Yes, We DO Need a Black Breastfeeding Week

947 Flares 947 Flares ×

August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and there have been events going on all month long to help promote and normalize breastfeeding. This week — August 25-31 — is Black Breastfeeding Week.

blackbfweek1

Sounds innocuous enough, right? A week to encourage black moms to nurse their babies. I even wrote a post for Black Breastfeeding Week when I was pregnant last year and planning to nurse. In fact, though I knew I wanted to try nursing with baby Juliza, this event is what helped cement in my mind that I really needed to breastfeed. That it was important and life-saving and necessary. Reading stories from other black women who felt the same offered a type of solidarity that was genuinely encouraging.

Well, unfortunately, there are a lot of women — specifically white women — who have taken offense to this. Who insist that black breastfeeding week is racist, that it only serves to divide the breastfeeding community and that it’s exclusionary. Who insist that if there were a “white breastfeeding week”, we’d all be up in arms.

Well, here’s the thing. The breastfeeding community is already divided. The numbers tell us that. White women are statistically a lot more likely to breastfeed than black women. They are also more likely to continue extended breastfeeding beyond 6 months or a year. The result? The rates of infant mortality and low birthweight in the African American community are higher.

The point is that it’s super important that we all work to encourage more black moms to nurse — for our health and the health of our babies. This isn’t about excluding anyone. White women who have a problem with this, I’m going to address the rest of this post directly to you:

It’s really sad when breastfeeding advocates can’t see the importance of speaking to women where they are — even if that means targeting their race.

If you feel excluded from this week, imagine how moms of color feel in every other conversation about breastfeeding. Realistically, the face of breastfeeding in this country is white. It always has been. When you walk into a La Leche League group, chances are most, if not all, of the members and the leader are white. The lactation consultant at your hospital or birthing center? Probably white. The posters in the WIC office, magazine ads or commercials about breastfeeding? Probably feature white women.

So if you want to go there, “white” breastfeeding week is every week.

And images like this one, featuring black women feeding our beautiful brown babies the way nature intended, are rarely included in breastfeeding advocacy:

blackbfweek3

Yet, you get to assume that when white women are featured and included, that everyone is included and invited to the conversation. That may be true in intent, but it’s rarely true in execution or outcome. And that’s called white privilege.

The whole point of Black Breastfeeding Week is to show black moms that we breastfeed too, and that there is nothing wrong with it. To combat the perception that breastfeeding is just something that white women do. Because unless we actively seek out other black breastfeeding moms, it can certainly look that way. To combat a culture that would tell us to “take that baby off your titty” or question if you’re only breastfeeding because you can’t afford formula. To combat a culture that would call you a sexual deviant for breastfeeding a toddler or tell you you’re going to make your son gay by breastfeeding him. To encourage women who may never have seen anyone in their family or larger community breastfeed, ever.

And yes, breastfeeding moms of all races face some of these issues. But can you imagine if your whole family — whole community — was largely ignorant about the benefits and necessity of breastfeeding? If even your doctor and nurses assumed you didn’t plan to breastfeed and pushed formula on you simply because of your race?

This matters. It matters to see women who look like us proving that breastfeeding is OK. That it’s natural and normal and beautiful and life-saving, no matter what anyone else might say. It matters to have people who understand your experience as a black woman saying these things to you.

Please, spare me the crap about how “talking about race encourages racism,” or how we’re the ones who are “making things about race” because that makes no sense. Race is a factor, whether we talk about it or not. Your whiteness allows you to ignore that fact because it’s not something you have to deal with on a daily basis. Contrary to what you’d like to believe, talking about it attempts to make the issue less taboo so we can actually FACE our racial differences instead of sticking our heads in the sand and pretending they don’t exist.

But Lord, if I had a dollar for every time a white person said “talking about race just breeds racism”, I’d be rich. The only way we’ll get past racism is to talk about it in real, honest terms and actually LISTEN to each other. Negating the experience of a person of color just because you can’t relate is a glaring example of white privilege.

If you take offense to that, I strongly suggest you look inside yourself about why. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about you. Period. If you call yourself a breastfeeding advocate and you can’t be an ally and support black moms in our breastfeeding efforts, however we choose to do so, then just stay out of the conversation, because your bigotry is not welcome.

