Registered Nurse Samantha Brown says “staying on the spot” with discomfort is key to overcoming racism

Samantha Brown is a registered nurse working in Cardiology at the Halifax Infirmary, QEII Health Sciences Centre.
Samantha Brown is a registered nurse working in Cardiology at the Halifax Infirmary, QEII Health Sciences Centre.

Samantha Brown is energetic and passionate. She brings those qualities to her work as a registered nurse working in Cardiology at the Halifax Infirmary, QEII Health Sciences Centre.

Those same qualities also help her to navigate and address racism in her daily life, all the while focusing on how she can help shape a more positive future, particularly within the health system.

As a Jamaican Canadian, Brown has experienced racism and discrimination more times than she can count. 

She knows first-hand the individual and collective emotional toll it takes on Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.

Living in a primarily white society in Nova Scotia, working in a system where the majority is white, can be challenging, said Brown, although she is quick to note that she has positive relationships with her 
white co-workers. 

She said she’s learned to adapt to fit in to a white society, but is eager for white society and individuals to also adapt and learn. 

Brown estimates she spends 30 to 40 per cent of her time and energy navigating racism and discrimination. 

“It’s exhausting. It’s traumatic,” she said. 

As the mother of two children, she’s also aware of the impact of racism on them. 

She has experienced both overt and subtle racism, noting that the latter can sometimes be more difficult to call out. 

Comments like, “Your English is so good” and “Can I touch your hair?” might not be so significant if they were isolated incidents, but they are frequent. These types of comments, even in cases where they are not intentionally hurtful, are often referred to as micro-aggressions. Cumulatively, they can cause significant harm.

Brown approaches most of these comments with a smile, determined to be positive and help to build understanding among people who are white by letting them get to know her as a person. 

However, she said it’s important for white people to recognize that when Black people do become defensive or angry over incidents or comments that may not seem significant to the white person or may not be intentionally hurtful, it’s often because Black people are weary of navigating these types of scenarios daily. 

She also says it’s important for people who are white to hold space to listen to the stories of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour who have experienced racism. 

“People aren’t always willing to listen to painful stories. When you’re on the spot, stay on the spot.  Don’t shut down these moments. Learn from it. The only way to achieve success is through uncomfortability.” 

In spite of the heavy toll of racism, Brown remains hopeful for the future, including within the health system. She is heartened by president and CEO Brendan Carr’s recent message to staff expressing his commitment to anti-racism efforts and to achieving greater representation of Black, Indigenous People of Colour in the workforce, including in leadership.

She is keen to contribute to these efforts in whatever way she can and has joined the Central Zone Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee to offer her experience, insights and energy to that group.

She believes a brighter, more equitable future is possible if everyone in the system is open to listening, learning and acting. 

“Better will come,” she says. “But better starts at home.”