Happy National Breastfeeding Month
Okay, now when you saw these photos did you think I’ve lost what little bit of sanity I have left? Were you shocked? Did you even notice? Even care?
Well this is what I saw after I opened an e-blast from a local women’s health organization that I support. What the f*&k?! I instantly thought. Are they crazy? What’s up with this photo?
I then scrolled down and looking at their “5 Breastfeeding Tips”. Very generic tips and not one speaking to the need for increased promotion and support for women of color. So I thought again, why the need for this invidious photo.
Being the RBG I am, I thought I’d let them know how I, someone that has supported their work feel about this. Needless to say, the responses were interesting. There’s nothing like calling someone out on their racism and they give you a reason as to why they did it. Brilliant.
Here is our correspondence. Let a sister know your thoughts.
Happy National Breastfeeding Month!
I am writing because I am super excited about the recognition for NBM in your newest e-blast. Although, this is a beautiful and important message, I have to admit I was taken aback by the images chosen to promote this awareness. I do believe intentions were well meant but I want to bring something really important to your attention.
The first image, the one of a Black woman nursing a white presenting baby was an interesting use of imagery. As a strong breastfeeding supporter I understand how daunting it may seem to look for specific images of African-American women breastfeeding. There are photos available and most recently with the hard work of some committed women, there has been numerous online spaces created providing more visibility for Black breastfeeding women breastfeeding Black babies. The photo you all chose is an advertisement that many mainstream news outlets and resources use when discussing the disparities (really inequities) related to breastfeeding within the Black community. There are national campaigns being created as we speak to promote the health benefits that breastfeeding plays, particularly in regards to Black women. With African-American women experiencing more and more aggressive forms of breast cancer (which I know your organization knows much more about than me) it has been shown that breastfeeding greatly reduces the risk of getting not only these forms of cancer but also reduces other health issues like obesity and diabetes.
So what does this have to do with the photo(s)? It’s really important to understand how images or even feeling like something is relevant culturally plays a part in the behavior change and/or promotion of consumers. I think about how I would feel as a woman of color preparing myself and my family to access services through your organization in regards to starting a family opening this email and seeing these photos. The beauty and perfection in the breastfeeding dyad witnessed in those last two photos are breathtaking. The first, not so much (the woman in the first picture doesn’t even have a head/face). Racial inclusivity in so important in health promotion and is something I think your organization wants to display to their clients. Long story short, in promoting NBM it would behoove you all to include women of color breastfeeding–or not. Having that photo there just causes too much questioning.
I won’t keep you but thought that you would be receptive to this oversight. I have included some links below that may help in the future in case you all need some imagery (just please credit as most of these folks are real people and not stock photos).
Thank you so much for your incredibly thoughtful email. I really appreciate you taking the time to explain your concerns, and your willingness to be open with me. I agree completely that imagery choices when promoting healthy behaviors and educating about health disparities is paramount. I think that Shannon and I always do our very best to be cognizant about the ways that certain photos or word choices can impact the way that someone perceives our newsletters, as well as their willingness to come into our organization for care.
That said, I really believe that Shannon and I made a poor choice with the first photo, when I put some more thought into it. When I was reviewing the e-blast originally, I hesitated when looking at the first image, thinking that it might be read poorly by women of color (or people in general) and/or raise eyebrows. On the other hand, I thought that it could be perceived as beautiful, that there is a mother and child of different ethnicities that are experiencing breastfeeding together. But, I do know that there are different connotations to a white woman nursing a black baby, than a black woman nursing a white baby, for example. So, I certainly want to be mindful and sensitive to that. Additionally, I know that there were two pictures of white women with white babies, and then a black woman with a white baby. I understand why that looks culturally insensitive. I think the connotations would have been different if there were multi-ethnic women nursing different ethnicties of babies, or women nursing babies of matching ethnicities to theirs, etc. In any case, I know that this issue is complex, and I want us at our organization to be regularly vigilant and sensitive about that.
Again, I really appreciate your input, and I hope that you can continue to provide feedback as you see fit. Shannon and I will certainly be more careful next time about our photo choices.
I’ve CC’d Shannon here, in case she wants to chime in at all.
First, let me thank you for speaking up and sharing your thoughts about the photos with me. I appreciate you taking the time to do so:)
Second, let me offer an explanation for choosing this specific photo. This photo was chosen not to offend, but to offer the first part of a continuous story that we plan on sharing from the inclusive perspective of diversified families and women who breast-feed.
I made a very conscious decision to use the photo of the African American woman breastfeeding a White baby. As someone who recognizes the numerous disparities that women of color experience, I know it’s incredibly important for us to use imagery that connects these women to our organization and the services that we offer from a perspective they can connect with. My hope with this photo was one; to present a current marginalized population of women who breast feed, and two; to reflect on an image of a non-biological parent breastfeeding.
