Watershed moment… paradigm shift… crossroads… turning point… and pivotal times are all words that describe last year. As the world watched, we in the United States have been engrossed in a serious battle to examine the soul of our nation. It’s easy to lose joy when enthralled in the grief and work of witnessing, denouncing, and now combatting systemic racism. It’s even harder for populations of marginalized people who have never truly experienced joy due to racial hypervigilance, which is essential for survival. I recently heard a millennial comedian state, and I paraphrase, “Our [Black people’s] survival is dependent on our understanding of whiteness.” And in our understanding of others, to recognize others have failed to understand us as a people, culture, and fellow humans.
In my personal journey over the past year, I questioned, “Why am I here—at a predominantly white institution/university? Why would I want to be at an institution that may not value me or my work? Why am I not teaching at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), of which I am alumna? What is my purpose in the here and now?” The answers were clear: to care for patients on their journey to healing, help the disadvantaged, and empower the voiceless. However, it is unfortunate that as a Black American, that same level of care may not be reciprocated. The most important answer, however, was that I needed to do some personal and spiritual “heart” work. As I have reflected and even wrestled with the questions mentioned above, I have deeply pondered Sigma President Dr. Richard Ricciardi’s call to Infuse Joy and how best to do this during times of racial tension, division, conflict, and civil unrest.
As the youngest child of parents who experienced hatred-driven segregation, such as going to the dentist office's back door, attending Black-only schools, and drinking from colored-only fountains, I could never compare my experience to previous generations of African Americans/Black Americans. Nonetheless, even as a millennial (emphasis on millennial to denote that we are not post-racism!), I’ve experienced microaggressions, prejudice, and slights—some intentional, others likely unintentional—that left me feeling not valued or disrespected. However, as the only person of color in many of my academic circles and professional organizations, I wonder, “How is it so easy to be forgotten and overlooked by others?” Typically, the most different individual stands out, but this is not the case for a Black American even in non-minority environments.
The depth of systemic exclusion that some (not all) white Americans have toward Black people continues to logically evade any sense-making that I could attempt to formulate. This level of exclusion and “othering” can be insidious and subtle or blatant and intentional. I’ve advocated for the profession of nursing to honestly examine the concept of “whiteness” and how this social conditioning in our education perpetuates a monolithic view of patients and results in a lack of individualized, person-centered, culturally-responsive care (Booker, Cousin, & Buck, 2020). To put it simply, how do we shift such deep and engrained views? For me, it begins with finding joy in my professional roles as a registered nurse and nurse researcher.
To continue the caring work of nursing, I realized that I must first enable joy in my life and allow nothing or no one to take this precious gift from me. I lean on Biblical scriptures, such as, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2 New International Version). Here are seven (seven is symbolic of completion or perfection) goals that I’ve set to Infuse Joy:
- Create a vision for joy.
- Find things—big or small, simple or complex—each day to rejoice about.
- Share joy with others. This includes sharing and celebrating accomplishments and honors. Not allowing race-conscious imposter syndrome to prevent sharing good news with colleagues for fear of being viewed as braggadocios, tokenized, or inciting others’ negative projection of internal frustration.
- Educate myself on how I can co-create joy in my eco-spaces and in the workplace (e.g., Institute for Healthcare Improvement Framework for Improving Joy in Work).
- While exhausting, find joy in educating others about the effects of racism on patients, the public, and colleagues of color.
- Unapologetically engage in self-care and resilience-based coping to sustain a full tank of joy.
- Daily remind myself of my current purpose. Follow my passion.
I find joy in using my voice through writing, publication, and scientific endeavors. Thus, I’ve decided to be a part of the solution and not the problem. I will be a torchbearer of joy and light. Nursing is a great profession, and we have a real and lasting opportunity to create joy, infuse joy, and sustain joy through fairness, compassion, civility, love, and justice for all.
Staja Booker, PhD, RN, is an assistant professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, USA. She is a member of Sigma’s Alpha Theta Chapter.