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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Uncovering Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy in Professional Breastfeeding Services: The Greater Complexities of IBCLCs

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Below is a paper that I just turned in and filed with my department. I had to submit a ‘research competency’ paper as part of the requirements for my graduate program for the MA (think thesis), and chose to extend the conversation I started about my views on IBCLCs, who I think are very problematic for several reasons as you may have already read and as you will further see. This is an introduction — a starting point. There is much more to this conversation that I will introduce.

[Also]: I am raising money to help with a research project focusing on Black breastfeeding in the South. I am returning to the ethnographic field (going to the physical site) from mid-August through the end of September 2016 — part of a much larger project toward breastfeeding advocacy and dissertation research, and need help with this endeavor. I would appreciate any support with it, which can be done by clicking the link to a crowdfunding page and donating towards it: Breastfeeding Research in MS, by using this url: http://bit.ly/28PuUor, or via paypal: lactationjourney (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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This article is under review with Nothing to Lose But Our Chains: Black Voices on Activism, Resistance and Love as well as Transforming Anthropology. Do not cite without permission.

Acquanda Y. Stanford

Uncovering Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy in Professional Breastfeeding Services: The Greater Complexities of IBCLCs

Black American feminist and cultural critic, bell hooks, coined the term imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy to highlight a non-prioritized system of domination that originates within the United States. Imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy, hooks argues, culminate, and work in unison with one other with the desire to ‘go out’ and dominate based upon a history of white rule, violence, and the subjugation of people and cultures and is what constitute the framework of this force. The United States with its reputation across all facets of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy has been used to fuel this scenario within the U.S. boundaries and abroad. Imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy manifests in various ways, and especially with new establishments that are seen to promote breastfeeding via professional services.

Prior to the emergence of this phenomenon of professional practices within more medicalized contexts, breastfeeding had been a tradition that has sustained the human race, with overarching dominant sentiments that wavered between disdain and acceptance. For Black women, breastfeeding harbors a form of community autonomy as well as a distinct injustice and a complex narrative. Forced wet nursing during the colonial period, Black women were made to use their milk to feed a slaver’s baby during chattel slavery and is at the root of this history. This was done in order to alleviate the physical and social discomfort of more affluent white women, and many believe that Black women were most often only able to provide their milk to their own children surreptitiously and sporadically. But breastfeeding was also a primary component of autonomy Black women had while working as midwives both before and after the Civil War. The midwife, who was a prominent figure in communities, worked to ensure a woman was cared for and that her body produced proper milk for her baby. After emancipation, Women of Color from the U.S. and elsewhere gained employment via wet nursing, yet when anti-immigrant sentiments surfaced and stigmatized these women, the belief that a woman’s personality could be transferred from her breastmilk to the child led to the castigation of this practice (Boswell-Penc, 2006), essentially becoming a segue toward the acceptance and even favoring of artificial infant formula which was a nascent yet burgeoning idea. Though the picture remains complex when it comes to understanding the legacy of Black and African American women and breastfeeding, what is known is that this has greatly impacted the breastfeeding rates for generations.

According to various reports, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women statistically rank lowest in all areas of breastfeeding. Racial and Ethnic Differences in Breastfeeding Initiation and Duration, a 2004-2008 National Immunization Survey, conducted by the CDC, highlighted these disjunctures, showing that in all stages of infant feeding from birth through 12 months, non-Hispanic Black women ranked lowest, with 54.4 percent breastfeeding at birth, 26.6 percent at six months, and just 11.7 percent at 12 months (MMWR). Lack of breastfeeding produces disastrous consequences. This gap means that in addition to a history of enslavement Black people in this country remained compromised and disproportionately impacted with maladies that an increase in breastfeeding can help thwart. Not only would more breastfeeding help counter physical ailments such as ear infections, gastrointestinal infections, upper respiratory infections, childhood diabetes, and help decrease Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by 50% (Milligan et al) among countless other positive outcomes, some believe that psychological damages stemming from a history of forced separation between Black women and their babies could be restored by the physical closeness breastfeeding requires. Other injustices could also be highlighted. For example, a Black feminist perspective looks at how Black women’s bodies have been castigated and maligned, and motherhood has been deemed inferior. Even though breastfeeding alone does not combat these stigmas, this and more could all be centered at this site, potentially creating a new narrative and frame of reference for Black women.

