Critical Theory and Emancipatory Knowing

In my daily work, I continue to encounter racism, unfortunately. It is no longer the racism Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse mentioned in their critical theory. The world is changing, and Slavoj Žižek is more plausible in describing today’s ‘quiet’ racism. My awakening came when one patient demonstrated with a smile the disregard for the advice of a dark-skinned nurse. He thanked her for her help and was polite, but he called another nurse Caucasian to ask a series of questions after a short time. She confirmed the words of the first nurse, and he was calm.

I contacted my colleagues and started asking them if they noticed the same situations in their practice from the very beginning. I also got in touch with friends who were nursing with me a few years ago. Most of them responded that they had experienced similar situations but were too embarrassed to complain; some were too busy to pay attention to it. Later I talked to some of my friends who are not related to medicine; I contacted some employees of the administration. I did all this to understand what discriminating people are guided by and how they can be persuaded.

The main obstacle was that this patient’s behavior is a quieter and milder form of racism and lack of emancipating knowledge. Usually, there is no conflict, no accusations, and ridicule, so people don’t tend to pay attention to it (Chinn, 2021). In a large flow of patients, it is challenging to realize this and feel the awakening (Walter, 2017). Moreover, most nurses suffer against the backdrop of racism from the alienation of work. Philosophers of the critical theory mentioned this concept, and it seems that now, in the era of digitalization, there is no place for alienation. For nurses, however, the flow of patients and paperwork serve as breeding grounds for alienation.

The fact that I demonstrated black nurses’ authority to patients facilitated the local solution of the problem. I consulted with them to determine the dosage of drugs and asked them about assisting in operations. Patients heard our dialogues, and subsequently, the nurses thanked me for supporting them in this way (Alviesan, 2019). They said that my support encouraged them, and they felt more confident communicating with management, colleagues, and patients; usually, they are used to being doubted by patients.

Looking back, I can say that, in general, I am satisfied with the way things have turned out. However, I could do otherwise by having one-on-one conversations with patients (Wesp et al., 2018). It would have taken more energy and time, but the result could have been achieved at more detectable levels. Now I understand that some patients could receive information about their nurses: their education and work experience. Such databases may need to be made more accessible, and such information should be posted on the website of the medical institution where the patient is being treated. Such measures require some changes in the health system, but it would be convenient for our patients.

Seeing some of the patients suspicious and skeptical of dark-skinned nurses awakened me. Many of them work hard, but ordinary patients continue to doubt them because of the racism sewn into the public consciousness. To help the nurses in my hospital colleagues, I turned to my friends and some people from the administration. Some expressed their support for me, but many people reacted indifferently because of the absence of a direct conflict. The behavior of such people has become an obstacle to solving this global problem at the local level of one hospital. The change in the situation was facilitated by the fact that I began to demonstrate the authority of dark-skinned nurses. Many nurses thanked me for my support and said they felt confident at work, as they were tired of constant doubts and accusations. I now realize that I could have face-to-face conversations with patients. In addition, the most comfortable option, I see the provision of information about the education of each nurse on the website of the medical institution.


Alviesan. (2019). Chapter 7 B&R critical theory & emancipatory knowing [Video]. YouTube. Web.

Chinn, P. L. (2021). Theorizing as emancipatory action; emancipatory action as theorizing. Nursology. Web.

Walter, R. R. (2017). Emancipatory nursing praxis. Advances in Nursing Science, 40(3), 225–243.

Wesp, L. M., Scheer, V., Ruiz, A., Walker, K., Weitzel, J., Shaw, L., Kako, P. M., & Mkandawire-Valhmu, L. (2018). An emancipatory approach to cultural competency. Advances in Nursing Science, 41(4), 316–326.

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