947 Flares Facebook 928 Twitter 18 Pin It Share 0 Google+ 1 947 Flares ×
15 responses
  • Aisha August 28, 2014, 1:38 pm

    Wow! You definitely didn’t mince your words and I applaud you for that. You hit the nail on the head with this article. Wake up people! This happens in America. While I was pursuing my MPH degree , we had a director from the Florida Department of Health address the breastfeeding issue. When she outlined the statistics concerning the lack of black moms breastfeeding, I asked the why question. She was quick to inform the class that majority of black women didn’t care about breastfeeding and were more concerned with smoking and drinking while pregnant. My jaw dropped because this was a public official who collected the data and is responsible for advocating behaviors that would improve the health of ALL people. I bit my tongue because what I really wanted to say may have gotten me kicked out of class. But I challenged her ideals and asked her if this group was surveyed to identify the real reasons for this so that programs can be established based on the information collected. I told her that maybe it would highlight that there should be a campaign to promote breastfeeding among black women. Her response- she shrugged. Just talking about it again, gets me so upset because many individuals of other ethnicities in the class were not shaken by how she had such blatant disregard for black moms. And these individuals were going to be working in the public health field.

    Reply
    • jennae August 29, 2014, 3:57 pm

      Aisha, that is absolutely disgraceful. To hear that coming from a person who is in a position to directly affect public health policy is maddening. But unfortunately, those are just among the stereotypes that exist about women of color and breastfeeding. I sincerely hope that when you dared to challenge her statement, that it made her stop and think — even if not right away. But stories like this one are why we need this week.

      Reply
  • Vanessa Simmons August 28, 2014, 2:14 pm

    Will DEFINITELY share this with those following my media campaign @NormalizeBreastfeeding.org! Please email and connect with me because I would love to feature you on our coming website/blog! Thank you for this and for breastfeeding your baby because it is difficult without support. You have and will always have my support so “nurse on.”

    Reply
    • jennae August 29, 2014, 3:57 pm

      Will do, Vanessa! And thank you for your support!

      Reply
  • Marion Rice August 29, 2014, 12:31 am

    I love this article… thank you so much for naming this and supporting culturally specific breastfeeding coalitions as important parts of a system of equity and empowerment to address healing inequities in breastfeeding rates and duration and support.

    Reply
    • jennae August 29, 2014, 4:03 pm

      Absolutely, Marion! I can’t understand how it could be “offensive” to receive breastfeeding advocacy and outreach from women who look like me. Anyone who is upset by that is focusing on the wrong thing. The only focus here should be getting more moms and their babies nursing — whatever it takes. So I’m happy to add my voice to the fight.

      Reply
  • Nicole August 29, 2014, 12:45 am

    This is racists and ridiculous. Why single yourself out?!?

    Reply
    • jennae August 29, 2014, 4:00 pm

      Nicole, did you read the article at all, or just read the headline and make a snap judgement based upon that? Never mind. Your small-minded comment makes the answer to my question pretty obvious. As obvious as the answer to your question would’ve been if you’d read the post. But I suspect even if you had, it wouldn’t change your mind. So like I said in the last line of the post, “just stay out of the conversation, because your bigotry is not welcome.” Here, or anywhere else.

      Reply
  • Leanna McDonald August 29, 2014, 9:32 am

    I’m not black and I support black breastfeeding week. :)

    Reply
    • jennae September 1, 2014, 10:54 am

      And I thank you sincerely for your support, Leanna!

      Reply
  • Jen B. August 29, 2014, 6:35 pm

    Maybe it’s because of the area I live in but the WIC office I go to has very little poster featuring white women. It’s mostly Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians (because these groups make up the majority of Southern Sacramento. Plus all the pictures taken by the office that line the walls are mostly of blacks and Hispanics). As a person who is neither black, Asian or Hispanic I don’t take offense to this because encouraging any colored mother to breastfeed is worth creating any kind of group or special week/month to help. I’m half Native and I have to say that white privilege is real and most white women who are offended by this calming it’s racist have no idea what it’s like to be on the other side of things that are meant to include “all” women. Statistics and studies prove that something like Black Breastfeeding Week NEEDS to be a thing (as well as Hispanic and Asian breastfeeding week). We need it as a society as much as we need white, Asian, and Hispanic women to breastfeed, because it’s not just amazing for babies but it’s amazing for mothers. Being excluded is something that every single race, except for whites, have experienced and it’s easier for them to call racism than it is to look at the evidence staring them in the face. I’m not saying that national breastfeeding month isn’t a good thing, but as someone who is grouped with whites I don’t have to fight tooth and nail for the same level of acceptance like “minorities” do when I choose to nurse a 2.5 year old in public.

