Thursday, September 20, 2012

Is Breastfeeding While Teaching Inappropriate?

I'd been thinking about the recent uproar over the nursing anthropology professor at American University. It's hard not to; the story is plastered over just about every media outlet that is and is not related to breastfeeding. I also listened to a short conversation on the NPR show Tell Me More, where three women along with the host, gave their opinions on the topic -- a couple varied, but they all seem to support the idea of breastfeeding.

I got the images in this post from a Lactation Consultant who has done work in Ecuador, where they were taken -- a place where educators frequently bring their babies to class, just like the one you see here being worn and carried around by its mother. When this baby gets hungry or fussy during a lesson, it will be breastfed -- yet instead of the instructor receiving incessant requests from the press wanting to discuss the 'incident,' being 'told on' on twitter for her child receiving milk in front of the classroom, having students drop the course or having to go on the defensive, no one says a thing. Why? It is part of normal activity there and in many other places outside of the U.S. Nursing a baby anytime, anywhere, is only inappropriate in anti-breastfeeding cultures. Take note, America.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Word(less words) Wednesday: Black women + Anthropology + Breastfeeding = Just the two of us?

I've been spending some time looking for Black and African American anthropologists – for people of African descent, and women of color who are also lactation advocates -- for practicing anthropologists, or those who have taken any anthropology courses or who have learned about the discipline in any other way, and integrate this important angle into their work. I’m even interested in finding those whose work is closely related to lactation, such as doulas, midwives, or other birthworkers -- just to know we exist in this realm. I'm not hoping to find a large amount, obviously, since I know we're scarce; the Association of Black Anthropologists and other closely related organizations continue to make efforts to increase the amount of people of color who study anthropology overall -- the last I heard there were only between 600-800 Black anthropologists in this country – and a Black woman anthropologist is rare. 

Besides myself and Nisha – an IBCLC, doula and owner of Mother Rites which is here in town, I can't think of many others who have combined anthropology with lactation. In fact, between searching the internet and even asking for leads from others from an online space filled with Black women who are anthropologists, or who at least have an interest in the discipline, below is the list of others I found across the U.S.:

I'm convinced there's more.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

RACE MATTERS! Why I AM A 'Reverse Racist'. And Why I Won't Stop Criticizing Whiteness -- In Breastfeeding AND Beyond

For the past few days, I've been walking around feeling pretty upset. I went to a friend's birthday party on Saturday night, and even though I already felt slightly weirded out about being around all but two people I didn't know, this was confirmed after being in a room of white people, who foolishly believe it's OK for their racism to come off as 'friendly', and 'joking' gestures and experiencing some other microaggressions about sending someone to the back of the bus. That was the end of my night. I left. But not before one of them questioned "It wasn't because of what I said, was it?" That set off my bad weekend.

The next day, or, later that day -- on Sunday afternoon, I spoke to someone I've known for years but haven't seen or talked to in a while. She and I don't agree on all that much anymore these days -- especially when it comes to racial issues. We don't even agree to disagree. We just disagree. She decided to start the conversation off by telling me how her family continues to unfriend me on facebook for talking about racism and whiteness and how she doesn't always want to hear about it all the time. I'm fine with that. It's not the first time I've been de-friended for this same subject matter. And it won't be the last. But I was more irked during this conversation than others, specifically because she continues to spout off her beliefs on 'reverse racism' -- racism towards whites from communities of color -- since this is very possible, of course, given 500 years of white rule. She told me that she experiences this as a white woman in this country, and according to this viewpoint, since I am among the group that challenges this continued domance and support others who do then I, too, am practicing this.

I can't explain how much it irks me that this white woman believes race doesn't matter -- or that it's only worthy of debate in the context of these so-called 'crimes against whites.' And because she belongs to a dominant group, the 'reversal' happens when Blacks and people of color counter the oppressive tactics, while the dominating group tries to assume a victimized space by crying 'anti-white' in this country, continues to blow my mind. That whites remain oblivious to centuries of oppression directed at communities of color, and the historical legacy and strategic ways that have and continue to concentrate certain groups in this and other residential areas where she lives -- a predominately Black neighborhood -- one of the most racially segregated cities in this country, escapes her and baffles me. I'm irked that she and many others refuse to recognize that by coming into just a few white dollars, could move where she wanted within this system that is designed with her in mind and she'd never have to worry about being run out of town and accepted.

