I was the charge nurse the evening it happened. I was standing at the nurse’s station when a heavily muscled Black man walked briskly up to me and started yelling angrily.
“When are you going to come to my room and check my ear? I can’t stand this pain! I can’t believe it around here! You ask for help and it takes hours to get someone in!”
Thinking he had me confused with someone else, I stood to my feet and greeted him with a smile, introducing myself and offering to find his nurse for him.
“What are you smiling at?!” he angrily asked with furrowed brows. “I’ve been waiting in pain for hours and I need help now! I don’t care who you are – it’s all the same around here … ‘I’ll be right back,’ and then I don’t see anyone for another hour! Who’s in charge around here?”
At this point, his fist was clenched and his stance was aggressive. I knew arguing wouldn’t help, so I shakily answered, “I’m the charge nurse tonight and I’d love to help you. Do you want me to look in your ear here, or would you prefer for me to call your evening shift nurse and have her meet you in your room?” He backed down and agreed to meet his nurse in his room.
At the time of this story, I was a young woman in my 20s who had worked very hard to become a charge nurse. That evening, however, I felt emotionally and physically threatened, dishonored, and defeated.
Later that evening, however, I read this patient’s chart and found out that he had been in the military for years. He had experienced documented trauma and had at least one mental health diagnosis. I found out from other nurses that he felt that the VA had in the past, and was currently, treating him poorly because of the color of his skin. That day, he felt ignored and pushed aside. He perhaps was also feeling offended, disrespected, and angry.
Although on the outside, it may have looked like I responded well, on the inside I was angry and offended, not just at him as an individual who had hurt me, but at the racial trauma that felt very threatening that day. As this patient yelled at me, I sensed my defenses going up, and not just towards him. Suddenly, I was unsure where I stood when talking to any person of color, and so doubt and mistrust crept in.
About a year later, I was 8-months pregnant when an elderly, somewhat confused white male patient walked past me. He had a history of violent behavior, so I turned my back to him to protect my belly. As he walked by, he smacked me hard on the butt and started yelling at me. I whipped around and loudly reprimanded him. My co-worker, a Black man, kindly walked him to his room, all the while enduring angry words and racial slurs from this patient.
I was left standing there angry, offended, and feeling that my sense of safety and security in my workplace had been shattered.
Although my emotional experience of these two events felt very similar, there was one big difference. Even though the second man had proven himself in the moment to be racist, aggressive, and had actually physically assaulted me, this time I didn’t have to struggle with negative, bitter, or conflicted feelings about white men in general. I was 100% mad at this guy, in particular.
Do you see the problem here?
In the months and years following these two experiences, God has revealed the truth to me: Danielle, there is a root of bitterness and prejudice here that we need to deal with together. And since then, it has taken active, ongoing work to deal with the root of racism that was revealed to me that day.
I’ve spent countless hours learning and seeking to understand what my Black neighbors and friends experience in this country. And God has broadened my empathy. I’ve also spent time in prayer, asking God to release the mistrust that had grown in my heart towards people of color. And God granted me forgiveness for my hard heart and prideful motives.
Moving forward, I asked God to show me his heart for ALL people, and also to give me a special gift of love and understanding towards people who are different from me. And little by little, God is answering this prayer in gracious ways that I do not deserve.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
There is so much work to be done, but I believe that if I desire to be a bridge-builder and peace maker, I must first fall on my face before God, as Joshua did (Joshua 5:14-15) and humbly ask him to enable me to identify, root out, confess, and heal from my own racial prejudices. I believe only then will I hear God’s response: “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” (vs 15b). This is holy work we embark on, friends, let’s invite God into it.