[Note]: If you are here to order breastfeeding buttons only, then scroll to the end of this post.
A little while ago, I wrote a post on here about my frustrations with how I’ve seen many breastfeeding advocates and even healthcare officials and researchers place white women at the center of the desired outcomes for breastfeeding health. It was called Measuring Black Breastfeeding With a White Stick. It was an expression of my irritation from seeing so much of what seemed like an interminable amount of advocates with a stance that African American breastfeeding can only be examined in the context of another – in this case – in the shadows of white women. The analyses and desires to look into Black breastfeeding always began something along these lines: ‘Compared to white women, Black women breastfeed less, or ‘Black women lag behind white women,’ etc. Since that time I’ve received a number of responses to that article. Many people who have contacted and connected with me, told me how they shared similar frustrations, or how they have viewed these types of comparisons. I’ve also been asked by others questions such as ‘who should I compare them to?’ And my simple answer is – don’t compare Black women to anyone at all!
I know it may sound foreign to hear something like that because I can’t tell you at exactly what moment we as a society became so steeped in comparison culture, where we looked to another group to see how we measure up. I know that there has been a legacy of dehumanizing treatment against non-white folks and there is especially strong anti-Black sentiments that pervade society, and so historically we’ve adopted many characteristics to try and lessen the amount of trauma. Even knowing this vantage point white women still continue to be held in the highest regard. For the past 14 years I’ve studied anthropology, African American History and Black feminism, and what I can tell you is that the efforts to look upon white women as the archetype it not just something that happened by chance. Instead, it has been a very intentional design of white supremacist tactics, to place white women at the center of all things desireable. This has included everything from their aestectics to culture, including motherhood and breastfeeding. So many narratives continue to talk about how white women are faring – with embedded messages that they’re ‘all the way up there’ and everybody else is ‘struggling to reach their unique and glorified statuses that soar gracefully over the masses.’ It’s frustrating to be placed in such shadows but also nonsensical because for me – the truth be told – in the near-10 years I’ve been researching breastfeeding, and I’ve had access to quite a bit of data, I cannot think of a single moment in history where I’d like to see Black women replicate the breastfeeding traditions of white women. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that white women DO NOT have the highest breastfeeding rates in the country. If we’re looking at quantitative data then why would the measure be against someone with a lower-than-others statistical data? At best that’s a comparison to mediocrity that doesn’t even take into account that white women’s breastfeeding rates need increasing, too!
Here’s an analogy:
If you and your significant other found yourself in couple’s therapy, I can’t see the meetings being very successful if each time the therapist discussed your situation to try and get to the bottom of the issues so you could have a more wholesome union, you brought up how your partner didn’t level-up to another couple that you know of. I’d like you to tell me how you think it would work out if you told your partner something along the lines of: ‘compared to X and X’s relationship, we aren’t doing well. Look at them and look at us’? Can you imagine if you were in therapy trying to work on your issues and were consistently scaled against someone else? I’ve been to marriage counseling before as well as therapy on my own more than once and I can assure you if either my then significant other or the therapist said anything along those lines it wouldn’t have gone well. There are countless configurations in each situation that makes it thrive or diminish, and trying to compare yourself to another is awful and unrealistic, at best. Instead, in my experience the objective is to get to the bottom of the issues, and perhaps reflect on what brought you together and made you fall in love and find strategies to return to that point. Or, to make a decision that would bring forth the best outcome for the situation and learn more about yourself in order to transcend whatever issues you brought to the table.
I’ve made race-based brestfeeding comparisons plenty of times previously. In fact, if you read through this blog, you’ll definitely find a number of those instances where I would always measure Black women against almost all other racialized groups. This was before I became critically aware of the damage it caused, and the trauma it continues to inflict on everyone. Similarly, when I’m in the field conducting research on breastfeeding, I admit I’ve found myself looking at the culture in the South and measuring it against another. Sure it’s given me a bit of insight, because I’ve been enculturated in a place that’s vastly different, and for years have focused on what I’m used to and what makes sense to me. But what I came to learn is that such a comparison is more counterproductive than anything that would garner any benefit. For one it doesn’t allow me to truly view the unique aspects of the location, and utilize everything I can in that distinct place in an effort to arrive at an understanding of what breastfeeding means in those particular set of circumstances – and that wouldn’t really get me anywhere. Secondly, if I continued to do so I wouldn’t see the forrest for the trees, because I’d be focused on another place and not on where I’m at. When people ask about my work or when I find I’m discussing Black breastfeeding, I don’t start conversations with an aspiration to move towards any group such as ‘Black women are breastfeeding less than white women. They’re also not breastfeeding as much as X, Y and Z group.’ It may or may not come up at some point as a way to substantiate something in the conversation, but it isn’t my initial argument. Instead, I look to move further towards where we once were. When I talk about my desire to change the current narrative among Black breastfeeding, I tell people that I’m looking to understand why Black women are breastfeeding much less today than we have in previous moments in history. If breastfeeding is the biological norm and we’ve moved away from that, then my objective is to move closer to that norm, and not within greater proximity to any other racial or ethnic group. It doesn’t mean there are no intersecting points or that we can’t learn from others. It means that we recognize the unique aspects of each community and examine that framework and create strategies to arrive at a desired outcome.
Black breastfeeding will not be transformed by fawning over the mediocre breastfeeding statuses of white women. Continuing to do so doesn’t do anyone any favors. On the other hand, harboring such an outlook causes much more harm because such a stance doesn’t take into consideration the lengthy legacy of violence that has been done to Black women that has enabled white women to have the current breastfeeding outcomes they do, even if they are not ideal. It also maintains whiteness as the standard and suggests we all move toward that goal. Finally, it breeds brand new generatons of white supremacist thinking and supports the history of violence that is situated within it. A more viable approach is to maintain focus on our communities, and determine what has worked for us, why isn’t it working now, and what can be done? How can we get back to a place where breastfeeding is the accepted norm among us, and get to it. At least that’s the way I do things. That’s how I roll.
On a somewhat different note, we made buttons to celebrate Breastfeeding and to help get the message across about the important life-saving attributes of human milk. They’re especially helpful in the age of mask-wearing, and we have plenty of them so you can order as many as you’d like! The first one says: BLACK BREASTFEEDING SUPPORT SYSTEMS MATTER and the second one says BREAST MILK SAVES LIVES. Order below and your transaction will be processed securely through PayPal. If you don’t have/do PayPal and want to do CashApp/GooglePay or whatever, then you can contact me directly for other options. They’re $4 each. If you buy 4 or more then you get FREE shipping, otherwise shipping is $3.50. Add item to your cart and then you can update the quantity. We’ll ship them out within 1-2 days and send you a tracking #. Also, please share the info with others because we really do have enough to go around.
Questions? Ask away!
Happy World Breastfeeding Week, National Breastfeeding Month, Terry Jo Curtis Day, Native American Breastfeeding Week and BLACK BREASTFEEDING WEEK!
Stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands and stay in if you can!
Black Breastfeeding Support Systems
BREAST MILK SAVES LIVES