Disclaimer: Please don’t let some white woman’s thoughts on this be the only ones you read. Read stories firsthand @blkbfingweek, search the tag #blackbreastfeedingweek on Instagram, and read this article. Listen, and lean in to being uncomfortable while doing the work.
I just so happened to find myself reading The Big Letdown by Kimberly Seals Allers in honor of Black Breast Feeding Week. I’m stoked to see all of the photos of badass black mothers and parents breast/chest feeding their babies this week on the social medes and simultaneously disappointed in both myself and greater society that it’s in such stark contrast to my feed on any other week. I wish that we were not SO far behind in this basic act of representation of black breast/chest feeding and parenthood in general.
Black parents being able to see themselves as breast/chest feeding parents is a huge first step, but what’s next? Kimberly Sears Allers unpacks the MANY barriers to breastfeeding to the point where we can barely call it a choice anymore. Enslaved African American women were used as wet nurses for white slave owners’ kids. They had to prioritize these kids over their own, who were lucky to survive. This still fuels a bias of seeing black women as “bad mothers” influencing a whole host of things including the fact that they receive significantly less breastfeeding education and counseling, possibly none at all. If we’re not talking about this, the commodification and hyper sexualization of black and brown bodies, multi-generational trauma around parenthood from slavery, white feminism, access to paternity leave, what Allers coins as the first food deserts (places with zero access to breastfeeding support groups), and the big business and advertising schemes of infant formula (especially in places of lower socioeconomic status), are we saying anything?
For me, it’s an ongoing invitation to unpack my own white privilege and biases and encourage other white folks to do the same. One particular resource that has been helpful to me and was reintroduced during an orientation at the Pettaway Pursuit Foundation is Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. I invite you to read through these 50 privileges and pick out the ones that could be related to black women breastfeeding at significantly lower rates than their counterparts. Do the work.