Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I Support Breastfeeding, So I Support Black Breastfeeding Week

When I was a little girl, I told my head start teacher, "We're just like Easter eggs.  We're all different on the outside, but we're all the same on the inside." 

My mom was so proud.  And as I got older and forgot having ever said this, she'd tell me now and again, and I was proud, too.  What a smart cookie I was!

It was insightful for a four-year-old, yes, but it was also indicative of what my generation was taught.  As a child, the differences didn't matter to me, because I was taught to be color blind.

As a pre-k teacher ages later, I taught a social studies lesson using hard boiled eggs, both brown and white, as a hands-on metaphor for teaching that we are all "the same on the inside" regardless of our color.  But what I had come to learn by then was that we must also honor differences.  In my classroom we had multicultural crayons, and dolls, and construction paper.  We compared our skin colors to the many shades on paint samples.  We had books in different languages and sampled foods from different cultures.  We read books like Two Eyes, a Nose, and a Mouth and Whoever You Are

It is important for many reasons to acknowledge both our commonalities and our differences.  Among the reasons to acknowledge differences is that we have different needs. 

I have a son with dyslexia.

All of the kids at his school deserve terrific literacy instruction.  But no one would deny that my son needs and deserves special support. 

All breastfeeding moms need support, regardless of differences.  There is a huge racial disparity in breastfeeding rates, though.  A CDC report from this year states that by 2008, breastfeeding rates among white mothers were up to 75.2%, yet among black women, only 58.9% breastfed at all.  That disparity alone is a clear signal that special support is needed.  For this and many other compelling reasons, several breastfeeding advocates launched Black Breastfeeding Week.

Source: Black Breastfeeding Week on Facebook

When I was four, or even eighteen, I might have thought that the idea of a Black Breastfeeding Week was divisive.  I thought I was color blind.  I thought that's how I was supposed to be - that that was proof that I wasn't racist, that it was how to not be racist.  I think that for some people, this color blindness is a factor in the backlash against a World Breastfeeding Week image shared on The Leaky Boob's Facebook page.  This, and/or not being aware of the race-specific needs outlined in this brilliant and compelling article by Kimberly Seals Allers.

Others seem to think that it excludes white people.  White people are free to support Black Breastfeeding Week.  It's existence is not discrimination any more than is the existence of the International Dyslexia Association.

And then, of course, some people are just racists.

I'm a white, college-educated, middle class woman.  I am lucky enough to be in the group of women most likely to breastfeed - that's one aspect of my white privilege

The only time I've ever experienced discrimination was for nursing in public.  Other advocates and I have drawn parallels between discrimination against public breastfeeding and discrimination based on disabilities, gender, age, race. 

I realize not everyone self-identifies as an advocate, but if a person is following a blog/page in search of or to offer support, I don't understand how that person might speak against NIP discrimination yet perpetuate discrimination against anyone else.  And denying people a sense of community and need-specific support IS discrimination. 

I have struggled to write this post for the entire day, I've been so afraid of getting it wrong.  Words can be hard to find, especially when something is deeply felt.  My husband and I were just talking about what I've been writing, and he said to me, "Sometimes you don't want to have to use words."  He was talking about a grief support group I went to in 1999 for women who had lost their mothers, and how important it was to me then to get to connect with people who shared the specific experience of mother loss.  It mattered so much to be able to communicate without always needing to have the right words, because they got it.  They understood, even without words.

As a white woman, I can't claim to know what it is to be a black breastfeeding mother.  But I can certainly understand that black women have a shared history, a shared experience.  And that it could help a new mother to have support from those she can communicate with about that shared knowledge without needing so many words.

We all look for things we have in common with the people in our lives.  A love of "Doctor Who," a preferred parenting style, a penchant for gardening.  We celebrate our differences, yes, but we still want to connect with people who share them.  Especially when we need support. 

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