Thursday, October 25, 2012

The white privilege epiphany, the trend of anti-racism and the reality of mutated oppression

There's someone out there who can help me articulate what I mean when I talk about anti-racist work being a trend, because I don't have the word or words for it. And I'm almost positive that some scholar has already written about the topic that I've yet to see -- but since I don't have access to my personal library right now and I'm behind on my reading, I'll have to explain what I mean. I'm perfectly willing to admit that my antenna is raised around the issue because of my perceived skepticism -- or whatever that word is I just learned from watching a video by a local psychologist who does antiracist work here in Seattle. It means I'm suspicious.

Let me tell you what I'm getting at.

For me, most noticeable in learning the history of oppression directed towards communities of color, and especially in the direction Black people, is that the so-called 'post-racial' society we live in today is nothing more than a reflection of hundreds of years of domination that dons a veneer of equality, yet the foundation remains rooted in racist ideology. It just looks different. I recently revisited Black Sexual Politics -- a text by Patricia Hill Collins because I wanted to see if she could help me understand and then explain what I had been thinking about. In it, she discusses one of the ways racism continues to maintain its forces, all while appearing to have disappeared. Dr. Collins discusses the global quest for dominance and the continued disadvantages of groups. My emphasis is on restructuring the racial hierarchy, as Dr. Collins explains in her chapter 'The Past is Ever-Present: Recognizing The New Racism':
It is important to note that the new racism of the early twenty-first century has not replaced prior forms of racial rule, but instead incorporated elements of past racial formations. As a result, ideas about race, gender, sexuality and Black people as well as the social practices that these ideas shape and reflect remain intricately part of the new racism. The new racism thus reflects a situation of permanence and change (Page 43-44).
One example Dr. Collins uses to describe the new racism is via the film industry. She says that even though our society has progressed and Black people are now 'allowed' in various so-called desegregated spaces like films, rarely are they prominent figures. This dynamic not only further marginalizes Black bodies, but it perfectly maintains the dominating forces of whiteness. I recently discussed something along these lines in a brief post regarding the maternal-infant Mammy, and my experience being at an institution that appeared to be inclusive and encompassing -- de-segregated on the surface, but to me was simply a breeding ground for the production of white-centric birth and breastfeeding practices.

I've come across more and more white people these days who are talking about the recent revelation of their whiteness -- that their entire lives they had no clue that strategic methods have been built and maintained with them in mind. Many, usually through taking courses at school, appear to have just learned that for no other reason than their skin color, they are afforded access and advantages in a society that values people who look like them. What I've noticed is that often times these manifestations come with a desire to put a hand in 'fixing' things by 'helping out'. I will be the first to admire anyone who works at creating change in this world, and I also understand the importance of allies in anti-racist work -- or in many other areas, but to me the larger picture just looks like something else.

The other night I was online looking for articles to share with the anti-racism breastfeeding committee I joined a few months ago. I was in search of articles on the topic not only because I wanted to see what was out there but I also wanted to know just who was writing, and exactly how they expressed their desire to end racism -- and what new ideas I could find. Unfortunately, when it comes to breastfeeding and racism there isn't much. I did, however, come across a few birth articles on the topic, and what stuck out to me the most were the ones on antiracism and anti-oppressive work in these practices. What caught my attention from the few individual and group organizations who appear to be working towards a 'liberatory culture' were on gathering funds to send women of color to midwifery school, or the coalition here in town staffed with white people who focus on supporting people of color and on informing other white people how they benefit from whiteness. They even go so far as to tell their members to shop at certain locations in order to help keep the doors of Black-owned businesses open. I have also begun to see these ideas in both personal and structural spaces that speak to other whites that their advantage can be used in order to give people of color a 'hand up'. It sounds admirable, I guess. Except for I have yet to see any real substantiative critique of the underlying structure that strengthens the framework of these issues -- how are these anti-racists working to end a system that values their whiteness?

I'm not accusing anyone's sincerity. I'm not saying people don't have good intentions, and I'm not calling anyone racist. What I am saying, however, is the issue is much larger than someone you or I know, and that even historically though many white abolitionists spoke ardently against the institution of slavery, had no interest in finding ways to garner true social equity for those enslaved, more than they did at working towards the greater attempt at preserving their own moral consciousness -- or, as one of my former (white) professors put it "They just wanted to remove the stain from their soul." And it appeared progressive. But this type of 'help' only worked at fortifying the ill practices and legal segregation which emerged in the subsequent years after abolition. It did nothing to change the foundation.

