Some people are taken back when I tell them I’m interested in Black women’s breastfeeding. When I’m in conversations with (usually non-Black) people who are advocates, or even others who are not necessarily into the ‘breastfeeding thing’, and we’re on the subject and somewhere in there in there I mention that I want to see Black women’s rates increase, there’s that split-second pause right before that quizzical look appears on their face, like ‘What? You only care about Black women breastfeeding?’ Which, of course, is the furthest thing from what I said. Others have insisted that I’m reproducing the same racism that I challenge. I find this is largely the case with white people — white women, particularly, who are involved in countless initiatives and who work as advocates to get more ‘women’ on board this breastfeeding train. But taking a look a their agenda, you quickly understand their use of the word ‘women’ easily translates to white women only, since it never encompasses areas specific to any group outside of their own ethnicity. At least this is my experience.
But I’ve not only noticed this with white women; this has been true about other people who work in areas specific to their own racial, or cultural group, for example. Let’s say I’m talking with a woman with a Romanian heritage and she tells me, whether within breastfeeding or not, the area she specializes in is dealing with women and people from this group. Or, maybe it’s someone from Iran, focusing on ways to empower women in the Iranian community. I have had these types of experiences a number of times. I once had a professor who stated she knew so much about Black history because she wanted to know her own Asian-American background in the US, and this history required her to understand African American’s. Does it mean that there is no interest in learning about ways to connect with and interact with others, while working towards togetherness and solidarity? That’s not the case for me, at least. But it does mean that there is a special area I place my emphasis –and it’s clear they also have their own, which never really involves Black women, so I really don’t understand why I receive such seemingly and sometimes outright negative reactions.
I decided to put together a short list of my top reasons for focusing in this area on Black women’s breastfeeding. It’s not exhaustive, or a way to try and justify or defend my focus, but maybe I’d just like to ‘put it out there’ — put that on record. I may list more in the future, but for now here are just a few.
- I am a Black Woman! Enough said!
- I love Black women!! Maybe this bears repeating. This does not mean I don’t have a love for everyone, but I do have a special place in my heart for my sisters. Even though my feelings have been hurt within the community, as well as learning about the violent climate we have been subjected to, Black women have found creative ways to survive in this society given its history. Black women have built strong communities and continue to be beacons of light for those of us looking for guidance. I love that we have struggled, strived, and continue to work at challenging social injustice for ourselves and others. It is love that has kept us here, and that same love is what drives the desire within us to work with others and create a world free of oppression.
- Because I am a Black woman and I love Black women, I have a desire to go deeper into the issues of breastfeeding for Black people and the Black community. I have not found scholarship that delves into the issues I have looked for, where breastfeeding is used as a site to place the larger issues of food, social, and other forms of justice and individual and community agency within this context of infant feeding, for us.
- Black women have the lowest breastfeeding initiation and duration rates of any group in this country, and breastfeeding save lives. In fact, our disparity is what lured me to this work. Black babies are dying at an alarming rate, and breastmilk is literally the difference between life and death for some of them. Breastfeeding can also assist in preserving the health of Black women, who also face inequity in medical care. BTW, this is not the ‘oppression olympics’ — I’ve always rooted for the underdog anyway. Does this mean that I am uninterested in the lives of other people and communities? Not in the least. I believe my attention to our tradition has allowed me to look at understanding the way to view the benefits and cultural and social meaning of others’.
- I am a ‘Reverse Racist’, remember?! — a ‘Racist anti-racist’! Because I challenge dominant structures that work to remain in power, and criticize whiteness on a regular, if not a daily, it means that I am racist against whites. I came to this conclusion a number of months ago, and you can read all about my ‘coming out’ story, if you click the link to the article at the beginning of this point. Oh, and I work to see how the issues that make me an reverse racist interfere with our breastfeeding rates. But don’t worry, it’s not like I blame everything on whiteness. I examine other types of social turmoil, as well as how Black intra-racial conflict impedes our success in this area, too. J
- Black women are apparently non-existent in books, magazines, pamphlets, etc., at the library, schools, and other places that deal with the topic at hand. These texts continue to remain authored by uninterested, culturally insular and/or xenophobic people who completely gloss over the unique experiences of Black women. Black women remain left out of their breastfeeding context — (well, except for in cases when we appear in reading material geared towards low-income, and other governmental agencies, that is). *Sigh*
- I’ve got a lot of Black women to pay back. Helping eradicate breastfeeding disparities is the least I can do. As I’ve said before once when I learned about the history of Black women in this country, I promised I wouldn’t remain silent — that I would give my best to voice these women and shine a light on their lives and work towards challenging injustice. I would repay them. The universe chose this recompense be through breastfeeding support. I want to repay them for what they went through, what they got to — and the support and courage for what they continue to do. Without them, there would be no me.
- Black women DO breastfeed. And breastfeeding is powerful! I have never breastfed a baby myself, but I see the impact it can and does have for the Black community far, far beyond nourishment, and mainstream medical reasoning. I also see the joy it brings to other women, and can empathize with their experiences of bonding, closeness, creating a healthier generation and an overall feeling of cherishing this critical but short time they share with babies. I love that I’m helping to enable other women to experience these same things.
- The universe drew me here. Since it wasn’t warm fuzzies and sentiments from a personal nursing experience that caused me to become an advocate, if you know how I became active in this area, then you will understand that ending up on the breastfeeding runway is the exact last place in the world I would have ever expected myself to land. Really. If you visit my ‘About Me’ page, then you will know that I am only responding to a summons from the universe.
- Anthropology + Black Breastfeeding gives me a rush!
- “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” I firmly believe that many of the views expressed in the The Combahee River Collective Statement, which was crafted in 1977, remains very true today still and even in this context. Breastfeeding is more than simply the mechanical steps of attaching an infant to its mother’s breast. When issues of racial injustice and other forms of systematic oppression that are weighted heaviest against Black women in this country are addressed, then this would mean they are addressed on a larger scale, and that breastfeeding inequity is no longer existent.