‘One Drop’: When White Breasts are CENTRAL in BLACK LIVES – A Webinar

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‘ONE DROP’ When White Breasts are CENTRAL in BLACK LIVES

Abstract:

What does breastfeeding look like when variations of racial dynamics are at play? For example, what does it mean when white women have children with Black men, whose biological markers reflect biracial — both Black and white characteristics, yet socially the offspring are deemed Black? What does it mean when non-Black women are central figures in the lives of Black infants and what does it mean for larger populations of breastfeeding advocates?

In this webinar we will take a critical historical look at the construction of race and discuss the dynamics of these scenarios. Some questions we will focus on include:  1)  What is whiteness and social blackness?  2) How has history created this?  3) What are the various complexities in terms of advocacy, and race relations of this ‘inverted’ scenario, given a historical legacy of Black women nursing white infants?

These ideas and others will be explored in this interesting presentation that will expand our thinking about the nuances and layers of complexities of breastfeeding relations. You should come prepared to take notes and to share your own insight and experiences during the Q&A.

Facilitated by: Acquanda Stanford, PhC
When: Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Where: Online. You will receive an invitation within 48 hours of payment.
Time: 11:00 am-12:30 pm PST
90 minutes total; 60 minutes of presentation followed by 30 minutes Q&A and dialogue. This involves back and forth conversations between host and participants. This means that in addition to participants asking me questions, I will also draw on your thoughts and ask you questions, in order to create a critically engaging reciprocal learning environment and moving the conversation along.
Cost: $35.00 USD per person ♦ Submit payment via  paypal here: paypal.me/AYStanford/35. If you would like to pay via a different method, then contact me.

System Requirements:
  • Platform: Online, Google Hangouts
  • A computer monitor and speakers, or a compatible device such as an iPhone, tablet or another supported device. Note that in some instances you may need to download an app, if you are using a phone
  • High speed internet connection

As always, space is limited: crowds that are too large can hinder an endeavor for a critically-engaging environment. Because my favorite webinar platform is no longer in operation, we will be convening via Google Hangout (this also means that there should be no problems accessing this webinar, at all). Within 48 hours of receiving your payment you will receive an invite — make sure you check your spam box. All you need to do is follow the link you receive and join the conversation on the stated day and time, where you will be able to see the broadcast. If you have any questions, just ask.

Note: Since a certain number of registrants are anticipated once payment is made, any cancellations or no-shows by you will result in your payment being counted as a donation. There are no refunds unless this presentation is canceled by the facilitator.

*If you are a Black woman and the cost of this webinar is impacting your ability to attend because it is causing you a hardship, then please contact me. 

About Acquanda: Acquanda is a critical decolonial Black feminist anthropologist, Certified Lactation Educator, and a doula. She is a PhD Candidate of sociocultural anthropology and holds a masters in anthropology, bachelor’s in anthropology – and even her two-year Associate’s degree from community college focused on anthropology. Acquanda’s political and academic work highlights Black feminist theories as well as theories of race and gender relations, and highlights the holistic aspects of breastfeeding among Black and African Americans in the United States, with a focus on the state of Mississippi and a concentration in the Delta. She is a community organizer, founder and Head Negress in Charge of the Seattle/Black Feminist Library.

Which came first? When breastfeeding at 50% is ‘Really good!’

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Image taken in Manchester, England, inside of a shopping center.

[This post has been sitting in draft for about a month]

With the exception of the past hour since I’ve been here at JFK airport waiting for my connecting flight, I’ve been in (Ireland and) the United Kingdom for the past two months. I didn’t mean to stay there for so long — it sort of just happened. It was somewhat inadvertent because I meant to leave after just a few weeks, but ended up staying longer, and made my way around (Southern) Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. This wasn’t my first time in Europe: I was there earlier in the year. But this time I was in different locations, stayed much longer and was also fortunate because I wasn’t stationary: I moved around quite a bit, visiting various cities in each country and was able to experience various parts of each place, so I got a decent overview.

I also didn’t mean to look at breastfeeding while I was there but of course since my life revolves around infant feeding it was pretty inevitable. What stood out to me the most was how much breastfeeding I didn’t see — but I was duped about all of this at first. Just a couple of weeks into my trip I was in London and attended a weekend-long festival that celebrated African culture. There, I saw a couple of women nursing their infants, fully exposed. I was thinking this was my inauguration into the culture of breastfeeding and that it would only be a matter of time before I would see the slew of women doing the same. That there was a large culture of openness with regards to the body and women who nurse babies, and I’d see exposed breasts with babies attached as far as the eye could see — but I soon learned that that wasn’t the case and that the narratives from African Utopia — the event — was extremely rare. In fact, I hardly saw anyone nursing in any of the countries I visited. Women I saw with infants had bottles in hand, or nearby. And the score of Black women I saw nursing: 1.

I think it’s important to note that even though I visit locations and want to experience them in their vastness, I most often intentionally place myself in Black spaces. Still, I saw just one woman with a baby at her breast. This happened at a different event celebrating African culture and, at first, a male figure was feeding what appeared to be a 3-4 month old, a bottle. Shortly after a woman joined this duo and not too long later, gave the baby the breast.