Because I want to examine more closely what lies below the surface and engage in more dialogue in order to find ways to challenge oppressive behavior that continuously mutates between generations, I'm calling on more critical thought from birth and breastfeeding advocates, anti-racist and anti-oppression activists. I'm concerned that the current structure of antiracist work serves as nothing more than a gateway for this cycle of dominance to continue. Without remaining aware and criticizing the structure that supports this ideology that values whiteness in society, anti-racist work is moot, and is indeed just another reflection of our current times, where just like Patricia Hill Collins' example of mutated racism, the more things seem to change -- the more they will only remain the same. 

Please share your thoughts.

I just became a member of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing

I just became a member of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC)! ICTC was founded by Shafia Monroe, and is a 'infant mortality prevention, breastfeeding promotion, midwife and doula training non-profit organization,' that aims to increase the amount of midwives of color, and is based in nearby Portland, OR.

Lately, I have been interested in learning more about birth practices among women of color. I believe my desire to examine this area comes from an eagerness to go deeper with breastfeeding advocacy, and to increase my knowledge by exploring the social, cultural and political links that support barriers that exist in birth and breastfeeding traditions. I'm really interested in learning more about Black lay midwifery, and have already been adding 'must read' texts to my wishlist. Some of those can be seen here. I think this is a start to beginning that search.

Even though becoming a member of ICTC is not required, because I really value their outlook and mission, and because they're close enough for me to travel to, this is also where I have decided to pursue the Full Circle Doula Training to become a postpartum doula --  I am hoping to sign up for December's course. I'm happy to be more connected with this organization and community of people who emphasize decreasing the maternal and infant mortality rate by increasing the breastfeeding and birth rates among Black women. And I'm happy I'm one step closer to becoming a doula.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

CALL FOR PROPOSALS: The impact of institutional racism, power and white privilege on breastfeeding rates and maternal-infant health

We have finished the 'Call For Proposals' for next year's BIG, Bad BREASTFEEDING Summit addressing institutional racism, power and white privilege in breastfeeding and maternal-infant health, and I am more excited about this than you know. I'm glad to see this important topic make headway instead of being situated as a side note. Please understand that this venue is open to all interested participants -- professional and non-professional breastfeeding advocates, social justice and anti-racist activists, healthcare workers, community organizers and anyone interested in finding ways to enact critical social change and increase our breastfeeding rates. It would be good to see you. And better to hear you speak.

Paying it forward: The LjB gives back!

I am thrilled to share that just a few days back this blog made its very first donation! A little while ago, I opened the Lactation Journey Shop, an online store created not to try and make money, but in an effort to move away from the superficial and idealistic views on breastfeeding, and address the underlying issues at the foundation of disparities -- to give people something else to think about. You can read about it here. Over the past number of months, the LjB has generated a small amount of funds, largely from the sale of this merchandise -- and part of that was donated. The money went to a small Doula organization on the East Coast, that provides mostly free and other low-cost birth services to low-income and young women. They also offer breastfeeding awareness education classes to the community, as well as other workshops to aspiring and practicing doulas, in an effort to help lower the infant mortality rate and empower women on their birth and breastfeeding decisions.

It has always been very important to me to, when possible, be able to support projects that work towards a more just and equitable world. I'm so happy to be able to do this and look forward to more opportinities to 'pay it forward'. I also want to say thank you to anyone who has ever supported the work of this blog. I couldn't have done it without you!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Word(less words) Wednesday: The modern maternal-infant care Mammy

I think this caught my eye because just the other day I read an article that dealt with students at a local school and it made me think of Mammy. This school, trying to gauge how the students felt about the current racial atmosphere and attempting to find ways to make the campus more inclusive, gathered information from students and from those responses they expressed that what they were learning was nothing more than how to care for white women. Even though the image below is even a mockery of  the archetype, whose historical depiction negated her life and circumstances, and she was made to appear that she was around to happily serve white women and their babies -- in my opinion this reflects much of what we see today. I wrote about my experience obtaining my CLE at this same institution, and how the course portrayed the entire breastfeeding experience  central to white women -- and didn't even provide information that would be relevant to the communities I want to serve -- why I'm even here. Yes, I did fill out the feedback form. Thankfully, from what I've recently read about the school, there appears to be a genuine effort, or at least a desire at restructuring the curriculum, making it more diverse, anti-racist and inclusive at all levels. But this is much larger than one midwifery school.

