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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Top 10 + ONE Reasons Why I focus on Black Women's Breastfeeding - And Won't Apologize!

Some people are taken back when I tell them I'm interested in Black women's breastfeeding. When I'm in conversations with (usually non-Black) people who are advocates, or even others who are not necessarily into the 'breastfeeding thing', and we're on the subject and somewhere in there in there I mention that I want to see Black women's rates increase, there's that split-second pause right before that quizzical look appears on their face, like 'What? You only care about Black women breastfeeding?' Which, of course, is the furthest thing from what I said. Others have insisted that I'm reproducing the same racism that I challenge. I find this is largely the case with white people -- white women, particularly, who are involved in countless initiatives and who work as advocates to get more 'women' on board this breastfeeding train. But taking a look a their agenda, you quickly understand their use of the word 'women' easily translates to white women only, since it never encompasses areas specific to any group outside of their own ethnicity. At least this is my experience.

But I've not only noticed this with white women; this has been true about other people who work in areas specific to their own racial, or cultural group, for example. Let's say I'm talking with a woman with a Romanian heritage and she tells me, whether within breastfeeding or not, the area she specializes in is dealing with women and people from this group. Or, maybe it's someone from Iran, focusing on ways to empower women in the Iranian community. I have had these types of experiences a number of times. I once had a professor who stated she knew so much about Black history because she wanted to know her own Asian-American background in the US, and this history required her to understand African American's. Does it mean that there is no interest in learning about ways to connect with and interact with others, while working towards togetherness and solidarity? That's not the case for me, at least. But it does mean that there is a special area I place my emphasis --and it's clear they also have their own, which never really involves Black women, so I really don't understand why I receive such seemingly and sometimes outright negative reactions.

I decided to put together a short list of my top reasons for focusing in this area on Black women's breastfeeding. It's not exhaustive, or a way to try and justify or defend my focus, but maybe I'd just like to 'put it out there'  -- put that on record. I may list more in the future, but for now here are just a few.
  1. I am a Black Woman! Enough said!
  2. I love Black women!! Maybe this bears repeating. This does not mean I don't have a love for everyone, but I do have a special place in my heart for my sisters. Even though my feelings have been hurt within the community, as well as learning about the violent climate we have been subjected to, Black women have found creative ways to survive in this society given its history. Black women have built strong communities and continue to be beacons of light for those of us looking for guidance. I love that we have struggled, strived, and continue to work at challenging social injustice for ourselves and others. It is love that has kept us here, and that same love is what drives the desire within us to work with others and create a world free of oppression. 
  3. Because I am a Black woman and I love Black women, I have a desire to go deeper into the issues of breastfeeding for Black people and the Black community. I have not found scholarship that delves into the issues I have looked for, where breastfeeding is used as a site to place the larger issues of food, social, and other forms of justice and individual and community agency within this context of infant feeding, for us. 
  4. Black women have the lowest breastfeeding initiation and duration rates of any group in this country, and breastfeeding save lives. In fact, our disparity is what lured me to this work. Black babies are dying at an alarming rate, and breastmilk is literally the the difference between life and death for some of them. Breastfeeding can also assist in preserving the health of Black women, who also face inequity in medical care. BTW, this is not the 'oppression olympics' -- I've always rooted for the underdog anyway. Does this mean that I am uninterested in the lives of other people and communities? Not in the least. I believe my attention to our tradition has allowed me to look at understanding the way to view the benefits and cultural and social meaning of others'.   
  5. I am a 'Reverse Racist', remember?! -- a 'Racist anti-racist'! Because I challenge dominant structures that work to remain in power, and criticize whiteness on a regular, if not a daily, it means that I am racist against whites. I came to this conclusion a number of months ago, and you can read all about my 'coming out' story, if you click the link to the article at the beginning of this point. Oh, and I work to see how the issues that make me an reverse racist interfere with our breastfeeding rates. But don't worry, it's not like I blame everything on whiteness. I examine other types of social turmoil, as well as how Black intra-racial conflict impedes our success in this area, too. J
  6. Black women are apparently non-existent in books, magazines, pamphlets, etc., at the library, schools, and other places that deal with the topic at hand. These texts continue to remain authored by uninterested, culturally insular and/or xenophobic people who completely mull over the unique experiences of Black women. Black women remain left out of their breastfeeding context -- (well, except for in cases when we appear in reading material geared towards low-income, and other governmental agencies, that is). *Sigh* 
  7. I've got a lot of Black women to pay back. Helping eradicate breastfeeding disparities is the least I can do. As I've said before once when I learned about the history of Black women in this country, I promised I wouldn't remain silent -- that I would give my best to voice these women and shine a light on their lives and work towards challenging injustice. I would repay them. The universe chose this recompense be through breastfeeding support. I want to repay them for what they went through, what they got to -- and the support and courage for what they continue to do. Without them, there would be no me.
  8. Black women DO breastfeed. And breastfeeding is powerful! I have never breastfed a baby myself, but I see the impact it can and does have for the Black community far, far beyond nourishment, and mainstream medical reasoning. I also see the joy it brings to other women, and can empathize with their experiences of bonding, closeness, creating a healthier generation and an overall feeling of cherishing this critical but short time they share with babies. I love that I'm helping to enable other women to experience these same things. 
  9. The universe drew me here. Since it wasn't warm fuzzies and sentiments from a personal nursing experience that caused me to become an advocate, if you know how I became active in this area, then you will understand that ending up on the breastfeeding runway is the exact last place in the world I would have ever expected myself to land. Really. If you visit my 'About Me' page, then you will know that I am only responding to a summons from the universe.
  10. Anthropology + Black Breastfeeding gives me a rush! 
  11. "If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression." I firmly believe that many of the views expressed in the The Combahee River Collective Statementwhich was crafted in 1977, remains very true today still and even in this context. Breastfeeding is more than simply the mechanical steps of attaching an infant to its mother's breast. When issues of racial injustice and other forms of systematic oppression that are weighted heaviest against Black women in this country are addressed, then this would mean they are addressed on a larger scale, and that breastfeeding inequity is non longer existent.

