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.