I know the structural framework surrounding maternal-infant care remains focused on white women's needs, outlook and desires, and just the same as I think about Mammy in this recent situation -- I can't imagine things any different in other spaces. I'm looking for more insight and dialogue on this, and to learn exactly how oppression and exclusion have been re-configured and mutated. How else are our current birthing schools creating Mammies that nullify our experiences and make it seem as if we happily ignore our lives and culture in order to cater to white women and their babies? Am I being too critical, or have times changed? 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Radical Breastfeeding Webinars Are Here!

I am so excited to announce that I am now hosting online webinars! Hosting an online conference-type meeting is something I have been wanting to do for some time now, in order to discuss things that are close to me and that I am very passionate about, and I have finally been able to carve out space and time to continue my passion.

What is the content?: If you've kept up with this blog, then you will know that I don't really operate around breastfeeding mechanics. Even though at one point I was on my way to becoming a Certified Lactation Consultant, and you can find a few things around here geared towards breastfeeding basics -- like latching a baby and a couple of other tips, the practical or mechanical aspects are not really my focus. Instead, I emphasize the social and political aspects -- from a critical, holistic and anti-racist perspective, and tend to keep away from ideas like 'Breast Is Best', etc., since I believe in looking deeper at things I believe are at the backdrop of disparities.

Your cup of tea?: If you are reading this post and have been following this blog then you are interested in Black breastfeeding -- and you are also probably interested in finding ways to combat inequality, racism and other social factors.

The overall goal is to provide new insight and create new ways to raise our consciousness about issues that are often overlooked, and find new ways to challenge these. It is also my hope that this arena will serve as a space to learn from others about their experiences and their traditional knowledge, which will work to increase our understanding of each other, and inevitably our rates.

Presentations: Unless I state otherwise, these will be 90 minutes each, and 30 minutes of that will be dedicated to questions and interaction.

More info: I created a new Webinars page at the top of this blog, which I really encourage you to visit in order to stay up to date on topics, current schedules, further reading, times, etc. Through the link, you are also able to register and pay for your virtual seat on that page.

Current Webinar

Title: Examining 'non-traditional' approaches to increasing Black breastfeeding support.

Price: 35.00

Register: Here

Date: Because I believe in the importance of this topic, I will be hosting this session once per month beginning on January 10, 2013 and lasting until June 10, 2013. You can choose which session you'd like to attend, but recognize that even though you may be thinking about participating at a later date, anyone can sign up at any time and space is limited. Make sure you register as soon as you can to reserve your virtual seat.

Description:The history of Black and African American women in the United States is unique and complex. More than any other, the health and social disparities continue to be weighted heaviest against this group, as we continue to suffer the greatest inequity in breastfeeding rates. Nominal attention is given to those within the close-knit circle to support this dyad, but the overarching messages continues to emphasize this feeding tradition remain central to the mother-infant dyad. This model inadvertently creates barriers and hinders changes that can take place at various social, cultural and political levels.

For this reason, it is necessary to take a holistic look, and examine the areas outside of what many view as the normal representation of infant feeding, that will allow for a greater understanding as well as new ideas, perspectives and levels of involvement, which can increase our overall participation and inevitably our outcomes.

This explores the exclusivity of breastfeeding and I will, through a historical and contemporary context, provide information on how and why we need to expand support given the unique and complex history of Black women in the U.S. We will discuss everything from slavery to misrepresentation to anti-racism and white privilege, body image, and various other topics. This is an expansion of my presentation at the recent ROSE Breastfeeding Summit in Atlanta, GA, titled Occupy The Bridge: Looking Past Protagonists, and Re-Working the Center.

I really hope to see you.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Just call me your Postpartum Doula....soon, at least.

I think it was the recent conversation with a friend -- a new mama, and the couple of hours we spent on the phone talking, and me just thinking it was so awesome being able to listen to her explain her feelings on being a mother, her birthing experience and her breastfeeding journey thus far, is what I believe solidified the feelings I had been having about becoming a doula. I'm being summoned -- to go deeper with this type of traditional care, and to use this space to further breastfeeding promotion. It never crossed my mind to become a doula until recently, but since I have been thinking about it and asking around from others about what they do, in order to get a larger scope of the practice and to get a feel on where I would fit in. I've been looking at information and reading articles from others and for me, being a postpartum doula seems it's just where I would fit in. A doula provides emotional support for women -- and a postpartum doula provides support for the family once the baby is born -- by making visits, which could be once, a few times or for a few months. These may involve doing light chores around the house and cleaning like unloading the dishwasher, cooking meals or other general check-ins, as well as provide breastfeeding info. There is also support given to the family as well -- instructions on caring for mom. Doulas drastically help increase breastfeeding rates, so to me, this is just an extension of breastfeeding advocacy, and a way for me to continue to support women.

