Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Racism in Nursing

On Monday, I mentioned how I wanted to talk about Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things this week.

When I first started the book, I honestly thought it was from the 50's. The white supremist family felt off to me, because I don't deal with it on a regular basis. Ruth seemed to take offense with everything, and acted like people treated her differently because of her race.

The more I thought about it though, the more I realize that it still happens. I don't deal with the same kind of racism, just because I'm Asian, not black. Even so, I do deal with prejudice from my patients constantly. Not just my patients, but from my workplaces as well.

I honestly can't count the number of times that someone has said something that I've blown off. I heard them, and I always assumed that they didn't mean any harm by it. I've had patients call me the 'Little Chinese girl' and 'that Asian one,' and I even had one sweet patient call me his 'Little Indian' every single night. For me, it almost felt like a distinction. I am Asian, I'm not going to deny it. If they don't remember my name, then it's an easy way to describe me.

Then there's the ones who aren't quite so nice. I've been screamed out of a patient's room and as I left, her closing comment was "Get out of here... Yoko!" Which for me, didn't hold quite the same impact. I wasn't alive during the Beatles' time, and I have no idea if people actually hated Yoko Ono, or if it was the only Asian my patient knew. I've been called a Jap before, which, again, because I was exposed to very little racism growing up (I think in large part due to my parents), it doesn't sting the way I know it should.

I had one patient who was very sweet to me, but when I returned to work the next day, I was given all the same patients back -- except for her. Her family had stated that no Asians could take care of her. It wasn't put in the chart, I don't think, but it felt a little strange to me. She'd let me take care of her the night before, and I felt I had done a good job. Her family took me aside and told me that I didn't need to feel bad, because for some reason, seeing me gave the patient flashbacks to WWII.

Here's the thing. I never feel guilty. If someone has an issue with my race, or the way I look, I'm not going to apologize. I'm not going to assume that it's my fault. It's such an odd way to look at things, to think that the person who's receiving the prejudice might feel guilty.

Along with the obvious signs, there's also some odd things that have happened with some of the management that I've worked for. I remember very clearly arriving to work one night when a patient had been admitted. No one had started the admission, and they decided to give the patient to me. The reason? He didn't speak English. Which is fine. I speak Spanish, but it turned out the patient didn't speak Spanish, he spoke a very rare dialect from a South Asian country. He couldn't mime because he was blind, and it was assumed that I would have an easier time doing his admission.

Why?

Obviously because we're both Asian.

I'll admit, I joke about it a lot. I don't get offended. I tried, about a year ago, and it was exhausting. To assume that everyone has an ulterior motive, or to assume that everything that someone says is a jab at my race or said to be rude. My husband and I enjoy being different, and we accept that we are. I believe that's why, when I started Small Great Things, I was confused. I didn't see racism because I didn't focus on it, even though it's all around me.

I'm sure there's a fine line. I do need to recognize when it's inappropriate, but in the workplace, a lot of times, there's nothing I can say or do to change it. My patients... well, they still need care. In a day or two, I'll probably never see them again. Besides, I need them to like me, just so that I can get good reviews and avoid the situation that played out in small Great Things.