Well, the summer has come to an end, and school starts in just a few days. What is in store for me? I will be honest when I say there are particular attitudes and challenges I face that remind me that Black women are not supposed to be in school. Because being present is a direct threat to the legacy that in this country, Black people once faced severe physical punishment and death, for even attempting to learn how to read or educate themselves. There’s a reason for it all. But there’s also a reason that I’m here, present, and challenging these remnants. It’s my second year in this program. And I think this is officially my last year of taking classes in the department, which I think is just so crazy — I’ve never not taken classes in an Anthropology Department. I’ll still be working on many other things and getting ready for what comes next — exams, fieldwork. I’ll also be working on the Graduate Feminist Certificate, taking feminist theory and the history of feminism — I think that’s the name of the course. So far I have 10 of the 25 credits required for this certificate and I plan on getting another 10 this year so I’ll only have five more for later. It would be awesome if I could somehow manage to get all 15 but given my schedule and workload it’s unlikely. I’m also applying to the Master’s of public Health program — that I wasn’t so sure about before — and if I get in I’ll be concentrating on Maternal-child health. I’m not all that sure how it works yet, as far as which classes I need to take but we’ll see. I’m excited but my fear of math is what makes me nervous and a bit scared that I won’t get in because I’m so horrible at it.
I’ve been doing some thinking about the interview that I had a couple of weeks ago on the Blog Talk Radio show View from a Rack, and have been a bit bothered by it. Don’t get me wrong I had so much fun and could have talked so much longer, but I think the reason that I’m ‘bothered’ is that I feel I wasn’t really as up front as I could have been about a couple of things I feel really strongly about and didn’t share my ‘real’ criticism of these areas. Now, for anyone who knows me or who has been reading my blog for a while then it’s quite apparent that I’m a pretty up front person. I don’t tend to shy away or cower from something I feel strongly about, and I try to be as open and frank as I can be. I know that I only had a very short amount of time on the air and this leaves no room to really delve into my politics but I do think I need to be a bit more transparent about the question about why I no longer want to become an IBCLC and I’ll also share some of my thoughts about the recent ILCA meeting on equity.
Yes, a very big part of my reasons for stopping the pursuit of becoming an IBCLC then and now is that I’m not someone who wants to work in a clinical environment. But I also believe that the certifying entity, the IBLCE is just another way that power is expressed — over most all communities, communities of color and especially for Black women. Black women have had a distinct method of control at the breast — during enslavement by forced wet nursing and also having to breastfeed our babies on the down low, and that’s just a start. Even though I didn’t have the exact language to express exactly what I meant back then when I decided to not pursue IBCLC I know this history was definitely at the source.
During my recent webinar, ‘Are IBCLCs the ‘New’ Infant Formula?’ I presented my thoughts on how I believe that the proliferation of breastfeeding professionals is only another aspect of a lengthy trajectory of how people have been dominated via their biology — their bodies — and how this started when women lost control over their reproduction at the outset of a desire for a new capitalist society. We talked about the increased medical intervention and how the more we allow ourselves to subscribe to these services, the more the institutions grow and this growth only continues to consolidate power by putting it into the hands of only a few. Also, the medical institution was never designed for Black people. In fact, here in the U.S. it was the opposite. Medical experimentation was conducted ON Black people, but it wasn’t to work towards health and wellness FOR Black people. It was to find ways to perfect the techniques for the well-being of whites. I’m not saying that people have not benefited from medical knowledge but what I am saying is that I think that breastfeeding professionalism, which is an outgrowth of these structures, is essentially doing more harm than good. The building blocks of this specialty are based on this idea. The conversations at the end of this webinar were intense and critical, and one of my participants brought up the fact that Black women have consistently had to fight for our bodies and I believe this is the case with the increase in breastfeeding professionalism. That there is a level of autonomy that is removed by this dynamic that is based on the theory, methods and methodologies of whiteness.
Also, I didn’t necessarily plan on weighing in about the ILCA meeting at all, but I’ve had a number of people ask me about my thoughts on the recent meeting by the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA), the IBLCE and LEARN(?) that happened just over a month ago in Phoenix, AZ, to be more inclusive. One of the hosts from BTR told me she’s glad I didn’t go. The meeting that was about equity in lactation consulting — about the challenges that different communities face in meeting the requirements and how it could be more inclusive. If I remember correctly the Association invited only 80 consultants from around the world. The late founder of the Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition, Terry Jo Curtis, told me about this meeting. In fact, that’s where I first learned about it because she was on the list of attendees. Well, I wasn’t there but from what I’ve heard and per ILCA’s website it was to hear those overheard voices and listen in on the difficulties in becoming a consultant from People of Color and other so-called ‘minorities’.
Yes, I agree with the host that I’m glad I didn’t go. I would never ever ever ever ever present at a meeting like that. For starters, I don’t pitch my plight to white people. The white ‘do-gooder’ complex has been embedded within white society and is a breeding ground for mutated racism and social injustice. White people hearing the ‘hardships’ of non-white people and then trying to ‘help’ is a prime example of this and we should be critiquing why this continues to be the dynamic. And, more of my reasons stem from my overall thoughts that I believe that the rise of breastfeeding entities are doing more harm than good. I think that these meetings about equity are only really inaugurating more people into a different realm of inequity. I wonder why no one is questioning why these types of institutions even exist in the first place. I also don’t believe that having more IBCLCs will create a greater normalization of breastfeeding, as I’ve heard before. I think it will do the exact opposite and will only work at continuing to place everything in a medicalized context and cause a great amount of dispossession and injustice, creating a normalization of medicalization and more interventions. An increase in Lactation Consultants does not address structural violence or inherent racism throughout society. It doesn’t get to the root of any real issues, but only treats symptoms of problems while creating more along the way — a hierarchy and an inevitable oligarchy since it continues to consolidate power.
I’m not saying that there aren’t some instances where there is a need for professionalism — a specialist. But what I am saying is that I don’t believe that advocates need to try and rearrange the politics within professionalism — to make it more ‘equitable,’ by getting more input and insight from those who are considered in the margins. I agree with the hosts that we need to sort out our own issues and get our stuff together in our community. And to me it involves asking why do we continue to limit real social progression by overlooking that breastfeeding professionalism is itself a site of inequity? Or not pay attention to what this increase is doing here and on a national and global context. Why the desire to be included in dominator culture? I know that people have different opinions and not everyone agrees with my thoughts. But I believe that the only way to make breastfeeding a tradition of true equity is that it must work to rid itself of the vast majority of these types of influences that are built upon race, class, gender, monetary, geographic division (the USA is seen as harboring all of the knowledge) and a zillion others and work instead towards radical decolonization. I hope I’ve been more transparent here. And I’ve embedded the show so you can hear it. Like I said before, I really enjoyed being on and could have talked with them a whole lot longer than I did but since there was not time these are a just a couple of areas I wanted to expand on.
[Update]: I embedded this video by Dr. Boyce Watkins, titled ‘Black people: you don’t need approval by whites to be successful,’ and I think a lot of what he says is spot on with my thoughts about breastfeeding and this conference. Watkins mentions a lot of powerful things in his critique of having to be ‘validated’ by white people in order to be successful, but I really want to highlight when he says that these scenes of ‘inclusion’ are just never going to happen.
‘Black people have to learn that you are going to have to fight for your equality. If you want equality you’re going to have to fight for it. White people will never [just] give you equality!’