She also laid in on me about nursing -- saying there is no such thing as racial issues and privilege in breastfeeding -- since the only reason she breastfed was because of her financial status -- because she was so poor, which of course is the reason she lives in her neighborhood, and told me I'm just "looking too much into things." If that were true – that women breastfed in larger numbers because of their lower socio-economic statuses or, when they’re poor, I'd be thrilled. In fact, if this were the case, I'd be much happier because our babies would be thriving. We'd hear about less cases of health disparities especially among children of color where these are rampant, including less incidents of childhood illnesses like ear infections, SIDS, less cases of babies experiencing gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, constipation and other issues with their gut that are largely preventable with breastfeeding. We'd worry a bit less about environmental pollutants dumped into the backyards of the most vulnerable members of our society (check with your local Native reservation especially, btw), since there would be less waste from formula companies, and we wouldn't have to worry as much about this showing up in the breastmilk of these communities. There would be less cases of asthma and allergies that are directly related to these pollutants. We’d also be able to worry just a little bit less about our Black mothers and many women of color, who, because of the racial framework of this society continue to receive inadequate medical treatment because of lack of resources and access to healthcare and a rightful mistrust of healthcare professionals -- the legacy, and these women are dying in disproportionate numbers. Breastfeeding would help preserve their health, too. What's more, I may have never started this blog, or any type of breastfeeding journey. Would I need to? Or, instead of writing about inequality, racism and injustice, I'd focus more on things that give me warm fuzzies like rainbows, dragonflies, faeries and sparkle dust – and myself and thousands of other advocates, activists and healthcare professionals, who work on improving the status of communities of color, could all get a day off. And the government would not be the largest supplier of infant formula for low-income families, spending over 800 million per yearThe privilege of breastfeeding is dependent on more than what is or is not inside of your wallet. Whiteness fuels this inequity.

So she is wrong -- about reverse racism, and the reason she breastfed. She did not do so because she's poor. She did so because she is a white woman who lives in a society that values white people, white values, white culture and white customs. And because her white body, regardless of how often she’s complained of her imperfections, is tacitly and explicitly signified as ideal, and all others are made to fall in line behind this figure -- even when it deals with a baby at her breast. And because there has never been one single instance where she questioned the legacy heaped onto her community members, who were at one point in history bought and sold as cattle, and how this may impact her today, in mental and physical health, social circumstances and a list of others that are at the center of lowered breastfeeding initiation and duration rates. Disparities don't just fall from the sky.

So, if I encounter people who want to label me with a nonsensical term, 'reverse racist' for no other reason than my criticizing the dominant structure of whiteness and challenging the continued egregious treatment directed at non-white populations, by contesting the way it maligns, demonizes these communities and interferes with our babies, their access to breastmilk and our overall health and well-being, then I guess it's inevitable. And I can live with that.

Other Sources:
Breastfeeding Report Card, 2012
Center for Disease Control: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)
How To be a Reverse Racist: An Actual Step by Step List for Oppressing White People

Reblog - A Professor Walks Into A Classroom: Because I never thought I'd ever use my three most favorite terms IN THE WORLD – 'Anthropology', 'Feminism', 'Breastfeeding' in the same sentence as the word 'Fail'!

My friend sent this one to me -- the article below, but I've heard it's been all over the news and other places, too. A professor, who just so happens to be a mother, brought her sick baby to class and the baby, as babies tend to do, got fussy, so this mother and anthropology professor thought of a solution. Besides the fact no one uttered a word before the nursing, I can't think of a more ideal setting other than an anthropology course on feminism, and I've been trying to imagine the curriculum: cross-cultural comparisons on social stratification, male dominance and exploitation of women's bodies -- especially their breasts, against the biological norm and especially here in America, and various ways to counter this learned behavior. Now I'm not signed up for the course and never sat in on a class, but I'm willing to bet I'm not so far off.

An American University Professor Breast-Fed During Class. So What?
It's easy to forget the almighty power of the ordinary breast. If you have a couple yourself, most of your attention spent on them in a lifetime is focused on making sure they look right in clothes and aren't in your way, with occasional forays into sex and feeding infants. But breasts actually have a secret super power. When whipped out under the right circumstances, the ordinary mammary gland has the ability to expose a tremendous amount of cultural hypocrisy around gender and parenting.
Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology at American University, unwittingly learned that lesson when she decided to shut up her fussy baby in the culturally prescribed way, especially for the highly educated middle class set:giving the baby her boob. Had she done so safely ensconced in her home, perhaps beatifically meditating on how this means so much more than any career ever could, she would have been held up as a moral paragon for all women. But since she did so in the middle of doing her job, in this case lecturing a class full of students taking a feminist anthropology course, she's instead become a national scandal, with the controversy detailed on the front page of today's Washington Post.
The world knows about Pine's transgressively feminine behavior in the traditionally masculine role of college professor because the student newspaper immediately pounced on the story, and Pine responded in a way that likely hurt her cause by coming across as pedantic and needlessly defensive. Still, her situation should draw sympathy from those who aren't inclined to immediately think the worst of women. She's a single mother, and her baby couldn't go to day care that day because she had a fever. Pine had to choose between missing the first day of class or bringing her sick baby along.
It seems that if it hadn't been for the breast-feeding, this entire situation would have gone unnoticed. But many students completely lost it when they saw an actual human breast. Such as Jake Carias, age 18 and interviewed by the Washington Post, who claims that he was fine with the presence of the baby, but not so much the boob: 
But when Pine started to breast-feed mid-class, Carias said, it crossed a line.
“I found it unprofessional,” he said. “I was kind of appalled.” 
Carias fired off a tweet: “midway through class breast feeding time.” He also posted a message on his Facebook page. He said he later dropped the class.
So, he spends his class time on Twitter and Facebook, but a woman who can continue a lecture while breast-feeding is an intolerable distraction? Personally, I remember college lectures as being most students' least favorite part of school, a necessary evil that one struggled not to fall asleep during. Anything to liven it up would have been welcome. So, unless college students have completely changed in the years since I graduated, the whole thing has little to do with some sort of assault on their education and more to do with underlying anxieties about sex and gender.
Pine offers garbled and unconvincing arguments for why she breast-feeds, but she really shouldn't have to offer an argument at all. Plus, regardless of how she frames it for herself, the reality is that for a woman of her class and age, choosing formula means having your peers act like you're dishing rat poison into your daughter's mouth. Funny how we live in a society that both expects women, especially highly educated and ambitious women, to breast feed, but forbids them to do so while pursuing their ambitions. If I didn't know any better, I'd think pushing women out of positions of prestige and power and back into the home was a feature and not a bug of this system. 
Original Article: Slate XX Factor