I haven't looked at many doula programs around here, since the first that came to my mind because of the upcoming conference, I'm sure, is through the International Center for Traditional Childbearing. ICTC was founded by Shafia Monroe, and after looking over their website on the steps to become a postpartum doula, I called and received information on their training program, which I am very interested in. What really grabs my attention is their Black-centric perspective on birth and midwifery. ICTC teaches the history of Black midwives, and presents information in a 'culturally and spiritually-specific environment' -- which I'm assuming means it takes into account that people practice and experience birth-rites differently, which is just excellent. And though I'm not exactly sure what 'spiritually specific' means in this context, I'm not at all opposed to experiencing this training from a spiritual viewpoint if it happens to be different from what I subscribe to. Plus they serve breakfast (*insert smile*).

When I talked to a representative the other day, I was told they don't offer courses in only certain areas of training like postpartum care, but I would learn all aspects and then market myself as a postpartum doula. After she described the steps I would need in order to complete Full Circle Doula Training, that is 'based on the midwifery model', one of the main stipulations she said is that one must feel called to do the work.

Below are the requirements in order to become a doula through the ICTC program. I've marked the breastfeeding class off because  I already have a CLE, and I will keep this list updated and check them off as I go and mark that progress in the forthcoming posts.

More than any other work, I love doing what I do and have a unyielding passion for centering the experiences of Black women and Women of Color, and helping to increase and stabilize our breastfeeding rates. But I do this independently, which means I pay out of my pocket for all courses, materials, etc. If you feel you've received inspiration or other encouragement from my work and the Lactation Journey Blog, consider 'chip' ing 'in' -- it will help offset some of the costs associated with all of the requirements.
*Thank you to anyone who has donated in person or through Paypal. I'm looking forward to training.

Other Resources:
Why African American Women Need Doulas - Ways We Can Help

The Nurse-In at Applebee's: I went because #IGiveAShit

Another mother was harassed in another place -- this time at Applebee's Restaurant, but sadly I'm not surprised. I am a bit shocked, though, at the level the manager took it to -- and that's the clincher in this harassment story, when the cops were called on the woman. I only learned about the Applebee's Nurse-In at the last minute, just a few days before the event, probably, and after I heard of the story wanted to make sure I didn't miss out. To deny a baby the right to eat in an establishment where other people were enjoying themselves, filling their bellies, is sickening.

Though the overwhelming amount of mothers supported the nurse-in, I also got to again see other opinions on this cause. I understand people have different perspectives on this event, and some from the nurse-in invitation page expressed they didn't feel going to the restaurant was necessary because in their opinion it just "makes a bigger spectacle out of public breastfeeding which is what we should be working against." Another said she wouldn't go because she didn't care who approved or disapproved of her feeding her child in public, and that she only cared about environmental issues -- something that affects everyone. I'd be quick to argue that she actually does 'give a shit' about who approves or disapproves of her nursing her child in public, but her apathy, I'm sure, comes as a result of her never facing public discrimination while she was feeding this baby. And I'm  certainly hoping she'll revisit her research to begin to see the relationship between it and breastfeeding -- and learn of its interconnectedness! She said she didn't give a shit, which she has the right to do, of course. But public nursing discrimination is reflective of areas that are often overlooked, and this type of prejudice and intolerance will be experienced heaviest among more vulnerable communities, as it always does, so #IGiveAShit.

I arrived and saw a few people already there but mostly scattered about until I met another woman in the lobby, who had with her her 8 month old nursling. Not so long later there were a number of others who arrived, including a LLL leader and some others who attended that particular group, and I was so happy when I noticed I wasn't the only Black woman there this time. All of us sat around and talked, and the staff was very nice, which is what I expected especially given the circumstances. It didn't last that long, and I left at about the one hour and fifteen minute mark, but like the last Nurse-In I attended at Target, I really enjoyed myself as well as enjoyed the new people I met and the conversations we had. I also really liked meeting participants like the one below, who I think was too excited about the things and people that surrounded her, more than nursing at the moment.