We at ConSpirita Consulting Network are committed to improving leadership, especially ecclesial leadership. These times of a global pandemic and a global awakening about racism cry out for courageous and humble leaders. This series of blogs invite you to come along with us as we humbly, courageously, and consistently undertake the work of self-education about racism in the United States, in the Catholic Church and in our own white, privileged lives.
Last week I referenced a Robin DiAngelo quote from Carol Anderson that said: “the trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship.”[i]
After mulling that over for a while, I dug up a memory from years ago in my workplace that this quote directly addresses.
It was in the early 1990’s. I was working in administration analyzing budgets, keeping track of overtime and the different pay codes for vacation, sick leave, and bereavement leave. The base pay for Registered Nurses at that time was about $40,000 annually. Of course, with overtime you could make much more by meeting staffing needs for the different units. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was chronically understaffed and relied heavily on float pool personnel to plug the holes. NICU was, and is, a highly specialized unit so not many float pool nurses could, or would, work in NICU. But, working in the float pool also paid a premium so a nurse could make much more than the RN base pay amount.
There was a Black nurse who worked a full 40-hour week in the different units and picked up overtime shifts, so she probably worked 50-55 hours a week. She made approximately $60,000 a year. Leadership of the unit questioned her ability to work that many hours a week, implying she could not have the physical and mental ability to work that much. They said things among themselves, like, “She can’t possibly be good at her job working that much. And what does she do for childcare for herself, working all those hours?” Finally, her income threw off the budget for the different units since, after her 40 hours were done, the unit that she worked in afterwards paid premium overtime dollars for her work.
Among all of the nurses in the hospital, she was the only one making that kind of money (and I know that because I analyzed each unit’s pay every two weeks), leadership fabricated reasons why she shouldn’t be allowed to work so many hours, and make so much money. They never acted on them but the whispers were there.
I now see their pseudo-caring about her, her patients and her children’s welfare was what Carol Anderson called “white rage” a type of racism triggered when Black people are skilled, adept, successful, intelligent and upwardly mobile. The White leadership might not have recognized racism as the underlying cause of their “concern” but it actually was racist. So now, with this new lens, I find myself wondering if the care, concern and fiscal responsibility expressed by the White nurses/supervisor was really a form of white rage? Was it just unacceptable that a Black RN was more ambitious, capable, and good at what she did than her White colleagues?
In retrospect, I wonder if I contributed to the conversation about her abilities. I probably did, much to my shame. I was blind then, but now I see. And I want to see, but my vision is slowly, slowly clearing.
I invite you to join me in thinking anew about your past. Ask yourself if these new lenses help you see what you did not before. If they do, repent from your contributions to racism and vow to do better.
[i] In Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility, quoting Carol Anderson, author of White Rage.