the ticket window of a theater in downtown Kansas City, MO. One day, a group of soldiers came to the
window and requested four adult tickets to see the latest hit movie. Newly trained and eager to please, mom did
what she was told to do and passed four tickets through the window. Three of
the tickets were red and one was green, on the back of which the word “COLORED”
was printed in capital letters. The
black soldier among them would only be allowed to sit in the balcony. Disgusted,
the foursome asked for their money back and walked away. The year was 1951.
I would think of this story often over the years, especially when I would
come across the faded silhouettes of signs around town that once boldly
proclaimed the hardcore segregation in my city’s past. “White’s Only” could still be made out above a
drinking fountain in Swope Park, I remember. And as late as the mid-1990’s “Colored
Entrance” still revealed this ugly history above the back doors of a number of well-known restaurants and hotels.
Most times, seeing the remnants of institutionalized racism would send chills
up my spine. Other times, I passed under
them without giving their historical context much if any thought, I’m ashamed
to say. My city was still loudly segregated but it had grown quite, revealing
itself only in subtle ways now. So when I learned recently that an infant’s parent had actually requested
“no black nurses” touch his baby, I was shocked and dismayed but I can’t honestly
say as I was entirely surprised. However, when I learned that white staff at
the facility actually took steps to fulfill the request, that old familiar chill ran
right up my back.
Being lucky to have access to this blog to express my outrage, I immediately began to
write a scathing opinion on the matter, only to stop myself from posting it—twice.
Who was I to complain, after all, an ordinary average white guy like me? The first draft started out OK, but quickly
became deep and philosophical, when I’m not really either, making it just seem
forced, if you will. The second draft was just plain damning and confrontational.
What to do, I wondered. It was my turn
to blog after all, and I wanted to say something
A few days later, a statement on the “no black nurses”
request arrived in my email box from Deidre Walton, JD, MSN, RN/PHN, President of the National Black
Nurses Association. In it, Walton did not
lash out at the white staff for even considering accommodating such a ludicrous,
racist request in 21st century America, although surely it must have been very tempting.
Instead, she calmly laid out the facts
of the case and then proceeded to explain how the nursing profession has long been a
standard bearer in drafting zero-tolerance policies against all forms of discrimination.
Wish I’d have thought of that, I said to myself more than once while I
read it. And I encourage you to read it too. You’ll find it in its entirety in our National News section: http://nursing.advanceweb.com/News/National-News/NBNA-Weighs-in-on-Discrimination-Lawsuit-Over-No-Black-Nurses-Request.aspx. Then come
back and tell us, if you were presented with “no black nurses” request, what
would you do?