Equality 4 Black Nurses is interviewing black nurses about the impact racism has had on them, in the hopes that more people feel empowered to speak up and demand justice. Our first interview is with our founder, Neomi Bennett BEM, multi-award winning Neo-Slip Inventor and Registered Nurse.
Why did you want to become a nurse?
I first decided I wanted to be a nurse when I was a very young girl, and I’ve always loved caring for people.
Was there a moment you can pinpoint when you first had the idea for Equality 4 Black Nurses?
How has it helped you through your experiences of racism?
In 2019, I was violated by a gang of white, racist police officers whilst just sitting in my car close to my house. I was doing nothing wrong and for no reason and out of the blue, these men came at me with false allegations. They accused me of concealing stolen items, having illegal tint on my windscreen and hiding weapons. I mentioned the elephant in the room and told them that I believe that they have racially profiled me. This was based on my lived experience and what I've seen in my community. The mere mention of race seemed to irritate and upset the officers. From this moment onwards, the police abused their power to punish me and took away my voice.
Despite nothing illegal being found on me or in my car, I was arrested and taken to the police station where I was locked up for 19 hours and charged for not exiting my car quickly enough. I faced a single charge of obstruction. They literally put me through hell for nothing other than being Black. I was found guilty in the courts and was reported to the Nursing council, lost my job for a month and had to fight my way out of this. This was extremely traumatic and stressful. However, through the grace of God I was able to fight against the conviction, and 14 months later, on the 22nd May 2020, I won my appeal before the crown court and was exonerated.
After this ordeal, I returned to work and Covid rife, I was working on the frontline and I witnessed the way black nurses were disproportionately put on the front line. Considering the risks to us, it was quite a scary time because no one was talking about it, but we all knew that we were disproportionately being affected by Covid. We were discouraged to speak up and we were scared to reach out for help because we didn’t want to lose our jobs.
Equality 4 Black Nurses has been a useful tool in helping me through my own racial trauma and experiences of discrimination. It feels really good to be able to support other nurses and give them a voice. Sometimes fighting back can be so empowering! Helping the nurses to have a voice and enabling them to be heard is very rewarding.
What was your experience with Covid at work and how did it affect your personal life?
I was scared to get it, there was not enough PPE. The regular head covering that they’d give to the white nurses was a small shower cap and that was adequate for them, but for us it was a matter of improvising and finding other ways to keep ourselves protected. We used carrier bags to cover our hair because they’re quite big. Some shifts I had no PPE and other shifts I had some PPE. When I came home, I’d strip my clothes outside and put them in a bag, then go straight inside to shower. I wouldn’t bring the clothes in the house because at that time we didn’t really know too much about the virus. Some people said it could fester on your clothes, or on plastic, so I didn’t want to take any chances. It was very tough for me as a mum because I didn’t want to put my children at risk either. We couldn’t really take time off because it was too manic. Covid has taught me to not take anything for granted, especially life. It’s tough when people are dying around you, I have to be in the middle of that every single day.
Have you ever been racially abused or harassed by a colleague and/or a patient? If so, how did it affect you and when you reported it, what action was taken to stop it from happening again? If you didn’t report the incident, please explain why?
Yes, I definitely have. I was working as a healthcare assistant, so I wasn’t yet a nurse, and the patient said they didn’t want a black nurse to touch their dad. I told the patient's relative that they couldn’t choose, the daughter then reported me to the matron, and I lost my job. Not only did I get the sack, but the patient’s relative made up lies about me and said that I hit them. Because they said I hit them, they reported this to the police. It was disclosed on my DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service). The patient was actually telling his family to stop what they were doing, he told his daughter to let the nurse do her job, but her and her brother weren’t having it. They wouldn’t listen to their dad. I ended up getting sacked and I had to fight to clear my name.
The basis for my dismissal was a lie. They said that the patient’s relative withdrew consent, but the patient’s relative can only do that if they’re next of kin or have power of attorney. The patient was actually telling them to get out. Some white people associate black people with all things bad, they assume you cannot be good at your job simply because of your skin colour. You’re immediately a detriment to them and they believe you’re going to mess up. Even the university that I studied at initially withdraw my offer until the case had gone to tribunal. It took about 6 years to clear my DBS with Scotland Yard and 2 years to clear my name in tribunal. I won my case at tribunal because the judge saw straight through what they were doing. The judge said that I had been ambushed.
I don’t report every incident that happens in practice, sometimes you just let things go, and there are others that I report.
"Some white people associate black people with all things bad, they assume you cannot be good at your job simply because of your skin colour. You’re immediately a detriment to them and they believe you’re going to mess up".
What advice would you give a fellow black nurse who’s facing racism at work?
The best advice I’d give them is to give us a call at Equality 4 Black Nurses, we can help the nurse to assess the situation. For people that are a bit hesitant and not ready to reach out to us, my advice would be to keep a note of what is happening - the time, the date and the perpetrators. You need to keep a note of that and when you’re ready, if you decide you want to pursue a grievance about the race discrimination you are experiencing, then reach out to us.
What is next for Equality 4 Black Nurses?
Equality 4 Black Nurses is trying to support as many black nurses as we can in terms of bringing the racists to justice. What we’ve experienced is wrong, no one should ever have to accept disrespect and discrimination. We’re growing and getting bigger and bigger, so the plan is to consolidate our learning and continue building the organisation.
Many of us are just living in silence, our mental health is suffering because we're victims of this oppressive, racist system. You're not alone, Equality 4 Black Nurses understands what you've been through and we're fighting these injustices. We hope you join us in speaking out and sharing your stories, because we're stronger together. Join our Zoom sessions every Tuesday at 9pm via the link on our home page.