While in Ireland I did see some semblance of breastfeeding support. Below are two images I took — I think it was at the Dublin airport, but I can’t really remember.

‘Seomra cothaithe linbh agus sin amhain’ Baby Feeding Room Only

Door with international breastfeeding symbol

But while I was in Great Britain I didn’t see anything at all that reflected a culture of breastfeeding — the only other woman I saw besides the woman at the African event was at a coffee shop, and I learned about another lady’s experience during a conversation with her while I was at a store trying to mail a package.

At the end of my trip and during my last stop which was in Wales I met a lady on a bus and she and I got into conversation about breastfeeding and — who strangely enough — I found out was once upon a time a breastfeeding advocate who taught classes on the art of breastfeeding in public. When she found out about the work I do in Black breastfeeding and after I mentioned my ‘only about half of us initiate this,’ narrative she mentioned that 50% breastfeeding rate is ‘really good!’ This shocked me! Not only because I could not imagine ever thinking that if only 1 in 2 women breastfed their children then that would be cause to celebrate because it means that that’s a significant number, but also because I really had different expectations of Europe. I don’t mean to blanket the place because I was only in the United Kingdom, but I really thought that Europe was very progressive and open-minded in terms of all areas when it came to — health, infant-feeding and these things overall — that they have it so much more together than we do in the US — but that apparently is just not the case — at least when it comes to a woman feeding her baby from her body. The woman on the bus told me that ladies in Britain just don’t breastfeed.

I didn’t really get into reasons why because the bus was driving through the Brecon National Park and the views were stunning. So, there wasn’t much room for conversation at that point, in my mind. But it really raised my antenna about it and I began to wonder more about this lack of breastfeeding culture and why this exists. I wondered about the origins and where the influence came from, if anywhere? The British colonized — the world — practically — and with it, instituted a number of cultural ideas that have impacted many locations, for generations and it makes me wonder if the influence on breastfeeding came before or after. I wondered which came first. I don’t have any answers now, but it has been on my mind since.

I took the image above, two icons, one of an infant and the other of a bottle, in Manchester, England at a shopping center. Strangely enough it was located in the food courts, and near the toilets (bathrooms) — it is nearest the female location and sends the message to women that ‘this is where you go to feed your baby its bottle’. I was pretty shocked to see this and thought ‘Really, Manchester?!’ But after I thought about it some more it made sense.

What do you know about breastfeeding in the United Kingdom or in Europe overall?

Black Breastfeeding in the Mississippi Delta

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Back in March I took my general exams for graduate school and officially became a PhD Candidate!

Make no mistake. I’ve still got (probably between 3 and 5 more) years to go before anyone confers me as Dr., but I ‘m done with all the requirements that would have kept me physically on campus and am just focusing on the dissertation — which for anthropology, requires gong to and doing extensive research in the field.

Tomorrow I’ll be giving my colloquium for my long-term ethnographic research. This presentation will highlight what my research is overall — the topic, why I chose this research site, potential challenges, methods, etc. I’ll be talking all about Mississippi and Black breastfeeding –mostly! I’m posting this here because if you’re in the area you should come by and see it. I’ll be talking for about 45-ish of what will be about 90 minutes total, so there’ll be plenty of time for discussion and I could definitely use some insight on strategies to be as effective as I can be while I’m in (and outside of) the south. I’m not going to the field right now, but this presentation is a requirement — the next step after exams. I’m also thinking of trying to live stream or maybe record it and post it here later.

Abstract text:
For the past 400 years, Breastfeeding among Afro-descendant women in the United States –mainly those of us who are often referred to as African American, has been a topic of explicit attention. These highlights encompass areas such as care and community autonomy among Black women, systematic control over reproduction, employment and agency within women’s circles, to the shift in today’s cultural climate where there is a severe disjuncture in this tradition, where roughly only one-half of Black women initiate breastfeeding. Of these, many mother-infant dyads have duration periods lasting only days or weeks, rather than months or years, as many global traditions support. In Mississippi, USA, these numbers are drastically lower, which is significant in creating and maintaining compromises in health, environment, spiritual connections, and community agency.

Using frameworks of Black feminist anthropology, indigenous feminism, ‘Place,’ and Divine guidance, this work concentrates in the Mississippi Delta, USA, in order to uncover the mechanisms that contribute to this disjuncture, while simultaneously working to help transform Black breastfeeding culture.

Measuring Black breastfeeding with a white stick?: Why I’m intentional in leaving white women out!

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I figured out what about Black breastfeeding, has been bugging me for so long. Well I recognized this before, but now it’s to the point where it actually — more than just ‘bugs’ me — it’s troublesome and makes me ill. It’s the consistent way Black women are ranked against white women when it comes to our breastfeeding rates.

There’s a number of things I could write non-stop about why this is so problematic –aside from the obvious that it’s senseless because we don’t have the same history. And it continues to place white women as the highest point of all things desirable, and the shining light that we all aspire to move towards, and that’s ridiculous, at least.

