Think back to last year and the ‘white breastfeeding policy.’ Do you recall when I enrolled in the PEBL (Professional Education in Breastfeeding and Lactation) course, in order to obtain a Certified Lactation Educator Certificate (CLE)? Do you recall how excited I was before class began, an enthusiasm that quickly diminished on the first day, when it became clear this would be a experience to learn more ways to cater to white women — and produce more maternal-infant mammies — only learning ways to focus on white women’s birthing and breastfeeding outcomes? My frustrations with the course material were so intense that I approached the director of the school about this concern, and she suggested we get together to ‘discuss it’ when I had time? She said they had been looking for ways to de-center whiteness? I never scheduled that meeting. I ended up being super busy, but aside from that, I decided it was not my job to volunteer my time to educate this institution on ways to make their curriculum less exclusive and be the ‘bridge’ for Communities of Color.
About a week ago, someone posted a flyer in a birthing group page on facebook. This flyer stated that it was time for professionals to begin discussing the ‘social determinants of health’ — that there are outside influences that determine women’s birthing outcomes, based on race, class. Ya think? An interesting conversation erupted in the comment section of this one. I weighed in, of course, and simply said that this move was “LONG overdue!!” A few other folks chimed in, too, and one of them was the director of the school where I received my CLE. She ensured that the school she directed will now begin implementing discussions on these social determinants of health in their upcoming intro doula courses — something like that. Of course she received those many fallacious ‘Likes’ that people give so freely on facebook, but I thought this was a good opportunity to ask her about her breastfeeding course. I asked if the school would be implementing ways to address the overrepresentation of white women. I told her that at it stands now (which I’m sure she knows) the curriculum makes the entire breastfeeding experience (including the complications) central to the white body — this is dehumanizing to communities of color. I told her that this change was also long over due. Well, guess what her response was…. NOTHING! That’s right she ignored me and didn’t responded to my question. AT ALL!
I was actually surprised she ignored me. I really didn’t expect it. If anything, I would have figured she would at least try and skirt around the question — maybe pat me on the back and fill the atmosphere with false hopes. Isn’t that the way most folks do things, especially when they’re confronted with issues of exclusion? But that didn’t happen. I’m disappointed. Not surprised. I’m not the only one who felt this way about the course curriculum, but I’m probably the only one to speak out about it in such a public forum, where hundreds of other people could see. I also know this is a much larger problem than simply one institution’s refusal to move beyond the scope of whiteness. But this, like any other experience — I’m going to own and call it how I see it where I see it, whether on a large or small scale.
I would like to suggest to the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA, that you are benefitting no one by your refusal to address the racism and xenophobia infused in your breastfeeding curriculum. In addition, this avoidance only makes you in direct compliance with the many health and social disparities rampant in this society and on a larger scale, in which everyone (yes even white people), suffer. The students at your institution, who believe they are signed up to provide health and medical services to those in need only continue to receive a direct lesson in white supremacy, which only contributes to their physical, moral, mental, and spiritual deterioration. Additionally, they simply remain ignorant in assisting a certain percentage of the population, and this fortifies the rampant maternal-infant mortality our country faces, especially among Black, Brown and other NON-white populations. And more, People of Color who enroll in your courses never even learn how to serve our own communities. Think she knows that Black women have the lowest breastfeeding initiation and duration rates of any group in the country, and that breastmilk is literally the difference between life and death for some of our babies?
I hope you can see, Ms. Kennedy, that this only perpetuates the cycle of racism and the myth of white supremacy in your school and beyond. And I hope you can also recognize, too, that by continuing to ignore this even in an environment that is supposed to contribute to the health of people by teaching birthing, breastfeeding and other so-called holistic practices, you are only doing more harm than good.