1. Kennedy, Maureen Shawn MA, RN, FAAN


And we need to make it one we're proud of.


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February is Black History Month-officially observed as such by President Gerald Ford in 1976, America's bicentennial year, to celebrate the contributions of Black Americans to our nation. It began as a week of remembrance established in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, founder and president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He chose the second week in February because it coincided with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the former slave who became a famous orator, author, and abolitionist. Later, in 1986, Congress designated the month of February as "National Black History Month."

Figure. Maureen Shaw... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Maureen Shawn Kennedy

I didn't know about the origins of Black History Month until I was preparing this editorial. This made me wonder about the many other things I wasn't aware of concerning the history of Black Americans in this country. It wasn't until last year, on its centennial, that I learned about the massacre that destroyed the Black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921. And it was only in the last few years that I learned about the Tuskegee syphilis study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service from 1932 until 1972. (Yes, 1972!) In this study, originally known as the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male," participants with syphilis were not offered treatment or even informed they had the disease. The disregard for Black lives was astonishing.


Nursing has its own history of racism and discrimination, much of which is documented in early AJN archives; generally, this history is not taught in nursing schools. For example, Black nurses were not permitted to join the Army or the Navy Nurse Corps when World War II began, despite the dire need for nurses. It wasn't until nearly the end of the war that the military relented. Many state nursing associations barred Black nurses through the 1950s. AJN's legal column has reported on nurses whose hospitals' policies appeased racist patients rather than protect nurses' civil rights. More recently, in August 2020, we published legendary nursing leader Bernardine Lacey's oral history and her experiences with racism.


The last two years have been, for many, an awakening to the stark reality that racism is alive and well in this country and in our own profession. The authors of this month's Viewpoint use the example of an interaction between nurses to point out that while resilience may be a desirable trait, among people of color it can be a response to the structural racism that makes resilience necessary. Why must one be resilient to overcome socially constructed hurdles that negatively affect one's health and well-being or are barriers to achieving one's potential?


The special feature this month, "An Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing," describes a unique project of online discussions that enabled White nurses to hear the experiences of Black nurses and other nurses of color when they encountered racism and discrimination in their careers. The platform prioritized the voices of nurses of color, who shared their experiences while White nurses listened and learned. (This month's cover image is by the lead author, Lucinda Canty. See On the Cover for details.) The organizers developed what they called Principles of Reckoning based on antiracism and social justice values, which provide actionable recommendations for dismantling racism.


It saddened me to read Canty describe her experiences, where she says, "I did not understand racism until I started my nursing career. I believed that nurses could not be racist." It makes me wonder how I may have been complicit in accepting or perpetuating the status quo without acknowledging the effect on colleagues of color or thinking of what could have made things more welcoming for them. Principle 6's antiracism actions resonated with me: "Acknowledge your role, unintentional or intentional. Consider what actions you can take in your role."


So, at AJN, one of the actions we are taking is to review our editorial practices to be more intentional in making sure they are fair, equitable, and inclusive. While manuscript reviews are double-blinded (neither authors nor reviewers know each other's identities), we need to ensure that reviewers are representative of our profession and the people we serve, especially when papers describe research, issues, or illnesses involving underrepresented populations. Reviewers will note new demographic questions added to the reviewer profile so we can ensure authors have the appropriate reviewers evaluating their work. We encourage all reviewers to complete the profile form.