Quinndy Akeju: “Putting care in the centre of our lives could result in an incredible social change”
Quinndy Akeju is a health expert, Afroactivist and coordinator of the community of black-African and afro-descendant people in the Basque Country (Spain). Nowadays, she is about to finish her Nursing studies.
1.- In your LinkedIn profile you define yourself as a Nursing student, Lecturer, Afro-activist, Dancer, Choreographer and Content Creator. As a profession you have chosen the science of care and being a nurse, something that you had clear since childhood. Could you tell us a little about it?
Yes, I chose care, the science of care, which is nursing. Something that was clear to me since I was little and, also, it was clear throughout my adolescence. Now I do realize that it arose from a need to put care at the center. I feel that, many times, in this society in which we grow up (I grew up in the context of the Spanish State) I feel that these issues have always been addressed, not only on health, but also extrapolating to other vital areas, from treatment and not from the care. If we look at the health system we see that it is built on the treatment of diseases. If your head hurts, I give you a paracetamol instead of, for example, prevent that headache (to know how to take care of ourselves to stop, so to not somatize this stresses and anxieties, for example with self-care), for example, if it comes from stress. We also see it in our interpersonal relationships. A very clear example is in the care of our interpersonal relationships, which is often overlooked. And speaking of, for example, a friendship, if something happens we always solve it. But have we ever considered how to take care of all the processes in which we are (with this friend or this person with whom we have woven a friendship) so as not to reach conflictive situations? Situations that are unavoidable but in which that conflict can have less intensity or impact.
We must claim care as the centre of our lives and I think it could result in an incredible social change.
2. Taking into account the scientific field of nursing in which you are currently, what do you think could generate more interest on a social level? or what do you think is most necessary to make it visible?
Regarding the scientific field of nursing, I believe that it would generate interest (or that there is a need) to make visible the role of care in certain groups. Care for people in certain situations, the majority (speaking of this context), in situations of vulnerability and in situations of difficult access to healthcare. Besides, I also believe it’s something that I think about a lot. As a student, I also believe that we should make use of other cares and not just the conventional ones that we have always been doing. The nurse bandages your foot, for example. How many times have we used music therapy? How many times have we used to care that does not come from the West, that also comes from countries of the so-called global south? Doing non-Western care I also think is important because in addition to having many benefits, many people are more comfortable using non-pharmacological methods or natural pharmacy methods, such as natural remedies, which are mostly non-Western and that would also raise the health level. Or, as it were, would build a much healthier and much more cared for society.
3. What was your experience learning science in school? What kind of science do you think girls and boys are learning today? Do you think is it enough? What is being left out of the curriculum that you consider important as learning?
I can say that my experience learning science in school was not very pleasant because in most of the classes, in biological sciences, for example (which was something that I opted for from a very young age), there was always a tendency to stereotype black people. We know that these stereotypes are born out of ignorance, because the black race, or races in general, do not have any biological basis, they are a social construct. The fact that black people were constantly stereotyped among other races and that I, on many occasions, was the only black person in the classroom, led me to somehow develop a kind of rejection of science because I grew up here; This was revoked in my adolescence when I built my identity and said: ” “Hold on! It’s enough!”
4.-As an Afro-descendant nurse, you are very aware of the racist stereotypes and barriers that we unconsciously (or consciously) incorporate during our education. You are working on the decolonization of thought and practice within medical and health teams. What does this work consist of?
These stereotypes are created, but something has to be done, someone has to be there also to deny them. And, in some way, this thing that happened to me should not happen, nor happen to the next generations. I think the type of science that boys and girls learn has evolved a bit, but it continues in the same line with respect to what I just said. And it becomes super necessary to include in the curriculum all these non-Western Sciences that, for example, come from other continents that are not taken into account in research studies. It is necessary to take into account all the representativeness and references in the Sciences of other continents, to make a conglomerate of all that, to learn that science has not only been built here. I think it becomes necessary to also recognize all the work that women and men who have been in the scientific field for many years have done, to show that science is also diverse, that in science there is a multitude of bodies, a multitude of ideologies, multitude of jobs. It is not only a question about the decolonization of thought and practice within health. I can say that it is simply about unlearning all these practices and ideologies that have been ingrained through medicine to harm. To harm in some way to people, in this case, Afro-descendants and Africans. We know that medicine has a very murky past with African and Afro-descendant people. From the experiments in which untreated syphilis was injected into black men, to the revered chief, and now called the father of modern gynaecology, Marion Sims, who performed open surgeries without anaesthesia in the uterus of black women. All this, although we may not believe it, has generated (this is a sensation), some stereotypes that affect the African population daily and in a very harmful way: Such as generating the idea that black people suffer less pain and have a much higher pain threshold than white people and that, therefore, in any intervention that is going to be done we are going to ignore the symptoms or we are going to tend to think that African people exaggerate their symptoms. Or even, for example, to ignore that the cultures and the beliefs and ethnicities of African people are themselves different. It is also something to reflect upon, the fact that ignoring the skin colour on many occasions is a factor to take into account especially in dermatological diseases. And I say this because on many occasions it is not taken into account, especially in Dermatology: we learn to distinguish between dermatological diseases, but always with white skin. And we forget that there are darker skin types that also suffer from dermatological diseases, but they manifest themselves in different ways.