Just the other day I went digging around for some concrete examples, in order to explain my point. I didn’t have to go far — they were just there waiting for me. In a google search bar, I typed in ‘african american breastfeeding,’ and a few of the results are below — each one is from a different article, the title in bold and — almost always at the very beginning of the article the author felt the need to impart on readers how Black women fare against white women. These are a few of the top hits in that search:

Study Suggests Reason Why Black Mothers Breastfeed Less Than White Moms

‘When it comes to breastfeeding, a persistent racial disparity exists: Black mothers have lower breastfeeding rates than white mothers.’

Who, What, Why: Why do African-American women breastfeed less?
‘According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent figures, only 62% of black babies born in the US in 2010 started breastfeeding, compared to 79% of white babies. After six months, only 36% still breastfed, compared to 52% of white babies.’

Why Breastfeeding Rates Among Black Mothers Lag Far Behind And The People Trying To Change It

‘Though black mothers showed significant gains in breastfeeding within less than ten years, lactation advocates say there’s much work left to be done in shedding light on recent improvements, debunking misconceptions, and combating institutional forces that preclude women of color from bonding naturally with their babies. As of 2013, black mothers lag behind their white and Hispanic counterparts in the practice by at least 20 percentage points.’

African American Women and the Stigma Associated with Breastfeeding

‘A persistent discrepancy exists between African American mothers and mothers of other races who breastfeed. African American mothers have been lagging behind their white counterparts for years when it comes to breastfeeding.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the initiation rate of breastfeeding among African Americans is 16% less than whites.’

Breastfeeding rates for black US women increase, but lag overall: Continuing disparity raises concerns
‘According to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breastfeeding rates improved nationwide in 2000-2008, and some of the greatest improvement was among black women. However, only about 59 percent of black mothers breastfed in 2008, compared to 80 percent of Hispanic mothers and about 75 percent of white mothers.’

I could copy and paste these all day long. There’s plenty more examples to be found where these came from, in the very first links on google and even deeper into the search. They ranged from national articles, to journals and personal blogs, and keep in mind my cursory search never mentioned anything at all about white women. I didn’t look for Black breastfeeding vs. white breastfeeding.

Whiteness is valued in this country and placed on a pedestal — the results of hundreds of years of white people themselves forcefully requiring everyone to measure up against their self-imposed social, political, and biological yardsticks. And as sad as it may be, the reality is that these types of things clearly give the sentiments that we aim to be like white women. It seems so badly ingrained, that we don’t need them to do the work in continuing to unfairly pinpoint whiteness as the standard — we’ve got it under control.

I get that folks want to shine a light on disjuncture, in order to show how, because whiteness has worked to dominate and is revered in society, there are consequences that manifest and — here’s the evidence — look at us vs look at them. Look at how ‘well’ they’re doing and look at us. I get it. I truly do get it and I understand — I overstand — what folks are attempting to do. And I don’t disagree that there are, in some very specific instances, places for this type of statistical data — perhaps a particular study that focused on a multicultural group of women that will highlight all of them, or so. But I find myself ill at the frequency and the consistency that it takes place. To me it’s akin to a kid peering through the window of a candy store, just yearning. And I’m not sure why either, because truth be told white women don’t even have the highest breastfeeding rates in this country, so it becomes even more telling — not to mention, egregious — that their stories continue to be exalted. However well intentioned folks are to shine a light on the need to increase Black breastfeeding rates, it’s a distortion of reality that has consequences.

We all know that Black breastfeeding is much more dynamic and robust. It is much greater than how we stack up against white women. It’s been a hard road for us in all facets of reproduction, and this is nothing I have ever denied and would be crazy to think otherwise. Our story is like no other. And this is why, in my opinion, it remains that much more necessary to change our outlook in this area. I personally do not aspire to be a white woman. And there is no part of me that believes that continuing to center their stories will strengthen our struggle. I also do not believe that power and transformation cannot be extracted by recognizing and changing these areas, even when highlighting this difficult path. Changes in language on who we highlight as a start, means a change in the way we view our experiences and will require an expanded framework for captivating the rich (including the complicated) history of Black breastfeeding and the other facets that are connected to it. It requires being holistic, and moving away from simply focusing on biology (breastfeeding is much more than a baby connected to a breast). But instead it commands an different type of attention and reverence to this facet of reproduction that has been very powerful in Africa, in the way Black midwives tended to women, and can highlight the spiritual components that are usually never discussed, causing a shift in thinking on ways to transform, working to return this power to our communities.

I have some ways I’ve worked to ensure I don’t measure Black women against their so-called ‘white counterparts’. It starts with being intentional in my language in making sure I, as best as I can, discuss the multi-faceted aspects — even with brevity — Black women have a rich tradition in breastfeeding that has many layers of complexities. It has been radically disrupted because of various events in history, involving — perhaps — slavery, and the introduction of infant formula. So few of us are now involved in this tradition like we once were. [Yes, it’s alright to go into details on whiteness, sexism, etc.], then perhaps another adage could be: It seems like everyday more and more of us are recognizing this and are working harder on finding ways to truly get Black people in our community to return to this really critical aspect that honors our legacy and saves our lives. I don’t think it’s idealistic or that it negates components of history that contributes to this story on why the conversation even exists. It doesn’t let white people off the hook: there’s plenty of room for elaboration. I think it, at least, is a start that focuses on us and helps to move us away from the trauma that is whiteness that has been a part of our narratives for just too long.

