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Reflection on Racial Inequalities

Monday, July 27, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Shanna Howard
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Hands in solidarity

By Helen Erickson, PhD, MS(N), AHN-BC, FAAN

In reading “Practice Tip of the Week | COVID-19 Shines a Light on Racial Inequalities,” a few words jumped out at me. I’ve found that racism hides behind that which we don’t even consider, perhaps more than that which we are considering.

As my daughter has tried to tell me many times, it is not enough to be non-racist and anti-racist; we have to be aware of what we are learning from others, search our souls, and recognize in our inner being that systemic racism is a thread of what composes the psyche of white people in America. Periodically, institutional inequality is so obvious that we can’t ignore it, but unfortunately, it lies dormant to surprise us when we discover or rediscover its existence.

As an example, a Black friend of mine since the '70s sent me an article in Time Magazine by Justin Worland, published June 11, 2020. It starts with a statement about a hotelier that existed in Lafayette Park just next to the White House where both free and enslaved servants lived; the enslaved persons could be heard crying and begging for mercy nights before they were to be sold to slave owners of the north and south.

I was shocked and horrified; I had never imagined that something like that might exist in Lafayette Park. I knew that some of our presidents owned slaves, and in my earlier years as a Girl Scout leader, I organized and took my troops to DC. I studied multiple travel guides, wrote for and received a number of guide books from the DC Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. government.

But I don’t recall ever hearing about the slave trade that existed right next to the White House.

As I researched it recently, I found it under some information about the White House history. So, all those years, when I was trying to help young women learn about our country, our strengths and limitations, our responsibilities as citizens it never occurred to me to consider that human beings were bought and sold at a building just next to our White House, the symbol of the American Dream.

I wonder: What is there about the human psyche that resists such knowing?

Do we want things to be what we’ve been taught, not want to upset the apple-cart, or is it more than that? Is it possible that knowing is like the first time we learned about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny? Maybe what we have to learn is that we have to make such discoveries, adapt to the inherent loss, find new ways of making meaning of our lives before we can grow, learn and acquire the wisdom needed to participate in a society that has the potential that ours does. I think that when we approach learning from a fear perspective, we lose sight of the potential for love. When we approach it from an unconditional acceptance of our fellow humans, we gain the ability to envision the possible.

As nurses, don't we have the ethical responsibility of envisioning the possible in ourselves, our colleagues, and of course, our clients?

Years ago, I attended a presentation by Itzhak Bentov, a scientist, inventor and philosopher of sorts interested in quantum physics and consciousness. He described consciousness as interacting energy fields, composed of vibrating energy particles ranging from those that vibrated at the lowest level to the highest. He posed that there is a natural circulation of particles through these fields, that enables us as humans to develop a sense of love for humanity, followed by a will that motivates us to discover, explore and to create what is possible.

When the flow is in reverse, rather than creating love, we are motivated by feelings of fear, self-exposure and a need to control; our will is directed at the need to protect our inner self. We are unable to discover and embrace our inner strengths, to fulfill our abilities, to love and be loved without conditions.

While Bentov’s work is consistent with Maslow’s theory that describes relations between need satisfaction and how we perceive others, Bentov’s is more consistent with issues related to our ability to unconditionally love others. It offers us opportunities to explore our inner-knowing, to connect with our spiritual being and ask ourselves questions like:

  • What is the purpose of my life?
  • Why am I here in this life?
  • What is my reason for being?

These questions help us explore the linkages between our mind and soul, precursors to learning how to embrace our natural propensities, be open to discovery of our limitations as well as our potential and to facilitate the same in others. They can help us understand how history affects the world we live in and that the world we experience may be completely different than that of someone else’s experience.

  1. Remember, life is a journey; we learn as we go. Each of us have made mistakes, not always taken the most effective pathway and sometimes regretted our choices. At the same time, we did the best we could given the circumstances. We cannot go back, but we can go forward. We can choose if we approach the next step with fear and anger or courage and compassion. In either case, we learn and what we learn we become.
  2. Use self-reflection and reflective practice to click into your higher-being, your spiritual knowing, your soul or your mind, depending on your beliefs. By doing this, you can discover and explore your values — values across time; who you are and who you want to become; what barriers stand in your way, and what you will need to do to be true to your self — to be authentic.
  3. Practice self-compassion; learn to value and enjoy your true self, while being open to discovering limitations. Know that limitations can be revised to create strengths. Believe in you!
  4. Take time for self-care activities. Don’t listen to what others tell you is “good” for you, decide what will nurture yourself.
  5. Be in the moment with yourself and others; the human relationship established when you are focused on the wellbeing of another initiates acceptance and trust in the other.
  6. Learn how to synchronize the energy you feel and put out into the world, to center yourself before entering the space of another. With practice and intent, you can learn to do this within seconds.
  7. Base your practice on what you aim to achieve rather than the goals that have to be met.
  8. Embrace your unfolding; trust that what emerges is consistent with your life purpose and why you are here in this life.

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