Thursday, March 15, 2012

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Those Free Breastfeeding Books...and the Audacity of Blackness

At the Annual Breastfeeding Meeting last week, I sat next to an older (50ish) white woman, who had something very interesting to say. We shared our stories of what brought us to the realm of breastfeeding advocacy, before we got on the subject of the free breastfeeding books offered by the Department of Women's Health. Those free books come in different languages, and are written to be specific to different cultural groups. I'm assuming the policies must have changed over the past several months, since from what I knew (and when I ordered them myself), each address was allowed 25 of each book per month. As she and I continued that conversation, she started telling me about the African American texts, and that the "white texts" (as she stated) -- the general ones, the Department only allowed one copy. She said she works with quite a number of African American mothers, so she is fortunate to be able to have an abundance of those, but for her white patients, would "feel strange giving them a book that caters to African Americans."

I didn't respond to her comment like I usually would have, since I think I'm getting to the point where I feel I should pick and choose the time I decide to respond to such things. I also had very little sleep the night before and didn't have the energy to drag that moment out into a potential long discussion and possible debate, and the meeting was also soon starting. But looking back, part of me wishes I would have said something. Anything. The ignorance in what she said in her belief that books that are supposedly supposed to cater to 'African Americans' could not be of any use to white audiences. And I think if I had said something what would it be? Maybe I would have told her about a recent video I saw on YouTube about the normalization of white bodies in movies, and everywhere else -- that also went into the supposed colorblind ethics of our society, that says to overlook color, but in actuality only continues to benefit the cohesiveness of whiteness, since white culture is normalized and this would continue to marginalize everyone else. Maybe I would have told her if she only opened her eyes, women Of Color are made invisible in breastfeeding texts (you know, those ones not written specifically by a WOC) and are tacitly and explicitly made to assimilate to whiteness that continues to place white culture and white women at the center. Or how the books she's talking about offered by the government, to me, are actually nothing more than a murmur of the lifestyles and experiences of white people, just with painted faces of Blacks, Latinas, Native Americans, Asians. Really!  How many times can I say this?!

I also ate lunch at a table with two other white women -- IBCLCs. One in particular who said she once talked to Kathy Barber, author of The Black Woman's Guide to BREASTFEEDING, and founder of the African American Breasfeeding Alliance, about making the group more inclusive, and was told in so many words 'no' because when Black women attend meetings (I'm quite sure she was talking about LLL and others), we cannot find ourselves in them. Although I do not excuse this, I can appreciate the viewpoint of my lunchmates -- wanting more inclusiveness, much more than the other lady's xenophobia, and fear of offending white women with a text filled with Black mothers and Black babies.

I know these types of sentiments are not only reflected on the experiences of Black women and our traditions, which is what I told the women at lunchtime as I talked about Native American breastfeeding. But I'm absolutely not surprised by the ignorance in what she said, and the nonsense she spoke of. The insularity of whiteness, and the obliviousness of white people -- at its finest.