Today, we are in a period where providing milk from a woman’s body to her baby is seen as the healthiest way to nourish an infant. Breastfeeding has become highlighted in multiple settings, with women ‘returning’ to this natural tradition. But there are still gaps in Black communities. Blacks and others alike say that an increase in African American professional services, adding more figures with those who have formal knowledge specifically related to breastfeeding, would provide crucial groundwork for a greater understanding of their culture, and consultants who ‘look like us’ would be around potential breastfeeders and produce positive outcomes, since African American women would be more receptive among those who they could relate to. Bolstering breastfeeding promotion are individual advocates as well as Non-Governmental Organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and various hospitals who implement ways to encourage more breastfeeding education with the hopes that women will adopt this tradition. In 1991, for example, both the WHO and UNICEF launched the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, with an effort to ‘improve practices that protect, promote, and support breastfeeding (who.int). A baby-friendly hospital is recognized by 10 steps that are part of the guidelines instituted by the WHO and UNICEF, and require hospitals to create an environment where breastfeeding becomes the primary method of feeding a newborn. This is done by training staff members, encouraging breastfeeding on demand – rather than nursing on a fixed schedule, discussing breastfeeding with pregnant women, and ‘rooming-in’ – keeping a baby in the same room as mother after delivery rather than moving it to a nursery (babyfriendlyusa.org). These, along with other steps will help ensure breastfeeding becomes part of the cultural norm. Baby-friendly hospitals are one facet of a larger endeavor to promote breastfeeding. In the past three decades additional efforts have been made to divert attention from manufactured infant formula and find ways to impart knowledge on individuals in order to promote more breastfeeding. Most notably this has been done with the eruption of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs).

Towards the latter part of the 20th century, increasing awareness and so-called scientific data highlighting the various health benefits of human milk as opposed to artificial infant formula, which was greatly promoted instead of breastfeeding at the time, is what led to this newfound establishment (ibcle.org). To heighten this interest and encourage breastfeeding among pregnant women and those who recently birthed, medical professionals began working with local advocates with an effort to increase the population’s understanding of human milk as well as a mother’s desire to breastfeed and to offer hands-on assistance (iblce.org). In 1985 the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) geared specifically toward breastfeeding education and promotion formalized and IBCLCs became the product of this initiative. A rigorous set of criteria, including enrolling in formal education classes in anatomy and physiology, nutrition, biology, cultural sensitivity and others, as well as taking lactation-specific courses and apprenticing for approximately one year to gain hands on experience is required. Once these requisites are completed the candidate then sits for a difficult and costly exam that is administered only one day per year around the world. Upon acquiring a favorable score, the individual is allowed to place ‘IBCLC’ behind his or her name for a certification that is recognized internationally, for period of five years. IBCLCs have been deemed the ‘Gold Standard’ in clinical breastfeeding support and lactation management. They have been viewed as adding a level of empowerment for women who make up the greatest majority of this enterprise, allowing them to participate socially and economically within the community. Their ability to effectively apply learned skills in latching a baby to a breast, offer information about infant nutrition, diagnose and treat women for ailments such as mastitis, engorgement, and other areas concerning breast health, including assisting women in reaching their breastfeeding goals is what has relegated these clinicians to the top of the lactation hierarchy. Mothers in large numbers, as well as some fathers and other advocates often rave of the help they have received. Many state that without this assistance initiating and sustaining breastfeeding would have been more complicated, if not entirely unsuccessful and this has been the overarching sentiment, as more and more breastfeeding professional services are on the rise. Worldwide there are more than 28,000 IBCLCs (IBLCE.org) and new certifications mean this number increases each year. The vast majority – over 50 percent – are located in the United States (IBLCE.org) with a notable amount in Australia and Canada. Lactation Consultants are employed in various sectors, and apply their specialized breastfeeding knowledge to their current work as registered nurses, dieticians, and obstetricians, while others work in government offices, non-profit organizations and private sectors, charging between $90.00 and $150.00 per consultation visit. In my own participation in breastfeeding advocacy I wanted to join the ranks of IBCLC. Once I learned of the severe disjuncture in Black breastfeeding, my desire to help curb the staggering amount of inequities caused by a lack of breastfeeding was at the forefront of this desire. I believed this avenue would not only provide an opportunity to have a literal hand in curbing social and health-related ills associated with the lack of breastfeeding, but I was also certain that since I grew up in an environment where breastfeeding was the cultural norm I would be able to recruit other people of African descent into this field, since the numbers of Black IBCLCs are few.

