|photo courtesy of ABC7 news|
I am a white registered nurse. I work in an inner city hospital. Most days, 50-75% of my patients are black Americans. I've observed many things in my years as a nurse. Many of my black patients struggle with addiction, violence, and poverty on top of whatever chronic disease brought them in to the hospital. I can't count the number of black men I've cared for who are paralyzed as a result of gun violence. I can't count the number of black women who have told me about their child or grandchild who was in and out of jail, or shot and killed. My patients miss the funerals of family members because they are in the hospital themselves. My patients care for ailing family members, and children or grandchildren, with little social support, and while dealing with their own health issues.
There is a wall between me and my black patients. They don't trust me because I am white. I don't understand the culture of black America. It does affect their care. Some days I am able to show that I share their concerns, and I am a proactive nurse, and I am a good patient advocate, and we form a therapeutic relationship. Not every day. Some days it is a struggle all shift. I feel they're being rude and demanding, and they probably feel I'm defensive, aloof, or dismissive.
One night, not long ago, I walked a white patient out to her cab. She had a hard life, didn't have much money, struggled with addiction and stuff. We were waiting for her taxi and she was smoking a cigarette when a homeless black man pushed his shopping cart past us on the sidewalk. We watched him pass, and then she impulsively rushed up to him, gave him a sandwich, some cigarettes, and all her change. He smiled, she smiled. The wall was gone. I was so touched by her thoughtless generosity.
I feel confined and burdened by white privilege. (I see that that is a stupid, racist thing to say.) It is a wall that divides us. I want to be more like my addicted patient with the big heart, who didn't have much of anything but gave it away without a second thought.
Last night I pulled into a convenience store at the same time as a car full of black dudes. I felt nervous, and I didn't like that about myself. I held the door for them, made eye contact, smiled and said hi. One of them flirted. No one got shot or robbed.
I bet the Trayvon case is causing everyone to feel more fearful. I am trying to face my fear and racism. I am trying to open my heart, let down my defenses, and share more. I want to let that wall down.
I'm feeling hyper-aware of the pain and grief my black neighbors bear. My patient's 3 beautiful grandchildren were visiting yesterday, and my heart hurt so much because the world is less just and less safe for them. This is a terrible tragedy that occurred in our insane, aggressive cultural milieu of xenophobia and gun-love. And the killer walked free.
I am white, but I am a mother and I grieve for all our sons.