RACISM HINDERS BREASTFEEDING!: Raising Radical Breastfeeding Awareness When ‘Breast is Best’ Just Doesn’t Cut It!

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Patriarchy, sexism, class elitism, white privilege, apathy, homophobia, insularity and lack of cultural relativity, and a slew of others, are also culprits.

On Monday I was in a meeting. While I was there for those few hours, the breastfeeding paraphernalia stared me right in my face — and ironically sitting in that space is when when it clicked that this is all wrong. And I realized the extent of my disdain for ‘Breast Is Best’. I  I know everyone’s seen this stuff — the bumper stickers, magnets, buttons, keychains, etc — that read something along the lines of “Human Milk for Human Babies” “Breast is Best,” “Babies were born to breastfeed” and other appropriate and encouraging words. I really liked those and have seen the sayings time and time again, but it was while I was there is when I realized how idealistic it is and just how much it overlooks reasons why people are not nursing. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all of the encouragement and promotion of mother’s milk, and who doesn’t like those sayings that evoke warm fuzzies?! But to me it seems breastfeeding advocates don’t often mention the issues situated at the backdrop of our society that play role in our breastfeeding outcomes, and inevitably determines who breastfeeds. I understand that as someone who does not have children and who has never breastfed a baby, my outlook is shaped by this and I come from a different place. But I also know this position allows and even requires me to look at human lactation through a different lens, and examine those social issues.

From where I stand, it seems too many breastfeeding advocates focus on the so-called shortcomings of individual and groups, without going below the surface. Race and color contention has been at the backdrop of our society since our country’s inception, and racialized oppression and RACISM have been systematic and is responsible for countless levels of inequality and is a fundamental element in breastfeeding disparities. This structural imbalance has caused generations of hardship and contention, and determines breastfeeding outcomes, and is the undercurrent of WHITE PRIVILEGE. WHITE PRIVILEGE allows special advantages to white people based on no other reason than their whiteness. WHITE PRIVILEGE  allows white people access to jobs, education, housing, and a list of others that make it much easier for a group of people to have access to breastmilk, while PATRIARCHY and male-dominated societies, continue to be responsible for horrendous crimes against women as well as the exclusion of women from positions of power. This also interferes with access to education and this denies women a voice.

INSULARITY — being ignorant and unconcerned with cultures and ideas outside of one’s own is too often accepted among us, which is especially evident in Euro-centric communities, that often overlook other cultural practices in a society where whiteness continues to be seen as the most prominent representation in movies and many other facets — even breastfeeding texts, but this does not mean people of color do not participate in insular behavior. Learning traditions from other cultural and racial groups in order to promote breastfeeding awareness among all is essential to build combined action, and work towards the common goal! LACK OF CULTURAL RELATIVITY — not looking through the cultural lens of others to see their outlook and traditions, also follow along these lines, along with APATHY — simply being uninterested of what’s going on around us — one of my personal irritants! Of course CAPITALISM, which is clearly seen in about every aspect — and accounts for aggressive marketing of infant formula, and telling mothers their milk is sub-standard, our desire to consume what we do not have or need, and an array of other social ills. Other hindrances of “non-conformers” include homophobia, sexism and any other system instituted to marginalize and malign.

All of these are connected, working interdependently in obstructing a woman’s ability to provide breastmilk, which is why I have decided to launch this awareness project, providing a holistic in-your-face view of these. I am hoping this will not only start the dialogue, but allow us to see the part we play in supporting the structure, and more importantly —  how we can work together towards change.

When we fail to recognize the role racism, class elitism, and other systems of injustice play in a woman’s ability to provide her milk, or are simply uninterested, we fail to give our all at truly advocating a baby’s right, and we must hold ourselves accountable for the role we play in that separation. I also remember another slogan in the manager’s office that day; “What you permit, you promote!” Help me spread the word!

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*All proceeds are recycled back into majority breastfeeding and birth-specific projects, and other community efforts, with a special emphasis on supporting work geared towards decolonizing human lactation.

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