I went to the library’s bookstore (if that makes any sense). There is a bookstore sponsored by the library that is filled with used texts, which I assume are donated or previous editions the library has since upgraded. I headed directly for the breastfeeding section, of course. The prices are fantastic. I ended up paying less than six dollars total for four books! Here are the titles, minus one not on the subject.
I was really excited to find these and immediately began devouring them, marking them with notes and comparing them with other recent reads until I began to notice the larger theme, one that I had noticed before but for some reason really stood out with this batch of books, that, of course put a damper on my excitement. It was a theme flooded with idealism and white culture, and idealizing white culture, and idealizing white womanhood. These texts are filled with white women, white families, white babies, and white ideas — ideas that disregard other experiences and traditions, and work at reinforcing racial isolation, dominance, and marginalization, showing that these ethnocentric views continue in pervasiveness, and that misrepresentation is far from over and extends to every part of our society. Breastfeeding is no different.
These ideal images that are seen as displaying a supposed standard of perfection have played a major role in the way dominant society has represented itself. This can be seen on a daily basis. White women have not been subjected to the misrepresentation other Women Of Color have experienced, since the strategy throughout history has been to place her as the central figure of womanhood, making her appear all that is to be glorified, desired, and envied. And regardless of the era or views on breastfeeding (which have changed drastically throughout generations), mainstream messages and support have focused on white beliefs and ideology.
For example, society’s overarching views on breastfeeding have teetered, going from a ritual with high regard, to a socially stigmatized act relegated to women in lower socio-economic statuses. During these different eras, it was the desires and experiences of white women that were taken into consideration and spread throughout society. When breastfeeding was seen as the only way to nurture an infant it was an act that many women participated in. But when the act became despised by white women who were most often the ones, because of racism, in more dominant and higher socio-economic statuses and positions in society, it became viewed as a demeaning task that these [delicate] women could not and would not subject themselves to. This was a large influence in wet nursing legacies where wet nurses were mostly Women Of Color until infant formula was introduced, which replaced this, and it was a tremendous force in otherizing these women, since beliefs erupted that unwanted personality characteristics could pass from milk to infant.
Today, culture along with science and the fact that milk is produced in a woman’s breasts, have proven that breastfeeding is the single healthiest form of nourishment for most infant children, so white women pervade the spotlight, which sends messages that continue work to try and signify her as the only loving, informative, figure who is concerned with the health and well-being of her infant. But if breastfeeding an infant were a really a true measure of virtue, Latina women should dominate these areas since they breastfeed at higher rates than any other group, and Native Americans build and reinforce cultural legacies in their breastfeeding traditions. But their culture and methods are far removed from these texts since in order for dominance to continue, images, practices, and traditions of whiteness must continue to be present throughout breastfeeding society and breastfeeding texts — using white women, their looks, their breastfeeding types, and their experiences as the prototype.
I’m sure many will argue that the mechanics of breastfeeding are simple — placing a breast inside of a baby’s mouth in order to latch on is the main idea, and while those mechanics are helpful, this lack of Color serves to misrepresent us by not representing us — showing that we do not value breastfeeding or that it is not an important part of our culture — at least that’s the buzz I’ve been hearing. To push that further, of course these omitting tactics are strategic, and reinscribe racist and colonizing notions, marginalization, and ideology that criticizes us, our culture, and ignores our legacies, placing us outside of the breastfeeding circle with ideas that have a strong impact, inside and outside our communities. They are also ones that, without understanding and challenge, will not change, and will not allow us to arrive at a place where we can learn to understand to celebrate infant and breastfeeding culture through the many different cultural and racial lenses it is celebrated and experienced. That is not acceptable, so this must change.