    Reply
    • jennae September 1, 2014, 10:56 am

      Thank you Jen, for sharing this. That’s exactly it. ALL women need support breastfeeding, and sometimes the best way to do it is to target them specifically in a way that appeals to their experience as women of color — whether Black, Latina or Asian. You are absolutely right, and I thank you for your support.

      Reply
  • Sion August 30, 2014, 1:06 am

    Ah, my husband is black, and I’m a white trans man. I stopped taking testosterone to carry our son, and then he was exclusively breastfed to 6 months and has continued to breastfeed. He’s 25 months old now.

    My husband is very supportive of our son’s breastfeeding. He’s comfortable sitting with us while we nurse on the playground, which might be brave because most people never see a breastfeeding man! My doctor and my son’s pediatricians support us, too. With the in-laws, though, it’s a battle.

    I don’t want to nurse him when they’re visiting, but my son usually does ask at least once before we’re back home in private. Many of our parenting decisions have been taken as… a challenge to the way my husband was raised–like we’re saying they weren’t good enough to him by doing things differently than they did. It’s not like that, though. My mother in law got very upset that we didn’t feed my son cereal as an infant, and she pushed me to pump at her house so she could feed him breast milk from a bottle for 8 months.

    I try to stay positive about it. If I only have kind things to say, I shouldn’t fan the flames all that much. Even just me being trans and her having a gay son has inspired rage, so it feels very delicate. I have heard “that’s just sucking on a titty” and “not me” and “it’s okay if you quit” all from my partner’s side of the family. One time, his mother said breastfeeding was selfish because I was preventing my husband from bonding with his son, and that was about the only time we got through to her (because he was offended, since he bonded with our little guy in lots of ways).

    It hasn’t been all bad, though. Just nervousness/anxiety for me with the visits. It’s not easy like it has been with my family because there’s no foundation of “we love each other and genuinely care what we’re all thinking about and how our lives are going.” If they weren’t annoyed at me for breastfeeding, things might feel pleasant on a surface level, but it’s like… I’m still not that close to them (that’s not to say there aren’t people out there who are tight with their in-laws and their parents! We just aren’t for some reason).

    There is a friend of the family who is a black mother AND a doctor, and she’s been a freaking godsend. Even though my mother in law has struggled with us nursing her grandson, she always felt much more positively about it when she called her friend’s doctor daughter and heard, for example, that she exclusively breastfed her child for the first six months. Bit by bit, hearing about people she can relate to breastfeeding is opening her up to it.

    Reply
    • jennae September 1, 2014, 11:00 am

      Sion, thank you SO much for sharing your story here. I think that we really don’t hear stories about trans men breastfeeding nearly often enough, and I’m glad that you are pushing through the challenges from your partner’s family to do what is best for your baby. There really just needs to be education all around, because the misperceptions about breastfeeding in the African American community are abundant, and they lead to misguided “advice” that can really harm the nursing relationship if you’re not vigilant. Please continue to share your experience, and I wish you and your family the best!

      Reply
  • Lisa Nelson September 1, 2014, 8:11 am

    Honestly, I don’t understand this. I am an African American woman. I have breastfed all my children beyond 2 years. I was the first breastfeeding woman in my entire family (including extended). I was also the first homebirther, the first Mormon, the first stay at home mom, the second to be college educated, the first to go to graduate school, the first to…the first to…the first to… I never thought of doing anything different than to breastfeed. It was really really hard. It still is. I struggle with it every single day, with every single baby…all the time. In fact, I have such PTSD with the last one, the thought of doing it one more time gives me morning sickness. Honestly, I hate it. I really do. I always have.

    With that said, I do it because it’s the best for the baby – hands down. I sacrifice myself, my dignity, my freedom, my body and my boobs because it’s what’s best for baby. It’s not forever. However, I decided this on my own despite posters and LLL and how many white or black people do or do not breastfeed. In fact, how many black people do or don’t do something doesn’t dictate my decisions in life. It really doesn’t. In fact, until now, I didn’t really think about it.

    Whew, I am so glad it doesn’t. Phew, all the beautiful things I have experienced that I wouldn’t now know. It’s sad to think about it really.

    Yeah, my LLL meeting was predominately white, but who cares? It doesn’t mean that they can’t support me. Boobs are boobs. Babies are babies. Despite my hate for it, breastfeeding is something I really wanted to do. But I figured it out for myself. You know?
    Lisa Nelson´s last blog post ..The Mommy Monday Blog Hop (#mondayformoms) – Week 62

    Reply

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

947 Flares Facebook 928 Twitter 18 Pin It Share 0 Google+ 1 947 Flares ×