Other desires for more representation among groups of Color also brought along criticisms of the IBLCE and the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA). The grievance by Communities of Color has been that the criteria involved in becoming certified are unfair. They argue that the ways to secure this title are the for privileged and elite, which translates to the white middle-class woman, since money and access are needed to work toward this endeavor, and Women of Color are impacted by greater barriers and social circumstances that interfere with these. Black lactation advocates have criticized the certifying entity, stating that the requirements are too stringent: access to education, work, and the ability to obtain clinical apprentice opportunities are much more complicated for them, moreso, than others who do not face the consequences of racial and gendered marginalization. Black women are disproportionately impacted by a social environment that interferes with who is even in our homes and affords us the ability to obtain these credentials. Historically, Black women have been placed in predicaments where they have been the head of households, having to work and be away from family and have had greater difficulty accessing privileged endeavors such as volunteering for months without pay. Additionally, the predominantly white staff that makes up the administrative realm causes division in formal practices: these skewed perspectives influence how information appears on tests and what is relayed to clients. Many people who advocate for great diversity among IBCLCs suggest that increasing the numbers within this sector would allow more opportunity for groups to participate: more input and voices from these margins would assist with erasing health injustice. In response, there have been recent efforts on the part of the IBLCE and ILCA to examine their set of criteria, in order to create what they believe to be more equity within the institution. One way has been a formal summit to draw attention to these discrepancies. In August 2014, in Arizona, United States, the IBLCE and ILCA convened an ‘equity’ summit, asking for those who feel marginalized to highlight this and ways to restructure the curriculum. Various individuals came together to highlight ‘real-life experiences, obstacles, and challenges of underreprepresented people in the U.S. and across the globe’ (ILCA.org). In order to offer an opportunity toward certification for these communities, the IBLCE changed its criteria, reducing mandatory apprentice hours, and created different avenues toward reaching the education goals.

But breastfeeding professionalism is too often romanticized. It is too often seen as a facet of care, nurturing and community empowerment, rather than a site to trace domination and a U.S. attempt to expand the bounds of its desire for a global empire. At first glance professionals appear to work toward a positive outcome for promoting the breastfeeding tradition. Looking deeper into history, however, it becomes apparent that this newly coveted terrain in medicalization not only causes trauma at the local level by removing knowledge from the people, but is exceptionally problematic within and between various layers. This paper examines the infiltration of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy as it manifests with the rise of breastfeeding professionals. It looks specifically at the IBLCE and the proliferation of IBCLCs. I will examine how, on the surface this newfound establishment may reflect an avenue toward strengthening a bond between mother and child, helping women reach their breastfeeding goals and creating a culture of acceptance on all levels of human lactation. Layers beneath this veneer, however, expose ‘blind spots’ that harbor a lengthy legacy of domination that remains a part of all facets. IBCLCs appear to work at countering the disruption of the physiological function caused by the interference of infant formula milk, but they only cause an increase in social discord on a local and global context. This means that not only does the IBLCE produce more inequity within this profession, but also it encompasses a legacy of injustice in creating a hierarchy and inevitable oligarchy where breastfeeding knowledge becomes consolidated, available only to those who have access and privilege. For Black women, IBCLCs pose an additional layer of destruction. A history of state-sanctioned intervention directly related to the breast has been faced by this group, and the mainstream biomedical model of healthcare has been built upon the dispossession of Black women and dismemberment of a shared autonomy once held by Black midwives. This devastation continues to manifest via this facet of reproduction, and is damaging to those in the United States, and abroad. I suggest that it is only through community participation and sovereignty, highlighting ways to create more radical awareness about breastfeeding within their own everyday understanding, is how communities can shield itself, and return this natural, healthy tradition and power back to their community.