Because we plan to use many photo opportunities of women breastfeeding, including posting on facebook and an article devoted to NBM on the an online news source I knew an image of a woman of color breastfeeding a child of color would be used in a future posting, as well as a woman breastfeeding a toddler. I think this image that I chose reflects that our organization is open to all kinds of different families, a message that I believe in strongly and try to regularly convey through our marketing and eblasts . I believe this photo represents the beauty that exists in all families and parent/child breastfeeding relationships, which is, again, why I chose the image.
Please look for additional imagery that represents a wider variety than the three women represented here in future articles and facebook postings during NBM. Thank you for the photos and for being a rock star advocate for women! Please let me know if you have any additional questions or comments and I would be happy to chat with you.
Of course, I had to respond. There are so many things wrong with this response but choosing not to go ham I offered a few kind words (thank you transcendental meditation).
Thanks for your response. I totally got where you were trying to go in regards of the photo but again that photo in particular is charged with a lot of energy. Believing in diverse families is beautiful and something I think we all can agree with but if you want more or need more context, look up the controversy around that particular United Colors of Benetton’s ad and historical context about Black women as wet-nurses (it also says a lot about what type of babies get adopted, what kind of babies are breastfed etc.). Based on our complex history (USA), photos of Black women nursing non-biological child are much easier to come by than not. I trust you will have a harder time displaying the reverse.
I am in solidarity of the work you all are doing and the messages you are trying to relay. I just didn’t get that with these photos so I thought I would bring it to your attention. I am looking forward future media regarding NBM and very excited to read the article on the online news source. As we are all advocates for women I know we want to support our clients in an intentional and beautifully, respectful way.
Not everything I wanted to say but wanted to share this encounter with you as an example of my frustrations and commitment to this birth and food justice work. Let me know your thoughts!
For this is the revolution.
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50 Friends, 5 day Campaign.
You can donate through Paypal at email@example.com.
All donate funds will go towards completing my prerequisites this fall and will take me one step closer to materializing my goal of becoming a nurse midwife.
You can read my personal statement below. Thank you!
It is my intention to complete the Master’s Entry to Nursing Practice Program at DePaul University. With a strong background in public health I want to advance my knowledge and commitment to public health by gaining a MS in Nursing.
For the past five years I have been a birth worker and a reproductive health/birth justice activist. As a doula and lactation education specialist, my passion for women and their families has encouraged me to pursue a career in midwifery. Once matriculating from DePaul, I plan to continue my evolution in becoming a Certified Nurse Midwife and eventually attaining my Doctorate in Nursing focusing on Community Health and Disparities.
There are many paths to achieving my professional goal of becoming a midwife but my desire to embark on this ambitious journey by attending DePaul is extremely intentional. My attraction to birth has been ever evolving and for as long as I can remember. It has been a dream that I was sure without a bachelor’s degree in nursing would probably never materialize. After I gained my Master of Public Health, I began my career as a professional reproductive health worker and activist. Initially working with international collectives and organizations to prevent maternal to child transmission of HIV, I moved into developing curriculum focusing reproductive health for young women and girls. It was during this time that I was working with a lot of young women and girls during their childbearing years. To become a valuable resource and support to these youth I began volunteering with a birthing center in Washington, DC’s South-East community. With it being the only birthing center in the city and located within community, many of the women being served there were young, Black and uninsured. I witnessed midwives working from a model of care that I was unused to witnessing. It rocked my soul.
I assisted women and girls in childbirth and was amazed at their willingness and commitment to breastfeeding. This place (the birthing center) and these women (the nurse-midwives) contradicted everything that I had heard in graduate school simultaneously confirming everything I had felt in my heart. It was at this birth center that I began to research the various options for fulfilling my dream of becoming a nurse midwife. Since then, I have self-studied, attended an non-traditional midwifery school, attended conferences, organized workshops, and I have come full circle to actualizing my commitment to this work by applying to the Master’s Entry to Nursing Program at DePaul.
Completing this program will change my life.
I have many peers and colleagues that are becoming informal midwives and enjoy being birth workers out of hobby. I am not so privileged. In light of the struggle for legalization for professional midwives in Chicago, becoming a nurse will provide me the opportunity to have visibility within my community. Completing this program will privilege me with the autonomy and accessibility needed to address the devastating birth outcomes, excess deaths, and health inequities that women of color are facing in these same communities.
Completing the Master’s Entry to Nursing Practice Program at DePaul will grant me the opportunity and access to learn and collaborate with aspiring nurses within the program as well as seasoned nurse professionals that I will learn from. It is my responsibility and dedication to obtain the highest knowledge and professional development to serve and contribute to the momentum being made by other nurses committed to addressing these disparities.
Lastly, upon completing this program I look forward to providing service internationally as a nurse for peace and humanity. I feel I have a lot of knowledge to gain from nurses globally both technically and spiritually. I want to be amongst powerful and fearless nurses who are working for social justice, to change their communities; one woman, one family, one life at a time.
