Where in the World is the Black Feminist Anthropologist? Researching #BlkBfing in the Mississippi Delta!


I’m going down south this Summer! I received some funding from my department to travel to the Mississippi Delta area and begin exploring Black breastfeeding, which I plan on doing in September after I teach my course!

I’ve been looking at Mississippi as a site to continue my work and conduct critical research for the past couple of years. What initially sparked my interest was learning that it is the state with the lowest breastfeeding initiation and duration rates of any group in this country, has some of the highest infant mortality rates, and also the fact that it has some of the greatest percentages of Black people so I wondered what the connections are with these.

But my interest in Mississippi is just as personal as it is political. In 1980/81 my mother, a 30-year-old single mother of five, along with help from her younger brother, drove all of us kids from Greenville, Mississippi to Southern California. This was directly on the cusp of a migration of the remainder of my immediate family, including my maternal grandparents and other uncles. The deeply entrenched racism and oppression in the state is what spawned this migration and it was done with hopes of providing us all with a better future.

I will be looking at three areas. First I will begin in Greenville where I am from. I figure this is a wonderful place to start since it I want to see how people respond to questions about Black breastfeeding. This means I don’t mind talking to strangers. And it’s exactly what I plan on doing, influenced by Zora Neale Hurston and her ‘random selection techniques’. I will also be going to Natchez and Jackson. Natchez because I want to know a greater connection to the slave resistance and Jackson because I’m going to be looking up some archival material. Here is just a snippet of my research design:

Location and Duration:

I will spend 30 days in the Mississippi Delta area, from August 29, 2015 through September 28, 2015. My research will begin in Greenville, where I am most familiar and I will also visit other areas which offer a significant historical component to Black history. These places, including Natchez and Jackson, will be visited in phases, each lasting 10 days.

Research Design:

Phase 1: Greenville, MS August 29-September 8: Returning to my roots, and ‘Random Selection Techniques.’

In Greenville, I will be exploring the land and becoming familiar with the people. I will spend time informally researching by working to gather the feelings of nostalgia of my ancestral roots since myself and all of my siblings, with the exception of my youngest sister was born in this state. In order to get a more in-depth understanding of how people interact with each other and get to know them on a more personal level, I will attend dinners, engage in infamous Southern porch conversations, go for walks with participants, fish, play dominoes, and reminisce with the people. Since church is an integral part of Black life and especially in the South, I will attend as many church functions as possible during my stay and after church dinners, asking the residents their ideas and opinions and ask for suggestions for my next steps. I will also employ ‘Random Selection Techniques.’

The method of ‘random selection’ involves impromptu approaching people in order to get unrehearsed responses from an unstructured pool of participants. I will conduct random selection techniques by approaching those who are ostensibly Black and African American, regardless of their location. I will approach Black people I see in parking lots at places such as the shopping mall, casinos, in the grocery store, and anywhere else in order to ask a series of open-ended questions, in order to gauge each person’s view of breastfeeding as it relates to U.S. History. I will solicit responses to a set of preliminary questions and this would allow for a larger conversation, enabling me to gain further insight.

Phase 2: Natchez, MS September 8-September 18: Mapping Oppression and Resistance

Phase 2 involves visiting Natchez, where Black people radically resisted oppression. Resistance by people who faced physical punishment and even death must be viewed via an extremely critical lens, since ways this resistance was actualized varies from tacit practices to overt, where many Black gave their lives voluntarily and involuntarily. This phase will also involve emotions, feeling, crying while visiting plantations where slaves revolted such as the case in Natchez. It will hopefully include a walking tour, conducted by a local. I will get stories on the past and current ways Black people have overtly and covertly countered racist tactics.

Phase 3: Jackson, MS September 18-28: Mississippi Department of Archives and History

The final phase of this pilot research will be spent in Jackson, Mississippi doing extensive research in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. I will spend time researching the history of this state regarding slavery, reconstruction, birth rates, demographics, birth and breastfeeding narratives. This will allow for the opportunity to gather information from various aspects across the state.

I have had many challenges with being an anthropologist and going somewhere to conduct research. Anthropology has such a sordid history of being a discipline that ‘studies’ — aka has radically exploited people for its own selfish gain. Even though that is far from my agenda, I still feel as if there must be a more crucial reason for going into someone’s neighborhood and gathering information. What I feel save me from that disconnection, is that I am from there, I still have family there, and I have a vested interest in the history and how it connects with Black breastfeeding and am invested in this goal. This is what I have for now. If anything changes, then I’ll make sure to update. And if you have any suggestions, words of wisdom or any other info you think may be helpful, then please let on.

I created a gofundme campaign which you can click here or in the sidebar of this blog to visit, because although I received funding for travel, it does not cover the cost of lodging and other miscellaneous items that I need to record information and process this. Please consider pitching in what you can so I can do this important work and thank you in advance. And thank you for helping to spread the word!

No, I’m not thrilled about this CONFEDERATE flag, but it’s the pattern of the state. Is that crazy, or what?!

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