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‘Bronislaw’: The Anthropology of Black Breastfeeding in Mississippi

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Selfie of Black feminist anthropologist (me) researching breastfeeding rates in Greenville, MS, August, 2015

Selfie of Black feminist anthropologist (me) researching breastfeeding rates in Greenville, MS, August, 2015

A few months back, the editors of the new online magazine, Bronislaw (as in Malinowski, I think) asked me to write an article for their first edition. I thought it was a good opportunity and was happy to do so, and the edition was finally published the other day.

I thought it gave me the right opportunity to talk just a bit about what the anthropology of Black breastfeeding in Mississippi is, and my focus on breastfeeding — aside from this blog that I’ve been writing for five years, and all.

If my article sounds vague, then that’s because it is. Even though I have had a zillion and one people ask me about what went down there, I refrain because I have not spoken to the residents of the state about what I found during that short research trip. I refuse to put that information on a public platform. Even though I am confident the residents of Mississippi can handle their own, I have information that may be potentially sensitive. Besides that, going there just to get info and then disseminate it to academics and anywhere else is just not happening. I just don’t do anthropology like that. I have spoken some about it to activists — to folks who I know who would actually work to change society and change the Black breastfeeding narrative, and I will speak to folks who work specifically towards breastfeeding justice — so if I go to the ROSE Conference this year, this is what I will be talking to people about — but that’s it. There is no such thing as placing people on ‘display’  up in here. That’s not how I roll.

Anyway, here’s the link. Tell me what you think. The article is called An unlikely anthropologist doing unlikely work in an unlikely place: critical black breastfeeding in the Mississippi Delta

Seeking The Ancestors in Natchez, MS: 97.7 WTYJ’s ‘The Bottom Line’ on Black Breastfeeding

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If your’e anywhere near Natchez, MS, or can figure out how to stream the show online, then I will be on 97.7 WTYZ fm, on The Bottom Line this Tuesday, September 15th sometime between 8:30 and 9:30 pm Central Time. The producer of the show said he wanted to pencil me in and so I’ll have a 10-15 minute segment within that hour.

I actually just left Natchez on Thursday (I’m here in Jackson) and I already can’t wait to go back. People asked me why I wanted to go to this town — why breastfeeding research there? My initial reasons were to learn about the rich history of slave oppression and resistance, which is very strong, and to connect it to my views about breastfeeding being in the same capacity. But as I was there, it became more and more apparent that I needed to seek these ancestors and find out what they wanted me to know about their lives and stories and how they guide me and tell me to connect it to breastfeeding today. I’m still unsure of what exactly that is yet but I will keep seeking and listening.

It was the first time I had been there, but I really appreciate the town. It is full of incredibly rich history, is extremely haunted (I felt the presence of spirits very strongly at one point while touring an antebellum home), and I also got to hang out with some interesting and important people who are socially conscious and very politically active, and we got to share the important work each of us are doing so that really gave me a rush. My motel room was right next door to a grocery store so that was a change, I bought art from a artist’s co-op,  and I went to New Orleans over Labor Day weekend, inadvertently stumbling upon a small PRIDE Parade that was happening there and had a lot of fun. I’ll write more extensively when I get a chance, but I am currently drowning in writing projects — field notes, transcribing interviews and all things anthropology is no joke, and I’m so behind, but I just wanted to share this info. Listen in if you can.