'Into a world sick with racism': Can Sex(y) Sell Social Justice For Black People?

The other day I was taking my walk. Just the same as I always do when I'm out -- four times per week, three miles per trip, I had my ipod nano with me on shuffle. Near the end of my routine, one of the tracks from the megastar Janet Jackson played. The track is from the album Janet -- a CD a good friend of mine bought me as a Christmas gift when it was first released back in 1992. Or was it '93? Either way, I still have it, and for the past 20 years as you can imagine, I've heard it numerous times. But strange as it may seem, what stood out to me after all of this time was a track about racism -- titled Racism -- a nine second, 9-word interlude to a quite powerful song about the turning tide, social progression and 'New Agenda' for African American women in this country (all that we've been through): I've embedded the track below, as well as added its text underneath:


'Into a world sick with racism, get well soon.'

Even though I've never given it any real thought, interestingly enough -- perhaps in the back of my mind, I always felt this track was out of place. It may be because, save for a couple of songs from the late 80s, I've never heard much of Janet Jackson speaking (or singing) in the likes of anti-racism and social justice. The large majority of the other titles on this album are dedicated to relationships and sexual activity, and even though I have not purchased any of her albums since sometime in the mid to late 90s, it's probably not an assumption to say given the sultry image she portrays and from the songs I have heard on the radio, this is most likely the case on those successives. But I'm not necessarily here trying to pinpoint Janet Jackson, per se; doing so would be looking through too narrow a lens. She, like many others in the business, have been propped as agents of 'sex' and 'sexy' and have been made into 'sex symbols' in an industry whose purpose is to make money in a society where sex can sell anything from a bag of ice to thumb tacs, a candy bar, a new tire, a flashlight -- or CDs. And the track on her album is what made me think of this idea on racism and social justice, which is why I'm using her as an example. I went to an online site that allows users to create speech bubbles, and with the pictures of Janet Jackson I found online I got a little creative and put together the few below:

Challenge racism, class elitism, white supremacy -- social inequity.
Work to end institutional racism and cool off.
I could not leave a breastfeeding image out.

