I was finishing-up a fellowship proposal for my program at school last week, when I had to do some quick research. I needed a few facts and figures from the Center for Disease Control to input into my proposal, so I went to the 2012 Breastfeeding Report Card, which lists the ‘reports’ of breastfeeding for the 50 states for the year. When I got to Mississippi I almost fell over. I’m not sure what stood out to me this time, or why this even shocked me so much because I’m certain I had seen it before, though to be honest with you I can’t say that I consciously remembered these sobering facts.
According to this report, Mississippi ranks the lowest of all states in the country when it comes to the categories listed on the website in breastfeeding. The state has the lowest rates of initiation = 47.2% — which means that less than half of the women who have given birth have ever even attempted to put their baby to their breast! The state ranks lowest in breastfeeding at 6 months = 26%, lowest in breastfeeding at 12 months = 13%, exclusive breastfeeding at just three months is only 20%, and at six months it is just 7.6%. Interestingly, the state also has some of the highest populations of Black people than other places in the US — about 40%. Even though I’m interested in Black breastfeeding, I’m not at all saying that it’s the Black women who aren’t doing so. I don’t know that; there’s still another 60 percent of the people to consider. But I am curious to know how the numbers line up between the races. I guess also, that when I really think about it I shouldn’t be all that surprised about these figures.
Mississippi is steeped in some of the most sordid US history for Black people — more than any other state in the nation — of slavery, of post slavery racial violence, of continued inequality and poverty, which I know all play a part. Nina Simone wrote about it, highlighting the inhumanity that has underscored much of this backstory — and the Southern states once called a ‘jungle’ by W.E.B. DuBois because of its racial violence is not absent of this aftermath, as we can see from this report. From the way I view things, if we look closely at these breastfeeding rates it can allow us to trace this history and connect what happened then and what continues to happen now. There’s a legacy. And is a clear indicator that this legacy is working on a continuum, and that it is still impacting everyone.
But Mississippi is also a place of radical resistance! People have fought for and have given their lives, voluntarily and involuntarily to resist dehumanization, racial prejudice, and to challenge other forms of social turmoil. They have formed organizations, marched in protests, sang, attended church, held sit-ins, and many other ways to express opposition to the climate, through ‘picket lines, school boycotts’ to gain equality — ‘for my sister, my brother, my people and me’ — and demand respect for life — so this makes the place all the more interesting and insightful.
I’m wondering if I just found my ethnographic research site. I know that no one asked me for my opinion, or to go down and stick my nose in the situation to see what’s going on and to be the ‘big, bad anthropologist’ trying to figure things out. But I think what saves me from being labeled a ‘do gooder’ even in this context, is that my family is from there — and myself and all of my siblings (sans my little sister, a So. Cali baby) were all born in the state. I still have ‘people’ there — so I think that makes me official. So, along with a regard for my community, right now I’m absolutely interested in at least knowing more. Will this end up evolving into a place I move to at some point in the future and stay for a year or two to conduct research that is required before receiving a PhD in my field? I’m not sure at this point, but it’s definitely now on my radar.
Tell me what you know about Mississippi and breastfeeding.
Tell me what you know about Mississippi and Black Breastfeeding.
Quickfacts from the US Census Bureau: Mississippi African American Breastfeeding