Is ‘Right Now’ just too soon to truly change breastfeeding culture?

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Over the past while I’ve really been thinking about what it means to truly change breastfeeding culture. More specifically, I’ve had thoughts on what it mean that so many promotions want changes in breastfeeding culture to usually happen right away. I often times come across, as well as, hear about statistics on who’s getting a baby to the breast and who is supposedly lagging behind and, even though I haven’t given as much thought to this area at this point I have had some things that sort of stick with me, in terms of wondering if the current breastfeeding ‘hype’ is truly a way that Black people can forge real, long-term changes.

When I say breastfeeding ‘hype’ what I mean by this is that, just like other things tend to flow in a general direction in certain time frames —  popular ideas of the day — it seems like there’s a trend in natural birth and breastfeeding. Of course I don’t think there’s anything wrong with natural birth and breastfeeding. The opposite is true, but I tend to look a little more in-depth at some things.

A few years back, I was at a fundraiser luncheon for one of the reproduction organizations here in Seattle. I can’t remember which one it was, but what I do recall is that the keynote speaker, a Black male, mentioned during his speech that I can only paraphrase here — is that in his day babies were born at home. He mentioned that it wasn’t because it was the trendy or popular thing to do at that time, like it seems to be today as he stated, but that it happened because that’s just the way it was. Not so long after that I remember going to see political figure, Angela Davis, when she was in town around here. During the Q & A I asked her a question about activists disconnecting for a moment due to burnout and also about frustrations from apathetic society and not seeing the changes that we want — and on political activism in general. I remember her answering and saying that the things we want — the changes that we seek — will not happen tomorrow. But we should act as if they were possible, and work with future generations in mind. Even though my question then did not necessarily fall within the boundaries of what my sentiments are now — one was about apathetic society the other was about about following a popular trend, it did stick with me about working with future generations. This, of course highlights that there is a lot of work to do that is difficult. It requires a deeper understanding to effect change on a larger, more concrete level.

In the early 2000s when I was somewhere in my almost late 20s or — maybe in my late 20s — I actually think I had just turned 27, I was in therapy. One of the biggest areas of emotional distress for me was not being able to deal with the fact that my mother had recently died. It was something we just were not expecting. Along with being subjected to all of the traumatic and dramatic events surrounding it, my marriage then was ripped apart at the seams at the same time my mom died — and this was all just the beginning. I actually saw a few different therapists, but one in particular — one day she and I were in a session. Here — again — I don’t remember exactly what I had discussed with her in that instance that had to do with my overall reasons for seeing her, but I do remember specifically that time in particular her telling me that true happiness comes from within. That it’s not about someone constantly providing you with compliments and effusive praise, telling you how great and beautiful you are and how wonderful they think you are [not that folks can’t be held in this regard by others. But really these are feel-good moments that last only until the ‘kudos’ stop rolling in]. But it is internal. Her statement may sound like it is mundane to some folks. And I know that there are some others who can relate when I say that for me — back then — I did not understand what she meant. I heard the words that she spoke, of course — I was sitting just feet across from her. But I didn’t have the overall capacity at that time to place what she said within a larger index of inner well-being. I could say that maybe it was because I was just young and naive. Or, I could also say that many — if not — most, and probably even most all of us have been conditioned to believe that our validation comes from external sources — and we’ve gone with the overarching narrative. This therapist ended up moving away so I didn’t continue my sessions with her. And maybe this is the reason that it wasn’t until some time later — probably about 5 years — when I had what I believe to be a spiritual revelation about some things that were about to change in my life for the better, is when I found out exactly what this meant and is when I learned how to get to the root of many of the things that plagued me. It was a process. And it took time. It wasn’t anything anyone else could offer me: I had to go deep within myself to examine those areas. I could receive guidance on how this could be accomplished, and also some encouragement which I did then and I still reference. But outside sources could not provide what I could provide for myself.

What I see a lot of today, at least I believe it is so, is following trends in breastfeeding and also wanting things to happen right away, and looking to the wrong sources — just like in my examples above. I’m not saying that breastfeeding advocacy and promotion shouldn’t happen and we should let women huff it out on their own, or not look to get breastfeeding relationships started now. That’s egregious. I’m also not saying there aren’t structural forces that also play a significant role in who’s breastfeeding and who isn’t, and why we’re even having this conversation to begin with. We know this. But what I do believe is not only that the overall social climate we see today mimics the way other dominant perspectives in different eras have been seen and performed — using Black women as wet nurses was once the trend, nursing on a fixed schedule was once the dominant ideology. And, although there are various efforts to move away from infant formula it is still the norm in many cases. Now that overarching sentiments tells us through so-called ‘scientific evidence’ that we need to breastfeed our children, everyone moves in that direction. When I have seen and have read statistics on breastfeeding and hear what entities such as the World Health Organization wants, or what UNICEF is saying and even how ‘XYZ’ organization is making suggestions and telling folks how we should do what, it seems like a vast majority of people move along that direction. It’s almost akin to the idea of celebrity promotion within breastfeeding. Aside from the problems of giving in to different power sources that I believe only continue to dominate people, what will arise if — and perhaps — when — the pendulum swings in a different direction (i.e. when society once again says we shouldn’t breastfeed?). It’s also a one-sided way of promoting.