I am a current active member of the Chicago Members Group of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC). ICTC is a national membership organization of birth workers and healers of color. The Chicago-area group was re-launched in 2010. I am also an organizer of the Chicago Black Birth Workers Conference tentatively set for late September 2012. I am the co-founder of the online companion to Free to Breastfeed: Voices from Black Mothers, an anthology I co-edited. I have been a member of DONA International since 2008 as well as a former student member of the Midwives Alliance of North America (2010-2011) and the Illinois Coalition for Certified Professional Midwives (2009-2011). I am a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
Community Service Activities:
I organize community events with the Chicago Members Group of ICTC. Some of the events I have assisted in organizing include film festivals, Love Your Pregnancy Days, and an upcoming Chicago Black Birth Workers conference. I am a tutor at the Saturday School for Positive Education. Saturday School is an African-centered education supplement for 4th through 8th graders in North Lawndale, Chicago. I volunteer often with the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA). I also regularly provide free labor support and/or lactation support services for low-income women. Lastly, as a local organizer and speaker for birth justice I often support events (i.e. the Annual Walk for Midwives, fundraisers) and have been invited to numerous speaking engagements to speak about health inequities, race, social justice, and birth justice.
Happy World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month!
Ahimsa and I got together to send a special shout out those RBGs out there. We hope you like it.
thanks to my sister kye for the land, to auntie loretta for the guidance, and to oriana and stephanie for the seeds and seedlings.
i am a happy girl…
This book, The Wonders of Mother’s Milk by Mishawn Purnell-O’Neal, has been a staple at bed time in my home for quite some time now. Ahimsa and I just love the language and its vibrant illustrations. I appreciate the ethnic and racial diversity of the mamas and babes in the book; a culturally appropriate read in my opinion.
Using age-appropriate language, the topics discussed in the book include: the health and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, de-stigmatizing breastfeeding in public, breastfeeding mothers who work outside of the home, the notion of mother’s milk being green (yes!), and extended breastfeeding.
I’m excited to learn that The Wonders of Mother’s Milk is now available as a download for the iPad and iPhone. The book is offered through iBooks as an enhanced version which offers a “Read-To-Me Option” by a professional narrator. I believe that this is the first children’s book with a breastfeeding theme that’s being offered in this kind of digital format. The cost of the download is super affordable too!
A Kindle Edition is also available for download!
I got the enhanced version on my iPhone and can I just say it is so cool!! It really came in handy on our recent road trip to Nashville. Ahimsa enjoyed reading something she was familiar with and having it read aloud to her over and over again. I truly appreciate how, when read aloud, the words are highlighted in red, something necessary for young readers developing their literacy skills.
Thanks to the author Mishawn Purnell-O’Neal, I will be giving away a promotional code for the digital version of The Wonders of Mother’s Milk. Leave a comment on this post by Saturday, June 9, 2012 and it will count as your entry. All names will be entered with a winner selected at random via random.org. I will announce the winner in the comments section by 5:00 pm, June 9th. Winner must respond within 24 hours, or another will be selected.
So, I’m not a “check the postal mail everyday” kind of person. Who needs another bill on the coffee table anyway? But when I checked my mail box the other day, the only thing that was in there was an envelope addressed to Green Diva Super. I immediately knew what it was!
Culturally appropriate breastfeeding activism SWAG!!
Pretty cool, aren’t they?!! I was gifted them by one of my most favoritest bloggers: Lactation Journey.
Since the beginning of my breastfeeding activism, I have been seeking out (read: stalking, lol) other Black women that address the topics of breastfeeding and health disparities in the Black community. It was right before the launch the Free to Breastfeed site that I came across Lactation Journey and was instantly hooked.
Lactation Journey is written by Acquanda S. who is a feminist, an anthropologist, and of course, a Black woman passionate about breastfeeding in the Black community. She writes about her journey to becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), one of the breastfeeding-support professions that desperately need more Black women becoming certified in. In the state of Washington, home of Lactation Journey, Black IBCLCs are rare, if not non-existent.
Here is what Acquanda says about breastfeeding and her “lactation journey”:
This is a journey. It is not simply a task where I learn the steps of attaching an infant to its mother’s breast. That’s the easy part, I’m sure. I am hoping to explore this area via a holistic approach — examining cultural traditions, ritual, language, and all aspects of infant feeding and nurturing through the various ways it is expressed and experienced. My dream is to help create and maintain a positive atmosphere for Black women and all women who choose to participate in this wonderful, healthy tradition, and to encourage other women and men to advocate this area — especially those ‘non-traditional’ ones who, like me, do not have children, and who are often seen as not needing to concern ourselves with this area, to join in.
Going through boxes of old fabric (I used to make clothes once upon a time), I found some green scrubs of my mother’s. They are from 1988; from when she working at a clinic in Evanston. They screamed from the box “Wear me, future midwife!”
And so I obliged.
I rocked them for her on this past Mama’s Day.