Earlier this month you may have seen the comments in the media about what one of the Pope’s senior advisers – Cardinal Walter Kasper, said in an interview, in news magazine Focus (published on 13 September) which rightly provoked a storm of protest in Germany and the UK.
In the double-page spread with the provocative headline “Third World Country“, Cardinal Kasper described how he had perceived a new “aggressive” type of atheism in Britain. When asked why so many Britons had expressed resentment towards Pope Benedict, Cardinal Kasper replied: “England is today a secularised, pluralistic country. When you land at Heathrow Airport, you sometimes think you might have landed in a Third World country.”
The Cardinal’s reference to a Third world country gave the impression that he was unhappy about the diverse nature of the UK. I believe that one of the greatest strength of this county is its diversity and we have a lot to be grateful for those people who have travelled to work and make their homes in this country, this especially true in the public sector, something I knew well in the NHS .
Yesterday saw the start of Black History Month in which we remember the history of Black and Minority Ethic people and celebrate their contribution. I gave a key note speech at the launch of the first Black History month here in Sutton (www.sutton.gov.uk/blackhistorymonth). I was hesitant when I was asked, I am not from a black and ethnic back ground, however, this is as much a month for us to celebrate as it is for those from BME backgrounds and I also heard the voice of an ex colleague Nola Ishmael who would have said “Go, girl Go!”.
So I did, and the event reminded me how grateful I am to be part of a diverse community. I recalled at the event that when I was Director of Nursing at the Chelsea and Westminster Healthcare Trust in the 1990’s a Ward Sister’s post became vacant. I spent some time encouraging existing senior staff nurses to apply; amongst them was a very talented Senior Staff Nurse who happened to be from a black and ethnic group. When I approached her to ask her to consider applying for the post her response surprised me. She did not think that someone from Jamaica could apply for such a position.
I had not imaged that’s what black and ethnic staff felt like, although I only needed to look around me to realise the shortage of role models for black and ethnic nurses seeking to move into leadership positions.
A survey carried out by the Nursing Standard in October 2004 (20th October 19(6) 2004 12-14) reported that one in ten white nurses felt that the NHS was institutionally racist but one in three black and ethnic nurses thought that the NHS was institutionally racist.
As someone who had always valued diversity I continue to be surprised by such data but what I often fail to do is understand what the world is like for someone else – to ensure I see things through their eyes and in their shoes.
For me part of Black History Month is a chance to see things from other people’s perspectives. So I will be taking the opportunity that Black History Month gives me to hear and listen to those with other experiences to remember our difficult past but to celebrate the contribution of others to our diverse community and in doing so play my part in shaping a diverse future.