I notice that for me I don’t necessarily work that way. I’ve noticed that I don’t necessarily work to change breastfeeding rates here and now. Of course I’m happy to see anyone breastfeeding their child, and the work that I do inevitably moves in that direction. But in my mind getting a baby to a breast just isn’t enough.

I believe that breastfeeding is a superficial act in the grand scheme of things. Yes, it’s biological and is extremely important and powerful. But I believe that it is simply a manifestation of a larger set of social, and cultural dynamics that could perhaps be examined in a new light, to get to the greater areas of significance. It requires a different approach for us and for our communities and extends beyond telling someone how great breastfeeding is for overall society and why they should be doing it. There are more critical approaches in breastfeeding promotion that need to be examined that will allow us to uproot these areas that have plagued Black breastfeeding and offer an overall level of well-being that will not only transform our breastfeeding circumstances but will aid in truly healing our communities. In order to get to this place it requires moving far beyond what mainstream bodies of knowledge can offer us. We must also recognize that the change is a process that won’t happen tomorrow, but that we need to take ourselves (our breastfeeding activists) where others just can’t take us –  within our communities and looking at internal, external, in the past as well as to the future. Things are different for Black women. We have a different story and it requires a different, more dynamic set of tools to work with.

I think that a starting point would be a good brainstorm in spaces that center Black breastfeeding. This will allow those who are interested in working these critical angles to begin to parse out different levels of understanding and offer different insights on ways that can traverse the superficial aspects in breastfeeding and reach beyond topical layers that too often only involve milk. I personally don’t think that actual, lasting and true positive transformation in Black breastfeeding culture can happen without recognizing this.

Mississippi: Why breastfeeding? Why Me?

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This image was taken at the More Sharing African American Midwife Stories at the Smith-Robertson Museum in Jackson, MS on Saturday, December 17. The group of people in this picture formed after the question from the audience ‘How many of us in here were caught by a midwife?’ I can’t think of another location where this many people in the same room would respond to such a question. This picture is on a public webpage, so I did not feel I needed each individual’s permission to post. Source: https://www.facebook.com/SmithRobertsonMuseum/photos/a.1537857356511696.1073741830.1537542159876549/1660300970934000/?type=3&theater

I published this original post just the other day. Since then I’ve had quite a few more thoughts to add, which is why I just decided to update with a brand new (re)post.

I have various things to consider when I share information on this blog. I have to consider what I share and when, some of it starts with my own history and of the people in the state. If I talk about something on a public platform regardless of what it is how will I make the people look? I also have got take into consideration the legacy of anthropology that exploited people by going to places to gather information, only use residents and participants as ‘material’ to gather data and afterward publishing the work while completely destroying communities in the process. At the same time I have to be explicit about what I’m doing, for some of the same reasons — to highlight these legacies and to end them. And even beyond this it’s just as important to me to share challenges I face as much as it is to share things that are hopeful. One of these is that more and more I have found myself wondering why I’m researching breastfeeding and doing so in Mississippi.

Just the same as I didn’t ‘pick’ Black breastfeeding as a site of inquiry, I didn’t pick Mississippi as a research location. It never would have dawned on me that one day I’d be so outspoken about this facet of reproduction, then enrolled in graduate work researching in these areas of study. The lactation call happened one day while I was alone at a friend’s house. After this I began thinking about breastfeeding day and night over a period of time, wondering why it was always on my mind. At that time I had no idea about the complicated history when it came to Black women and the subject. Mississippi came to me a few years ago after I started graduate school and was steeped deep in work and finding information when I was completing a proposal while applying for funding, is when this seed was planted and began to germinate. It was not anything I planned or explicitly sought out. It just so happened to jibe with my interests because it just so happened that Mississippi has the lowest breastfeeding rates of any other state. It just so happens that it has a large Black population, and that it is considered the most racist state in the union. It also just so happened that Black breastfeeding fits perfectly in the space of oppression and resistance that many who are from the state worked within. And, it just so happened that I would be working in my own community where I have a connection the the people, the land and the history which, by an exponential number of accounts, is a huge freaking deal! I was born in Mississippi. And all of my siblings, as I’ve mentioned before with the exception of my little sister who came after my family relocated to Southern California, were born in the Delta.

Despite not ever having imagined myself in this work I have grown to appreciate and really love concentrating on Black breastfeeding. I have a lengthy list of politics and things that are critically important to me and I’ve always thought that this facet of reproduction allows me to encompasses all of them — many things I care about are centered at this site. But when I was in the south just this past summer, after thinking about all of the issues that Black people face — hearing about the trauma, being concerned for my own safety at certain times while there, the state-sanctioned violence and murder of Black people in this country, health issues of many, and a long list of others that we face daily I have been wondering why exactly breastfeeding has made it to the top. I know that there is a history that is involved with breastfeeding among Black people. It’s not simply about biology or a step-by-step process of mechanics — i.e. put baby on breast, but there is over 400 years of history when it comes to Black women and Black people that must be taken into consideration. It is not possible to truly understand Black breastfeeding without understanding this history.