To a large extent, we have to unlearn and relearn certain behaviours or ideologies that have been implanted by the history of medicine and science in order to carry out better care for people, in this case, Africans and Afro-descendants, into clinical practice.
5. In 2019, Zintia Álvarez Palomino published the first book in Spain that talks about the role of “Black Women in Science” and makes explicit the great contribution to science and humanity that these invisible women have made. From your experience and as a nurse, what can you tell us about the existence of female references in science in our society? Do you think you can become a role model for other young women?
I think that, generally speaking, there are very few female referents. That is, not that there are few, it is more that those that exist are not visible. And this occurs much more often with black women, because it is the invisibility of invisibility. I also think that, apart from all the urgencies that exist in science, a very important one is the visualization of female referents (and also the female African action) because many of us do not have them. I grew up without references in science, so I thought that I walked this path alone, and it is serious to feel that feeling of isolation at such an early age. It has a very, very large psychological impact (and I think it is of vital importance) seeing yourself reflected in certain referents. To welcome, to give shelter, in some way, to all generations of African girls and boys, Afro-descendants who want to enter science or who have the dream of entering science and who feel that, “Hey! I can do it!”. That, “look! she is here!” or “look at this girl here!”. It is urgent to put African women, and also African scientific men, on the map. I don’t know if I can become a role model, or not, and the truth is that there are people who consider me to be a reference, but I think it is very great for me. But the truth is that I myself, am building a path that people who have passed through here have already given me. People who have already been doing activism in science. Zinthia Álvarez Palomino is one of those people, with her book Black Women in Science. But I am walking and wherever that path takes me, it is welcome. Whether it is to become a role model or not (as if it is for anything) I really am there. I do my job and I am very happy to be able to continue here doing what I am doing and also incorporating different perspectives into scientific discourse.
6. From your personal perspective, what do you think science should have to be inclusive (avoiding invisible barriers and/or biases of a sexist, racist, colonial, empowering type, etc.)? What guidance would you give to teachers/educators when teaching in contexts of diversity?
I believe that science here has to open its ears and listen. To stop talking in some way and listen to people, to those female scientists who have been silenced for many years. And then incorporate everything heard into the discourse. And in this I include sexist, racist, colonial, capitalist, capitalist biases …, I include all kinds of biases and all kinds of systematic and invisible barriers that also worsen the quality of science. Because due to biases, there are mistakes, and those mistakes lower the quality of science.
I would tell the teachers to read about black women. I am talking about black women and men. But they should read about all these biases I mentioned above. Really, the male and female teachers are in a powerful position in which they will directly affect the lives of people affected by these biases. And it is vital that they know them and that they try to avoid reproducing, in some way, all the colonial dynamics that have been installed that, in the end, are perpetuated consciously or unconsciously. Ideally, you should be aware, that you know where it all comes from, and that from there you start working on it so as not to perpetuate it.
7-A name of a living scientist that you want to recommend to us and something you would like to add to finish this interview?
I want to recommend Taiwo Jennifer Akeju, she is a chemistry student who is working very hard, she is my sister, hahaha. She is a scientist who, to be honest, I admire a lot, I admire her a lot because she works hard, etc. She has amazing research papers in English and Spanish as well and I think all the work she puts in deserves recognition.
To end the interview, I would like to say that I am delighted that there have been proposals like this, coming from UManresa, proposals from the “Communities for sciences ”in which inclusivity is promoted, but a real one not a symbolic one. Because it gives me the feeling that, many times, when one speaks of inclusiveness, it remains as in words, and it does not materialize in acts or in anything that can cause a real change. Instead, these projects give me a feeling that I can finally have faith that things are going to change and with total positivity. Thank you very much for counting on me and I hope to continue working with you. A hug to all!