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‘Mammy Caroline’ — this image is from the ticket of the one and only antebellum home tour I went on while in Natchez. After I visited the Visitors Center and saw the short 20-minute documentary on the history of Natchez, it quickly became apparent that this history was told completely from the white perspective, which is why I refused to go on other tours outside of this one which I only went on because it was focused on the owner’s experience of spiritual activity in the house and I was interested in that.

This image is of Nina Simone and it is of a small wooden plaque I bought that was created by an artist while I was in New Orleans. As I was looking over her inventory, she and I got on the conversation on how undaunted Nina Simone was (and continues to be) unlike any other artist we've seen. I'm extremely inspired by Nina.

This image is of Nina Simone and it is of a small wooden plaque I bought that was created by an artist while I was in New Orleans. As I was looking over her inventory, she and I got on the conversation on how undaunted Nina Simone was (and continues to be) unlike any other artist we’ve seen. I’m extremely inspired by Nina.

Black Breastfeeding: Constructing a Framework of Analysis and Action through the Lens of Black Feminist Anthropology

With all of my travel and busy-ness I realized I completely forgot to upload my ROSE poster — so here it is. I presented this poster at the Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere 4th Annual Breastfeeding Summit in Atlanta, that happened about two weeks ago, but seems like yesterday. The summit was in Atlanta, GA on August 19-21, and the topic this year was Building Bridges across the Chasm of Breastfeeding Inequities.There were various speakers — I missed 99% of the presentation by Camara Phyllis about racism and examining and eliminating its impact — the one I really wanted to see — and dang, I was so disappointed. Of course when I finally did make it to the conference center, during the break everyone was talking about it, and subsequently telling me how unfortunate it was that I didn’t make it once they found out I wasn’t there :/

The food was incredible. The my only grievance was that the caterers took it all away so soon after each meal time, LOL, and didn’t leave it out (I can tend to go several rounds when they got it like that — and make it like that). But I’m not bitter.

Anyway, my poster is about viewing how I work to highlight Black breastfeeding promotion via — well, through constructing a framework of analysis and action through the lens of Black feminist anthropology. I’m trying real hard to shine as bright of a light on this vantage point as I can. I want to make Black feminist anthropology as public as I can, and I think that showing this at a conference where there are folks who are both inside and outside of academia is ideal — that’s my kind of audience. Below is the poster. Below the poster is the abstract that was submitted and was published in the pamphlet.

Black Breastfeeding: Constructing a Framework of Analysis and Action via the Lens of Black Feminist Anthropology

Black Breastfeeding: Constructing a Framework of Analysis and Action via the Lens of Black Feminist Anthropology

What is Black feminist anthropology and its relation to Black breastfeeding, and what does an analysis of breastfeeding and action via critical Black feminist anthropology look like? Black feminist anthropology encompasses a body of knowledge that is based upon a multi-faceted set of converging characteristics that construct is framework, and among other characteristics, what is most salient are two primary attributes; being a black feminist an an anthropologist. Most often imposed within this framework are ways to work at instituting forms of thought and unequal treatment across various geographic locations and throughout time. In their distinct locations, both Black feminist and anthropology have too often omitted conversations on breastfeeding. More specifically, when looking at how a society functions, highlighting ways to center racism, Black women’s social position, and also creating an avenue towards challenging the inequity that underscores this legacy, it seems that human lactation never makes a space at the forefront.