I’ll also admit that lately I’ve felt really insecure about the fact that I have never birthed a child or breastfed — I’ve never even been pregnant. At the start of this ‘journey’ I felt these insecurities, but they faded and I was pretty confident. Part of my mantra and even the foundation of my work is that we as advocates and activists, need to look past ‘protagonists’ and everyone needs to help out, but I’ve been feeling like maybe I needed those practical life experiences in order to understand more about the culture of breastfeeding.

When I spoke at the Mississippi Black midwives event about a week and a half ago in Jackson, I seemed to be the only one in the room who knew or who agreed that Black midwives were systematically dismantled by the state. My presentation talked about ‘The Influence of African American Midwives on Breastfeeding,’ and during it I mentioned that the midwife played a significant role in honoring and supporting all aspects of birth, including making sure a woman had provisions for herself and her baby and that her body produced proper milk. I talked about the history of Black midwives being torn apart by the state and talked about how this impeded breastfeeding for Black folks. Immediately after I left the podium, one of the facilitators reiterated something I said in my presentation but posed it in a question: ‘Dismantled?’ Essentially she was asking — can we really use the word dismantled? She also said that many women want to birth at home these days, and what I inferred from the way she said it is that she meant that that is not a good option since medical officials are vital to a healthy outcome for a mother and her baby. A couple of people from the audience spoke up — including an older certified nurse midwife — and said they did not think midwives were dismantled but that it was just a time in history for them to learn more modern and contemporary healthcare practices (if you were to read African American Midwives in the South by Gertrude Fraser, she also shares midwives’ sentiments that some of them believed it was ‘just time’ to catch up with modern medicine). During this discussion I mentioned about the rise of the current healthcare system as we know it and where Black midwives were positioned within it. I also mentioned that if we were to go to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History it will allow us to see how the state intervened and midwives were castigated — called superstitious, illiterate, a ‘necessary evil’ until more, ‘appropriate’ — aka — white male physicians can be trained. What I liked about that moment it that with all of our input it really started a conversation among all of the attendees and we all really honored Black midwives throughout history as well as got us talking about the modern healthcare system and the roots. We talked more on Black midwives and how they worked in various ways for us and about their significance in caring for all Black people. What I find a little unusual is that I’m still not sure what it means to hold the perspective that midwives were dismantled – and that it happened right beneath our feet, and seemed to be the only one in the room with this point of view. If there was anyone else in attendance who shared these same ideas they did not come forward with their thoughts.

With the recent election of Donald Trump, I find myself very concerned for the residents. I find I am often thinking about social security, healthcare, an increasing amount of violence — against women — as it always goes — that women face the brunt of it when there is trauma to the economy, especially in Mississippi because of its notable and distinct history. How will this impact efforts to transform breastfeeding narratives and reproduction overall?

Ah well. I feel like I’ve just been rambling, going in so many different directions.

In the video below, hopefully I come across more clearly. If I had to select a point I’m trying to make that I don’t state explicitly it’s that I’m looking for an answer — or — for answers — to what I’m searching for or trying to accomplish when it comes to the intersections of Blackness, womanhood, the deep south, the Spirit and many others. While I was in the Delta this past summer, I realized this work is so much deeper, spiritual, critical than I have thought. At this point, this is all I know. Many people and organizations have clearly defined goals: to change or institute a particular law or policy, to get a certain number of women to learn about breastfeeding, to organize ‘so and so’ community members who will talk to particular groups of people about the benefits of lactation, birth, or any other topic. They know more immediately what their resolutions are. I have no such structure. I do not have a map with an ‘X’ nor a key that will unlock my queries. This is part of the reason I recognized why I find myself wondering why I was drawn here.

More Sharing African American #Midwife Stories, Part 2 in Jackson, MS

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More Sharing African American Midwife Stories Image source: https://www.facebook.com/scottfordhouse/photos/gm.1107982522589759/1183024978429016/?type=3&theater

More Sharing African American Midwife Stories
Image source: https://www.facebook.com/scottfordhouse/photos/gm.1107982522589759/1183024978429016/?type=3&theater

I’ll be in Jackson, Mississippi next month giving a presentation during the More Sharing African American Midwife Stories. This is a four-part symposium that are at the fore of efforts of the organization to raise funds to restore the Scott-Ford houses in the city that will interpret the history of midwives in Mississippi. A very brief story on these houses is that a mother and daughter lived next door to each other. The mother, Mary Green Scott, was previously enslaved and had a daughter, Virginia Ford who was a midwife and these houses belonged to them. After nearly being demolished and now boarded up for the past number of years they are working to restore both of these and turn them into historical landmarks. The Scott-Ford project is a pretty radical one and my mind is kind of blown that I get to have a hand in supporting.

In some ways it might seem that I simply stumbled into this back in September while I was at a public library in Miss and happened upon it — but I know I was guided. I found out about it literally just hours before the first presentations during the first part of this series which, of course, I attended and was in awe at the information. The speakers gave great insight on the legacy of Black midwives, how they assisted women during birth, postpartum and the other ways they were prominent in the community — including efforts to save some formal midwife programs. My presentation is called The Influence of African American Midwives on Breastfeeding — so, if you’re nearby come through.