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Breastfeeding. . . .The most Beautifullest, Naturallest and Heallthiest Thing! (Video)

There's another hip hop breastfeeding song out there -- and it's a parody of Keith Murray's The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World. This new one was just released the other day, and is by Kuroji, and he rhymes about his appreciation for breastfeeding, calling it the most 'Beautifullest,' 'Naturallest,' and 'Heallthiest' thing. I'm really excited about this song. Not only because of it's ability to draw in more diverse audiences since it comes from a Black male perspective, but I really appreciate the line: "10 fingers and toes ain't nearly enough. You want a healthy child? Breastfeeding builds them up!," since it underscores there is a difference between being alive and thriving.

Kuroji's wife, Chenniah Patrick, is author of This Milk Tastes Good! A Breastfeeding Nursery Rhyme, a children's book about breastfeeding that he also illustrated. This family seems to make a great team in breastfeeding promotion, and I can't think of many things cooler than a hip hop song about mother's milk. I've been walking around singing this one, too, and I also really enjoyed the rhyme from This Milk Tastes Good! Now, if we can just get a tune to that one. 


When she's nursing our child, she's feeding the future
Giving him or her all that they need to produce the 
Right things within to defend against sickness
All the mom would breastfed, so I can bear witness

Listen! I wouldn't have it any other way
And if you cannot say when I start the day
Give your child your breast after they first breath
It relieves the stress plus eliminates death

10 fingers and toes ain't nearly enough
You want a healthy child? Breastfeeding builds them up!
You want a healthy child? Breastfeeding builds them up!
You want a healthy child? Breastfeeding builds them up!

I'm a breastfed, breasfeeding full-time father
That's my reply when I'm asked why do I bother
We got one in college and three to follow
And I ain't gonna front like they ain't seen a bottle
But 'Breast is Best' was definitely our module
Do what's natural if your body allows you
And when number five arrives I'll do the same 
We stand behind all the benefits for the brain
We stand behind all the benefits for the brain
We stand behind all the benefits for the brain


The most beautifullest thing in this world is breatfeeding your child. Please remember
The most heallthiest thing in this world is breastfeeding your child. Please remember
The most naturallest thing in this world is breastfeeding your child. Please remember

Having trouble latching? The result is attaching a pump to your breast so that you can express
Direct into the bottle to see the full value of all that nutrition that your little one's gettin'
Whether private or public Your child's gonna love it
You gave him a great start and it came from your heart
You gave him a great start and it came from your heart


The most beautifullest thing in this world is breatfeeding your child. Please remember
The most heallthiest thing in this world is breastfeeding your child. Please remember
The most naturallest thing in the world is breastfeeding your child. Please remember
The most beautifullest thing in this world is breastfeeding your child


After some research on birth and midwifery and posting that last week, I thought it would be nice to have a resource page dedicated exclusively to breastfeeding. Like Black birth and midwifery I have gathered information from sites, but the only difference with this post is I know much more about this subject. These links focus largley on a more practical aspect of breastfeeding, though I'm sure if you're looking for more of a historical, political and theoretical perspective it definitely doesn't hurt to start here and continue digging. 

The "Sites I Visit" are ones I usually frequent -- or have been subscribed to for longer, either through email or a networking site. I also found other advocacy groups and coalitions across the country, and listed the state to make it as easy as possible to find resources. Be sure to tell me what I'm missing by leaving a link to your organization or one you know of in the comments below. Check back often for updates, and leave a link to your site in the comments below.

                      This book is FREE      

  • Sites I visit
Black 360 Breasstfeeding, NY (?)
Black Mother's Breastfeeding Association, MI
Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington, WA
Black Women Do Breastfeed
Free To Breastfeed: Voices From Black Mothers
Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition, IN
It's Better At Home
Native American Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington, WA
Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), GA
Support Table For Two, GA

  • Videos
Male Breastfeeding Support

  • Other Breastfeeding Sites
African American Breastfeeding Network, WI
Cree Breastfeeding,
Indian Health Service Maternal Child Health Department Breastfeeding Wesbstie
Lactancia Materna
La Leche League International
Mother-Rites, WA
Native Breastfeeding Council
Tiny Babies Foundation, GA
Soy Lactivista,

  • Local, state and National Coalitions
Navajo Nation Breastfeeding Coalition, AZ

  • Additional links and interesting articles