How can Black feminist anthropology highlight the greater complexities surrounding the legacy of injustice in Black breastfeeding in the U.S.? Since breastfeeding is a biological function informed by cultural practices, which are influenced by social circumstances, via this rare and crucial vantage point, I will highlight how Black feminist anthropology accesses complexities surrounding breastfeeding injustice, and other less visible blind spots, while underscoring ideas that all operate on an avenue towards strategic and necessary change.

I really liked that I got to attend this year. I haven’t been since the first one, but it was nice being there seeing folks I hadn’t seen in a while, meeting folks I had never met before and hearing some of the presentations. Also, I may join NAPPLSC, which stands for National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color — and it’s a new organization started by ROSE and is geared toward offering support to those in the profession. Now, we all know about my politics and how I feel about the increase in professional breastfeeding services, right?! In case you need a reminder or you have a question mark lingering over your head in order to understand why I’m even mentioning this it’s because I do not believe breastfeeding professionalism it is a form of justice, or that it is working to end breastfeeding inequity. If anything, I believe it is dong the exact opposite and reiterating various formations of injustice as well as establishing new and additional layers of it — including a hierarchy and oligarchy since it places the knowledge of a tradition that has sustained the human race into the hands of a select few who have access to formal education, funding and status — that’s just one reason — I gots plenty. And I stand on my views without apologizing for them. But if professionals of color feel they need to converge to offer a greater level of support to each other in order to offer a greater level of care for their clients, then that’s worth supporting these efforts with a 35 dollar membership fee. I think the founder of the Native American Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington convinced me of that.

Acquanda talks Black Breastfeeding on the Reverend Rufus Williams Radio Show Greenville, MS!

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My attempt to take a selfie at the studio window sign thingy.

My attempt to take a selfie at the studio window sign thingy.

I just left the 91.9 WDSV (Delta Sounds and Voices) radio station here in Greenville, Mississippi, and was on the Reverend Rufus Williams Show. And I had no idea this was going to happen.

[in studio image coming soon]

The other day I interviewed two participants — a mother and a daughter, who I met while at McDonalds. The mother ended up inviting me to a women’s church service called Women Accepting Responsibility (WAR) that just started today. After the service, I was invited over their place to eat a Sunday meal, and while we were having lunch they mentioned that in about 20 minutes this radio show was going down and she meant to tell me about it yesterday, but forgot and that I can go to the station to talk about Black breastfeeding. I was a bit nerve-wracked at first since I really had no notice but I didn’t want to pass up the chance to talk about this, especially since I’m right here in my research site, and since I’m leaving Greenville soon to go on to the next segment of this trip, Natchez and then Jackson.

Acquanda and Rev Rufus Williams @ WDSV 91.9 studio.

Acquanda and Rev Rufus Williams @ WDSV 91.9 studio.

Being able to do this segment sort of lifted me out of a funk I’ve been in since I’ve been here — from talking to as well as hearing about so many who have really no exposure to breastfeeding or who don’t really understand its importance AT ALL, having no transportation (there is no public transportation or cabs here and the requirements for renting a car seem as if they’re in place to allow only certain people to do so — I’m in the process of uploading a video about my thoughts on all of this). I also, like I mentioned in this segment, with the exception of today, have eaten fast food every single day since I’ve been here because grocery stores are scarce — there’s not really one within walking distance from where I’m staying — plus a few other reasons — some about researching and safety and such which anthropologists never really talk about, so having a conversation about something so important that anyone in the city or on the web who tunes in would hear pepped me up. 

I’ve noticed that since the conversation of breastfeeding is an elusive one I can’t really get too radical up in here, or really discuss my radical politics about it — its history and the other connections that I see and so I had to make sure I kept this in mind while on the air, not to mention Greenville is a very conservative place. Also, WDSV is a gospel radio station and so it was interesting hearing how the Rev discussed purpose of breasts in the context of religious perspectives, which I agree with but I never really go to church and so I never really think of it in this particular framework. Anyway, there’s more to this conversation, and the link to listen to the episode is below. It’s 30 minutes.