I almost backed all the way out of traveling to the deep south after this election. Mississippi has been hailed as the most racist state in the country with real consequences for some of us and for a second I thought that being there with my numerous intersecting identities wouldn’t be the best thing at the moment — that I might wait until the next round of presentations maybe. But I recognized that each time I visit the South I feel a power that I don’t from any other place I go to. It is possible that it’s all in my head because I’m happy to be there and around the people, food, history — but it’s unlikely just an illusion. I recognize this power that I admire didn’t fall from the sky. That this stems from a process of strategy and resistance by the people due to the legacy of social injustice at the hands of the state. I’m not romanticizing this. But for me what I think it means is that this work is part of that continued legacy — of being strategic, representing and resisting, and I refuse to cower. This is a path toward liberation.

If you want more info you can visit the Scott-Ford house website and, if you’re able to, make a donation toward this project or become involved in some way. This, as the committee stated, is the only location in the country that is working to interpret the history of Black midwives — and that’s a huge deal.

Scott-Ford House url: http://www.scottfordhouse.com/
Here’ s the link to their facebook url: https://www.facebook.com/scottfordhouse/

Some thoughts: On the south, doing (Black) ethnography, and dismantling the IBLCE

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Delta Cotton Field.

MS Delta Cotton Field

I am back from summer. I had a tremendous time over the past couple of months and I enjoyed (nearly) every minute of it. It was hot and muggy and also beautiful and transformative. Something that stuck out in my mind is that it is almost surreal that I was, at one point, literally on the cusp of leaving my field of study because of the colonial influence of anthropology and its othering of non-white, non-western communities, and its contribution to racism and anti-Blackness. When all of this was going down — when I recognized anthropology’s roll in it, I resolved that I could no longer lend myself to hearing about white men and white women being in communities of Color to ‘learn’ — aka exploit — and objectify these communities, and I certainly would have no part in replicating their sordid and disgusting legacy. It’s almost as if the universe wanted me to stay in anthropology because I ended up doing so only as a result of finding other anthropologists who challenged this same legacy and worked hard then and now to transform the discipline and make it a tool for the people.

I’m far from finished with visiting the south. While I was in ‘the field’ (the physical research site that we anthropologists refer to), acknowledging all of this was very important to me — and the significance that I am working in my own community cannot be emphasized enough. Conducting ethnography in our own community was strictly off-limits and was said to be an area where we couldn’t produce substantive work. Being too close to our people clouded our ability to be ‘objective’. But I have been really inspired by other anthropologists who have conducted ethnography in their own communities and know that not only is it possible, but necessary. And to me it is a process of reclaiming our own stories and writing about our own lives. So, I guess I can say I learned a lot and am really inspired. I’ll be talking more about that later.

But for now, I was out recently and while in conversation was asked if I think the IBLCE should be dismantled. Well, for anyone who knows me it shouldn’t be surprising to know that my answer then, now and more than likely forever will be an unwavering yes!

I have stated various times before that I believe the IBLCE is doing much more harm than good. While it’s true that I believe being able to latch a baby to a breast, diagnose symptoms, treat mastitis etc. are all important and nothing I’m denying. But I believe all of these things pale in comparison to the damage this facet of so-called ‘care’ is causing at a systemic level: my thoughts on this have not changed. I posted my article — my Research Competency paper — Uncovering Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy in Professional Breastfeeding Services that is part of my overall community activism and dissertation research on this blog 1. because it’s important to me to discuss my research in some aspects at this point, but also because I hope(d) it would be taken as a sense of urgency that things are not going to get any better when it comes to believing that adding more services will cause a balance in breastfeeding justice and decrease in social discord. I believe the opposite is true. I’m not saying that everyone needs to agree with what I have to say — but we know there’s a history that cannot be denied. And this history has been one that has systematically disabled and disassembled very powerful forms of community autonomy and injected that autonomy with self-doubt, bureaucracy and neoliberalism. Now, only the middle and upper-class/white/elite/privileged/male/formally educated folks form the west are the only ones who ‘understand’ what is best for everyone, how breastfeeding should be practiced and participated, who should be practicing and participating, who has the knowledge and who doesn’t, how we view our bodies and a list of other — factors that ain’t gone get no bettah! I think at this point we can count it as classic: it happened to midwives and other healers, and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes solidified within the breastfeeding realm and devastates a global community. I don’t waver from this standpoint.

Someone also asked me what I think should be done about it all. Is it enough to just stop promoting institutionalization, IBCLSs and the IBLCE? I think that’s a critical question. But I think more importantly it requires us as a community to ask what we, who are interested in more breastfeeding justice, do? What are your thoughts?

[P.S.] I haven’t hosted a webinar in over 2 years, but I am doing so next week!   Decolonizing Breastfeeding in Communities of Color is happening on Friday, October 21, and there are only a few chances left to register, so if you haven’t already then you should. If you have any questions, then just let me know. I’ll be talking just a bit about my thoughts on institutional breastfeeding here. If you have already registered, you will be receiving log-in information in your email inbox over the next day or 2, so please make sure you check (and check your spam to be on the safe side).

You can register with this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/decolonizing-breastfeeding-in-communities-of-color-a-webinar-tickets-27494302198

Just *how* did slavery impact Black women’s breastfeeding today?

