Nursing staff have voted for action to ensure that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is an anti-racist organisation.
During a debate at the RCN’s annual congress this week, nurses took to the stage to share their shocking experiences of racism in the workplace.
They also drew attention to concerns raised about racism within the college itself, as per the findings of the damning Carr Review – an independent investigation into the culture of the RCN.
Learning disability nurse consultant Jim Blair led the debate and said its aim was to ask the RCN’s governing council to ‘explore and support members to develop an understanding of the complexities of whiteness, othering in a racialist form and how it takes an impact on people’.
And overarchingly it was about calling on the RCN Council ‘to ensure that the RCN is an anti-racist organisation’.
Mr Blair flagged the Carr Review – which exposed issues of bullying, misogyny and a lack of diversity within RCN Council – and said it was ‘evidence of the desire to change and improve from being a non-racist to an anti-racist and anti-discrimination organisation’.
‘It is vital that we put in place skills and competencies for staff, reps and members to respond in an effective and efficient and timely manner in an anti-discriminatory and anti-racist manner, to support and enhance the abilities, skills and talents of our global majority ethnic workforce,’ added Mr Blair.
Ruth Oshikanlu, an RCN fellow and nurse, midwife and health visitor by background, supported the debate and said: ‘Racism has a detrimental impact on those who experience it – physically, emotionally, psychologically, and cognitively.
‘The body never forgets. Just ask anyone who has experienced racism. They have many traumatic stories to tell. I am one of them.’
She stressed that it was ‘not enough to be non-racist’ and said that ‘we must all be anti-racist’.
‘Anti-racism encompasses a range of ideas and actions taken to counter racial prejudice, systemic racism, and the oppression of minoritised ethnic groups, creating a sense of belonging and rooting out racism in all its forms,’ added Ms Oshikanlu.
‘Now is the time for measurable and sustainable action, not just words. To get comfortable with being uncomfortable, embrace cultural humility, in order to create a culturally safe environment for our members and the populations we serve.’
Also taking to the stand was RCN president Sheilabye Sobrany who said she had ‘waited 32 years to have this conversation in an organisation that would accept it’.
In explaining why this issue was important to her, she highlighted that as an Asian woman born and brought up in the UK, she had seen the devastating impacts of racism.
When she had started her training, she had seen family and friends who had ‘died from racism’, Ms Sobrany told the conference.
‘The experiences of racism killed them,’ she said. ‘The bullying [and] the harassment caused such physical and psychological stress that they died from strokes, or ended up in hospital ill.’
The RCN president also explained how she had helped to ‘write grievances for people because they were not represented well by their unions’.
‘They were not supported. And in the course of career progression, as a nurse it is so frightening. You operate in a place of fear constantly,’ said Ms Sobrany.
She added: ‘I want every single nurse to be able to feel they can approach any one of you and get the same support without that fear. Without that trauma operating in their minds.’
Ms Sobrany said that ‘we are one unified nursing workforce and this is the way we need to operate’.
Meanwhile, newly qualified nurse Mona Mohamud recalled experiencing racism while she was a student.
‘It wasn’t from a patient. It was actually from a nurse that was mentoring me,’ she told the conference.
She added: ‘Sometimes it is unconscious. But this was outright racism. And it affected me.’
Ms Mohamud said the experience had nearly made her drop out of her nursing course.
‘I’m trying to break down barriers in racism,’ she added.
In addition, Manana Sakupwanya, an RCN member from North East London outlined a series of awful racial slurs that she had endured throughout her life.
She urged the conference to think about the impact of such words and asked: ‘What are we going to do about it?’
Ms Sakupwanya said she wanted the RCN to be able to ‘stand firm and stand tall’ against racism.
‘RCN let us be an anti-racist organisation,’ she added.
The resolution was passed with 577 voted for and four against.