There are only a few more days left before I head to the South. In case you haven’t heard I’m conducting pilot research — otherwise known as ‘poking an prying with a purpose’ — in this case it’s before the extensive ethnographic research I’ll be doing in about 1.5 years — for about 2 years.
My first stop is Atlanta. I’m excited that I’m attending the ROSE Black Breastfeeding Summit! I’m also presenting a poster there. Right after that I’m heading to the Mississippi Delta: Greenville, Natchez, Jackson! I have the craziest range of emotions about this endeavor and I’ve found myself doing everything from stressing out to crying to reminiscing to… just wondering.
The last time I was in Mississippi was in 2000. It was on the cusp of my 24th birthday and my newly-married self and my then other half, who reenlisted in the ARMY and was stationed on the East Coast, decided he and I couldn’t live without each other for the few months he’d be there. With minimal planning, I drove coast to coast from Southern California to Southern Virginia and ‘dropped down’ into Mississippi on my way. My mom, grandma and entire family rooted me on as they tracked me on the map after I called them at each stop so I could check in and let them know how I was. I met, for the first time in over 21 years, my biological father and some other family members as well as folks who were old neighbors — my family moved west when I was about 3. It was such an intense reunion with all of these people — none I even remembered, who all treated me like we’d been close all that time and like I never went anywhere. My family on the West Coast was so excited and filled with joy about seeing the zillion and one pictures I took of everyone, hearing about how they were coming along. I got to understand what ‘southern hospitality’ really meant — I felt it.
My mom was alive back then, and so were both of her parents and the world felt so much safer. All three of them are gone now. And as the tears are flowing down my face as I sit here and type and think about them, both because I miss them and because they are no longer here and won’t’ see what I’m doing I wonder what they would think of me going there this time and about this critical work that is happening. What would they say?
I am kind of tripped out that I am doing this work. I still have never found another Black anthropologist who concentrates on Black breastfeeding and I think it is strange that I was called to do this — especially since not all that long before I was on the cusp of quitting this field of social science because of its imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. But something kept me here and now I’m using it to explore Black breastfeeding — something that hasn’t been done before in this capacity. I’ve also never breastfed and even though my strong emphasis has always been on decentering the mother-infant dyad in order to get more people involved I am feeling a bit insecure about my place in it right now because of my lack of breastfeeding status.
Mississippi has a sordid history. Time and time again it is referred to as the most racist state in the country. The other day a friend said it was the ‘hearth of slavery,’ and I’ve had a few Black women tell me they’re concerned about me going there alone and I can’t say that I blame them. I know it’s dangerous — mores than the first time I went on that excursion by myself since I’m chartering new territory — my family members won’t be in all the places I go. And I have to admit that if I knew a Black woman traveling to this state by herself I would be concerned, too. There are increased racial tensions happening around the country with the confederate flag, which Mississippi still has as theirs, btw — and with the BlackLivesMatter movement. I noticed that when I was writing in my journal about this endeavor the other day in my attempt to use strategy, I was contemplating renting a car and being by myself and what that image would look like if I got lost in an extremely racist part of town — or taking the greyhound and being around other people and which one would allow me to face racism in the least ostensibly destructive way — if that makes any sense. In my opinion, Mississippi harbors the richest history for Black people — of oppression and resistance, and this just isn’t with breastfeeding. There’s something to be said when artists have composed music and have written songs about its anti-Black racial violence.
Video: Nina Simone ‘Mississippi Goddam’
I see the oppression Black women faced by forced wet nursing and the continued legacy that keeps our babies from our breasts as part of that. There’s a reason for the regional lowest initiation and duration rates. But I expand this conversation to include the entire history — inclusive of all Black people. I believe that the overall climate from Mississippi’s history has answers — and equally as important — via anthropology it will ask an entirely new set of questions. I will be gone for a total of about six weeks, and below is my itinerary:
Atlanta, GA: ROSE Black Breastfeeding Summit: Building Bridges Across the Chasm of Breastfeeding Inequity
Greenville, MS: Returning to my Roots and Random Selection Techniques
Natchez, MS: Mapping Oppression and Resistance
Jackson, MS: Mississippi Department of Archives and History
I still have not collected enough money to help cover the various expenses for this part of my research. My department awarded me with a small amount of funding for travel to, from and within Mississippi and for food but that’s it — it doesn’t cover lodging. I launched a crowd funding campaign about two months ago, and although I have had some awesome folks donate towards this — which I appreciate — it still isn’t enough and I’ve only raised about half of what I need. At this point I need to help offset my cost of lodging. I would be very appreciative if you would click the gofundme icon below and donate whatever you can towards this extremely important work and also share it on Facebook and on your other networks. Black breastfeeding matters! And this work specifically is important no only because it’s about breastfeeding, but it is groundbreaking. Not only is it going to start to change the conversation among those who actually are the ones providing milk to infants, it’s going to start to change how we view it in terms of race, geography, gender and in many other ways and how each of us participates. I totally believe it.