In light of the wrongful death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other black people in America and across the world, I’ve been trying to reflect this past month on the issue of racism.
All views on this post are my own and borne out of my experiences and reflections. I hope to inspire others to reflect on their own thoughts, behaviours and spark conversation.
To understand where I'm coming from, you need to know a little bit more about me. I was born in London to a Colombian mother and Turkish father who emigrated to the UK in the late early 90s. I’ve had the privilege of growing up in a diverse and multicultural environment involving different religions, languages and customs. I’m proud of my mixed heritage and never afraid to tick ‘Mixed other’ on those ethnicity questionnaires. Thinking about why I’m not afraid to tick that box, maybe it’s because I don’t think I’ve ever experienced overt racism. If I’ve ever felt disadvantaged by something, I’ve always put it down to my gender, my age, or my role as a PA. But race has never occurred to me before. This doesn’t mean it’s not happening or that I shouldn't advocate against it, just that it’s not been my personal experience.
As the eldest child in my family, I’ve always been summoned to speak or write on their behalf because my English is ‘nice’ as my mum would say. She thinks she might not be taken as seriously because of her accent or won’t be able to express herself as she’d like to. My grandmother speaks little English, so she likes me to go with her to the GP (or anywhere for that matter) when possible. Children of immigrant families know where I’m coming from right? And I like being their advocate too, it’s the least I can do given their sacrifices. Growing up like this has made me quite protective of people that remind me of my family. At work little old ladies will look up at me and say ‘Urdu?’ and it saddens me that I can’t help. People like this can be disadvantaged and vulnerable, so they often need someone to speak up for them.
Like London, Manchester is also rich in a diverse and multicultural population. I work alongside, and treat people of all races. Again, I can’t say I’ve seen overt racism in the workplace. On reflection of this, I think to myself ‘is it because I’m being naïve? Am I not being alert enough?’ Don’t get me wrong, I know it happens in the NHS. My mum works for the NHS in London and has had racist comments flung her way by people she’s worked with in the past. People will say things like 'you're just taking it too personally' or 'they didn't mean it like that'. Yeah, she's taking it personally because it was aimed at her person. But for me, I've never been conscious to it happening at work. Maybe this is the same experience for others which is why some may feel it's not an issue in the healthcare system.
You say the word ‘RACISM’ and images of crazy people in long white dresses and pointy hats carrying flames come to mind. But it’s much more insidious than that. It could be something like assuming someone’s intelligence from the way they look or speak. Or assuming someone won't be as good at their job compared to their white counterparts. Or cutting a white person more slack than a person of colour for doing the same thing in the workplace. I’m sure I’ve done that before. Yes me, a person of colour, I can be racist too. I’m of the belief that anyone can be racist no matter the colour of their skin. No one should be exempt, we should all be trying to practice what we’re preaching. For patients, it could mean the assumption that black people feel less pain and therefore miss out on adequate pain relief. Or not taking their concerns as seriously because they aren't able to express themselves fully.
Exploring these issues in the context of Physician Associates, the Faculty of Physician Associates has recently come under scrutiny about the lack of diversity in their committee, the way the national exams are run and transparency on the whole. A small group of student and qualified PAs, myself included, came together virtually to discuss the issues we felt needed addressing. This was then taken forward to a meeting with the Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA). If you’re a member of the FPA, you will have received an email from them addressing Black Lives Matter, racism and health, explaining ‘it is clear there is a lot more we need to do’. They are willing to listen and learn, which is a step in the right direction. It’s not something that can be fixed overnight.
I’m also trying to listen and learn more. At work I was sent an email about the launch of a black and minority ethnic (BAME) Leadership Programme. The Trust had identified that ‘whilst we have increased the overall representation of BAME staff, they are still less represented at higher bands (under Agenda for Change ) 8c and above in particular.’ I wasn’t able to attend the launch but I was sent information about getting involved with a collaboration hub. But I never chased it. Like so many things it was left in my inbox to deal with another day. Well that time has come! I’m going to get in touch and see how I can help and get involved. If you’re BAME and work in the NHS and would like to do something similar, most Trusts will have an Equality & Diversity department or something similar that you can contact.
Social media has a plethora of information about different ways to educate yourself from Netflix to literature to TED talks. In the past I may have avoided watching something like ‘When They See Us’ because I knew it would upset me - and it did. But that’s the point; it’s upsetting and ugly and provoking because it’s the truth and it’s time we faced it. It’s not easy to admit you’ve done something wrong, especially something racist. But being willing to educate yourself and reflect on your actions/words/thoughts is a step towards equality. Because Black Lives don’t just Matter, they’re equal.
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