Thursday, April 12, 2018

I'm white and privileged! What should I do about it?


 

I'm white and privileged! I am white, and I am privileged because I am white.

There you are. I said it.  I feel like I should be at an AA meeting...”my name is Sarah and I am white and privileged”. Clearly it's not a secret that I am white -you've only got to look at me to see how 'white' I am. And when I open my mouth, that Southern Counties English accent (used to live in Salisbury, England) still summons up images of thatched cottages and Pimms on the lawn...or so I've been told. I was 16 years old before I spoke to a 'black' person, and that was only because I had gone to the East End of London for a week to do some volunteer church outreach work. Before that time, the nearest I had got to a person of colour was when reading Enid Blyton's golliwog stories.  

I am not sorry about who I am, nor that I am white. I am who I am, and I am proud of the family I have descended from. So why is it, as I write this, I feel an unease in my gut; I'm almost embarrassed to admit to being white. I know how privileged I am when I watch the persecution of the Rohingya people, or bombing of Syria on TV.  But what does white privilege mean in the Australian context, and especially in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

I have only recently become aware of the idea of white privilege, which is a theory that explains the inherent privilege and advantages that white people have over non-white people because of skin colour. Having lived in New Zealand for nearly 20 years, I have been fully conversant with cultural safety which somehow was always tied up with the Treaty of Waitangi, and did not have a deep, personal  impact on me.  But it was recently since I moved to Australia that I have been challenged about white privilege at a workshop facilitated by the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, and how it feeds into my attitudes and beliefs about the world.

What white privilege means in reality, has been especially driven home to me on two recent occasions.
Close the gap!
The first occasion was when I met a wonderful Aboriginal woman who I immediately felt a real connection to. Although she was ten years younger than me, we found we had many similarities and shared experiences, and we become friends very quickly. It is not often I make those sorts of deep relationships because usually I am a bit of an introvert. What dawned on me and saddened me greatly, was that despite the age difference between us, she was likely to die the same time as me because Aboriginal women have a life expectancy of nearly 10 years less than non-Aboriginal women

Institutional racism 
The second occasion was when I was supporting an Aboriginal family receiving healthcare in a hospital. The family described the care they received and the attitudes displayed by staff, which seemed to me to be sub-standard to say the least. But when I arrived, it appeared to both myself and the family that attitudes changed, communication improved, and the care provided was much more in line with what I would expect.  It is my perception that me being there made a difference to the attitudes of staff and care provided, and I sincerely believe it was because I was a white woman.   

Nursing and midwifery Codes of Practice
So, maybe acknowledging our whiteness SHOULD be embedded into the Codes of Practice - we should acknowledge that  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are likely to die younger than us; more likely to be incarcerated, die of suicide, diabetes and heart disease than non- Aboriginal people. And maybe that is why there is such push back over the new nursing and midwifery Codes of Practice - because we know in our hearts that we're privileged, but we're not doing anything about it!

It is time us whities stop being snowflakes and acknowledge the universal truth that being white does give us an inherent advantage over non-white people.

There's nothing wrong with being white. What is very wrong is being white, knowing how that plays out especially in healthcare, and doing nothing to redress the inequity that our privilege fosters and promotes.

Image: https://unsplash.com/photos/4Ia348kvX7A     

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Fake news and lies! Nurses, midwives and white priviledge

In the last few days the main stream media has picked up on a story that should have died a death months ago. The word going around, propagated by Grahame Haycroft of the Nurses Professional Union of Queensland,  is that the new nurses and midwives' Codes of Practice require nurse and midwives to tell the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that we work with, that we are sorry that we are privileged because we are white.

There's so much wrong with this, I do not know where to start. Needless to say, this story is one of life's fabulous examples of fake news.


The significance of this is that the Codes of Practice are issued by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, which makes the content of the Codes a regulatory requirement whereby nurses and midwives can be notified, disciplined and even de-registered if we breach them. According to Haycroft, we could lose our registration if we do not admit our 'white privilege'  to every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person we care for.

Lies!
Firstly, before you jump up and down, and join in with Haycroft denouncing a politically correct world gone mad, take the time to actually read the Codes because clearly, most of the journalists reporting this story have not! No where in the Code does it say that we have to declare our white privilege – this is a lie! The Codes are easily available on the NMBA website where you can check this out yourself: http://www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Statements/Professional-standards.aspx

What is cultural safety?
In the definition of cultural safety in the Codes,  nurses and midwives are encouraged to “ undertake an ongoing process of self-reflection and cultural self-awareness”. The Code goes on to say “cultural safety provides a de-colonising model of practice based on dialogue, communication, power sharing and negotiation, and the acknowledgment of white privilege.”  The NMBA have already discussed why this definition of cultural safety,  and if you're not sure what cultural safety is, have a read of Janine Mohamed's explanation of why it is so important in healthcare.  Ruth DeSouza has also written an excellent piece called The Five Myths of Cultural Safety.

The NMBA process of consultation and collaboration
Secondly, you need to be aware of how the Codes and other regulatory requirements are produced. The NMBA do not just wake up one morning and say “We're going to make you naughty nurses and midwives do this, this, and that....because we feel like it!”  The Codes and similar regulatory documents go through an extensive process of research, collaboration, and industry and public consultation, for instance, the NMBA carried out a serious of  road shows around the country which gave nurses and midwives an opportunity to give their feedback in a face-to-face environment.

Rather than being divisive as Cory Bernardi claims, nursing and midwifery peak bodies and organisations have been united in accepting the Codes as they are, because we were involved in the drafting and development of the Codes right from the start. As a member of the working group who consulted on the midwifery Code, I am extremely proud that it acknowledges racism as an unacceptable behavior. You can see all the consultations the NMBA held on the Codes, as well as the feedback submitted to the consultations on the NMBA website, and guess what...there's no submission from Haycroft, so I guess he was not that concerned about the content of the Codes that he felt driven to make a submission.  You can also see various joint statements from the likes of the Australian College of Midwives and the National Rural Health Alliance that confirm that the professions value and support the new Codes.    

Politics
Thirdly, you have to be aware of the politics around the dialogue generated by Haycroft. You do have to ask who he is, what his political agenda is, and what he aims to achieve by driving story.  He is in competition with the Queensland Nurses Union, so he will see the publicity he is currently receiving as a nice piece of free marketing. Needless to say, he has been thoroughly discredited, and this story should be put to bed now!