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Image Source [of a Black woman nursing a white baby]: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/wet-nurse/

Image Source: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/wet-nurse/

A few years ago I wrote an article on here asking the question about the impact of slavery on the current breastfeeding rates for Black women. There were very different responses to it from each end of the spectrum. My thoughts stemmed from another article I read back then wondering the same thing and, at that time, I was on my quest to find the answer to this question. It all seemed that given the history of Black women in this country along with our current breastfeeding rates it is merit– and even likely — that forced wet nursing (which is one of the biggest stories surrounding why Black women aren’t always breastfeeding) was such a degrading experience that it landed at the top of the list of its negative impact on us.

On that original post one person said that the idea of slavery being responsible for the overall lack of Black breastfeeding in today’s culture was the ‘dumbest thing they’d read all week.’ Another mentioned the fact that there was a generation of Black women who breastfed after the Civil War which served as another signal that it didn’t have the sort impact many believe that would keep the baby and the breast from connecting right now. Yet there are others who say that from their vantage point being enslaved and also forced wet nursing absolutely caused ramifications and when Black women view breastfeeding with disdain today it can be traced to that legacy.

I am still on my quest to find more insight on this aspect, and have been thinking a lot about this lately. Even though I haven’t found anything definitive — and that likely that won’t happen anytime soon, I have found information on certain aspects. For example: I know that Black women were allowed to nurse their children in some instances if for no other reason than the fact that a slaver wanted to protect his ‘investment.’ In order to secure and increase his profits meant that his ‘property’ must have a certain level of health — so to speak. I also know that after the importation of African people was outlawed, for slavery to thrive meant that Black women were at the center of ‘reproducing’ the institution, and according to author Marie Jenkins Schwartz in Birthing A Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South, meant their biology in terms of birthing a child was even further scrutinized and controlled.

When I attended a symposium in Jackson, Mississippi a couple of weeks ago on the history of African American Midwives, the panel were talking about the importance of these women throughout history. At the end of it I asked the question about what exactly was happening with breastfeeding during slavery, and received an answer that set me on an even further quest to know more.

Today my focus is different. I absolutely believe there are consequences of slavery’s legacy. But now, instead of asking if it is responsible for causing Black women to lose either breastfeeding knowledge or desire, I am wanting to know just how it impacted us. The difference is that I am not looking for conclusive answers at this point, ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I know it happened — wet nursing, degradation, separation and more. I am looking for the ways it transformed or transitioned the ways we think about breastfeeding. Did we love it before but hate it afterward and still did it after the Civil War only begrudgingly? Or, is the opposite true? Was it something else? I hope this all makes sense. I don’t think the answer is black and white, but that there are various shades of grey that’ll probably keep me busy for a while, unless someone out there can weigh in. If you know something I don’t, leave a comment. And tell me what you know.

P.S. I am hosting a webinar in October on Decolonizing Breastfeeding in Communities of Color. It will be dynamic and powerful and I’ll add my contribution on ways we work to transform this important tradition and return power to the people. There’s still space available, and I’d like to get it filled, so if you haven’t done so already, sign up, and also help me spread the word. Click on the image to be taken to the registration page.

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Decolonizing Breastfeeding in Communities of Color: A Webinar

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It’s been a while since I’ve hosted a webinar, but I’m doing so on ‘Decolonizing Breastfeeding in Communities of Color’. It’s a 45 minute presentation with a good discussion to follow, that I think is crucial among breastfeeding advocates and activists. Even though it’s not happening until next month, there are very limited spaces — and I won’t be opening it up for others should it sell out. That way we can have an engaging discussion without being overcrowded and overwhelmed, so to those interested I’d recommend signing up right away. Below is the info with some FAQs. Let me know if you have any other questions.

REGISTER HERE: Decolonizing Breastfeeding in Communities of Color: A Webinar

Abstract:

In the past several years, there have been great efforts on the part of individuals, groups, organizations and government agencies to show the benefits of human breastmilk. Much of these endeavors stem from emerging empirical and scientific data that highlights the importance of human milk that calls for community action and activism to counter illness and disease that stem from a lack of breastfeeding. Local and national advocates place large and important emphases on these areas and frequently adhere to the mandates set forth by the overarching medical establishment. This has been the conversation over the past number of decades.

But what does it mean that much of the information we receive about breastfeeding comes from mainstream white, male and female-dominated health systems that has historically been built upon ‘othering’ those outside of these identities? In the age of IBCLCs, professional services and various emerging credentials that promote practical breastfeeding mechanics along with mother-infant bonding and other benefits, does it matter that much of this discourse originates from within the United States that does not always discuss the nuances of those outside mainstream avenues? 

In this webinar, we will take a look at this form of breastmilk promotion, and gauge how Communities of Color are impacted. We will highlight different ways we adhere to an overarching social structure of breastfeeding and also work together to learn and understand the challenges and benefits of using varied avenues and legacies from within and outside of our communities to support the breastfeeding tradition. 

Date: Friday, October 21, 2016

Time: 10:30 am -12:00 Pacific Time

About the speaker: Acquanda Stanford is a critical Black feminist anthropologist and Certified Lactation Educator. She is also a PhD student of Sociocultural Anthropology, researching breastfeeding among people of African descent in the US.

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