The Equity, Diversion and Inclusion committee in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Ottawa recognizes that bias and discrimination are barriers to patients receiving appropriate and compassionate care. We seek to disseminate knowledge, develop helpful policies, and foster systems of accountability by targeting bias and discrimination in the Emergency Department to ensure that our staff are supported to provide inclusive patient centred care to our diverse patient population.
It is with this vision that the Digital Scholarship and Knowledge Dissemination team is pairing up with our EDI committee to help provide continuous knowledge dissemination to help eliminate bias and discrimination in the healthcare setting.
Hey! My name is Asha Kaye Brown and I am a Registered Nurse working corporately in the Emergency Department and the Sexual Assault/Partner Abuse Care Program here at the Ottawa Hospital. Born in Canada, I am the child of Jamaican immigrants who taught me from a young age when and how to swim upstream against the current of assimilation, and to make for myself my own identity as a Black-Jamaican-Canadian. Since young adulthood, I’ve often found myself in the midst of anti-racism discourse in formal and informal ways so I am honoured to join Dr. Shahbaz Syed this year as the EDI committee co-chairs for the Department of Emergency Medicine.
As you know, February is Black History Month, a time we reflect on the struggle and remember the contributions Black People have made to society. We have a couple of short articles that will highlight Black Figures and Black Issues pertinent to us in healthcare, especially in the ED. I hope you swing by to have a read, there will be stories, education and anecdotes from our colleagues. Until then, here are my top three need-to-knows about black history month:
1. Black People are not a monolith
Black people are the descendants of the slave trade, refugees, and immigrants spanning from a plethora of cultural environments; African, Carribean, Central, South American and more! English speaking, French, Uncolonized languages, the list goes on.
We often will hear a perceived commentary of support with sentiments like; ‘I don’t see colour’ – but these comments have negative undertones that fails to recognize the diversity within our black population. Each individual has a unique cultural expression and their own history. There are stories and lands that connect us, yes, but we are anything but uniform, and it is so critical to accept and embrace diversity.
2. Racial equity is not comparable between Canada and the United States
Too often do we as Canadians try to appease calls for change by saying “we’re not as bad as the US,” when the reality is that Canada has a rather storied past as well. Up until the 1940s Black people weren’t allowed to study nursing in Canada, with black folks who wanted that education being told to go across the border where black students had been accepted into nursing since the 1870s. We have our own histories and atrocities that we have to reckon with, starting all the way back to our relations to the indigenous people of this land. It’s time to stop shifting blame.
Black History Month is as much about reflecting on the past as it is the present and future.
It is important to learn about MLK Jr, Rosa Parks, Viola Desmond, but we must also keep learning the names of the people who continue the work today. If we keep Black History Month trapped in the past it becomes all too easy to believe we are living in a “post-racial society,” and recent events has shown us that this is far from true. Black History is happening right now.
Stay tuned as we present articles and stories this week to highlight the importance of Black History Month, and as we continue to provide educational content to promote Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. At the end of each article we’re going to be including reflections from our own staff on what Black History Month has meant to them, with the hopes of normalizing a diversity of experiences, while encouraging you to reflect honestly and non-judgementally on your own memories knowing every year is another opportunity to learn and grow a little bit more – and we’d love for you to share your reflections in the comments below!
“I saw Black History Month on TV as a kid. I lived in Windsor so all TV was from Detroit. I recently understand that anything I’ve learned about Black History was likely written by whites and doesn’t reflect fully the experience of anyone I know… I am trying to listen more, watch more and learn about the experience of Black people over time and in real time. I am trying to figure out how to learn on my own – reading, following on SM etc.” – Barb Miller.
“Every February as a young student I learned about Rosa Parks and heard a few lines from MLK’s I have a dream speech. Never contextualized in a history class and never in a Canadian context. Only in adulthood did I learn what being black in Canada actually means.” – Asha Kaye