It's OK to laugh! I had a pretty good one putting these together. But I'm really not trying to be funny. 

Maybe I'm simply trying to understand what it meant back then, or what it means even today that what I view as a seemingly contradictory message of decrying anti-Black racism is coupled with acquiescence to patriarchy and male-domination, white-centric ideas of beauty, body image and capitalism -- all which have worked to ridicule Black women. And therein lies a history of stigma against Black bodies -- and Black women have been commoditized, hyper-sexualized, and considered the antithesis of all things related to real 'womanhood' -- and as I've heard one professor 'Blackness is seen as the most radical form of racial 'otherness.' I'm not judging -- at least that's not my intent. And I know that it can and does happen often that we participate in one form of oppression while denouncing another; I know things are complicated like that. So could this work for Black people? 

We clearly support this industry -- along its various messages. I mean, we never challenge the content, the tactics or question their marketing. And concert ticket sales, billboard charts and the various mansions and flashy cars that Janet Jackson and others live in and drive is the biggest indicator that we're tuned in. So if we infused music, magazines and other mediums with images and slogans like the ones above with popular artists, rock stars and maybe sports figures would it mean we could expect to hear less about young Black men being brutally attacked and gunned down within this racist system that continues to depict these men as just a threat to society? Could sex(y) somehow curve Black on Black crime? Or stop the many intra-racial conflicts in the Black community? Could we expect to see more Black babies at the breast? I mean, want more breastfeeding, right?!

What are your thoughts?

I personally do not believe sex can sell anti-racism or breastfeeding, or anything else for that matter. I mean, someone may buy it, but I believe it would only open up the floodgates for deeper and new forms of oppression and create more ways to strengthen the framework surrounding various exploitations -- racial, gendered and others. To me, it also means continuing to conform to the idea that sex -- and what we have established as so-called 'sexy' holds the answer to all things that we are too often led to believe -- and I have a lengthy list of politics in this area, including the over consumption of sexual activity (No! I don't believe sexual activity, that we are always encouraged to engage in with our significant other or any other consenting adult, is a natural phenomena). In fact, I believe in order to address more issues in general it must begin with the our preoccupation with sex. And even though not everyone may agree with me on this or any of my politics in this area, which is not what I'm asking, what would it mean to if this platform were used to promote anti-racism? I'd love to know what you have to say, really. Because I absolutely want to talk about it.

Update: Just to clarify, when I say I do not believe the sexual activity we are always encouraged to engage in is natural, what I mean by this is even though I believe sex is natural, of course, the way we are always encouraged to OVER-consume and always engage in it is not. But I believe it is learned behavior. I believe the issues behind our preoccupation with sex need to be addressed -- which inevitably shows us the links to this over consumption -- low self-esteem from the messages we receive, patriarchy, capitalism, etc. Hope that makes sense.

Now, back to the lecture at hand.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

'It's Only Natural': White Breastfeeding in Blackface?


If you are just now tuning into my blog, then you should know that yes, I do have a problem with everything. Maybe that's a stretch, but it's not too often I find myself taking anything at face value (whether that's always good or bad is up for debate). I like to think my critical thinking skills are always turned on and tuned in, but besides, I have entirely too much of a child-like curiosity, which involves a lot of question-asking, for that. I thought I would briefly weigh-in on this new campaign launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health. It's only natural focuses exclusively on Black breastfeeding. Their website says it "helps African-American women and their families understand the health benefits of breastfeeding—not just for babies, but for moms too," and there are several categories dedicated to the following topics:

  • Planning ahead
  • Addressing myths
  • Overcoming challenges
  • Finding support
  • Fitting breastfeeding into your life
  • My breastfeeding story

I don't want to give the impression that I don't think the site is useful; I think the videos are gorgeous, and the stories by the women who are featured in them are honest and heartfelt. When I first visited, I got a rush, followed by warm fuzzies -- the ones I always get when I hear about Black women breastfeeding. But after I looked at it again, I couldn't help but think of how much this initiative reminded me of a quote by Audre Lorde that a friend shared the other day, on Black Feminism, and all that it encompasses in what is the complexity of Black women's lives:

“Black feminism is not white feminism in blackface. Black women have particular and legitimate issues which affect our lives as Black women, and addressing those issues does not make us any less Black.”

I have criticized the free breastfeeding books offered by the Office on Women's Health before -- the ones that supposedly highlight the different "ethnic" groups; African American, Latina, Native American, and Chinese (though I could not read this last one). A cursory look may not reveal much, but a deeper one will show that they are literally nothing more than a murmur of white culture; (check them out, and compare them with the so-called "neutral" one they offer -- the one filled with majority white people -- because white is always considered the objective, of course). The OWH claims they are exclusive to each group, but if you look closer, you will undoubtedly agree that they simply herald the breastfeeding culture of white society, with Women of Color used as proxies. They reproduce mainstream ideas about breastfeeding, and don't delve deeper into areas that truly concern us, from our own perspective and our place in this society. This is, at least, how I see it. And these ideas seems to be along the same lines of the It's only natural campaign, and because of that, there are a few questions I have: 

Where are the issues specific to Black women -- instead of just repeating that 'Black women don't breastfeed' and simply saying we need to -- and showing us how to put a baby on our chest? Why are they making the breastfeeding inequity a Black woman's pathology instead of implicating other people who are responsible? And when I say 'other people,' I mean everyone! Where are the conversations on institutional racism that is perpetuated throughout society, and stand in the way of a slew of areas that shapes how we feel about our bodies, our self-esteem, our family life and every other area? White supremacy? The glorification of white bodies? The vilification of our partners, or the history of mistrust with healthcare professionals? Where is the conversation about structural violence, and how we can challenge this outside of the breastfeeding realm, which is inextricably linked to our rates?

I won't deny that just seeing or hearing the breastfeeding stories of those among our peer group, or others in our social circle can offer support. I recall the presentation by the founder of the Black Mothers' Breasfeeding Association last year at the ROSE Summit -- and how she shared that her presence alone -- being physically there in the company of a Black mother who was on the cusp of quitting was enough to encourage this woman to continue nursing her child (yes, I have goose bumps right now -- just like I did when I listened to this from my seat in the audience, almost one year ago). And I'm not saying that It's only natural does not provide assistance to women. What I am saying is that breastfeeding is more than simply the mechanical steps of attaching an infant to its mother's breast -- especially for Black women. And Black people. If indeed we have the lowest rates of any group in this country it is not just by chance. And the Office on Women's Health must take this into account as well as a more critical and holistic look into this area, and integrate these important aspects as part of their strategy, if they truly wish to impact and create real and lasting change.

But these are just some of my early thoughts.

Have you visited the site? What are yours?

'Living DOWN' to white standards: A Dr. William Henry 'Bill' Cosby, Jr., Ed. D-Inspired Post!

Ahhhh. I had no intention at all of writing this post. I signed out of Blogger, after posting my article for this week, on what I'm reading and was going to call it a day, after I excitedly shared with my facebook peeps that I had, for the first time used the word 'vaginally' on my site, that has been almost exclusive to breasts. But since someone shared a link with me, now I'm going to talk about Bill Cosby around here?! To what do I owe thee? It's all connected anyway.

A couple of people have asked me if I have seen this image of Bill Cosby -- the one I inserted in this post, up top. Underneath the original image floating around the web, it has an almost novel-like inscription directed to not just Black youth, but to the whole community. Have you see it? For some reason I got the impression that it was from the early 2000s, but now I'm thinking it was from recent(?) If you follow me on Twitter, then maybe you caught the brief conversation between myself and my tweeps about it the other night. And I knew that if I offered my quick response 'Yes, I've seen it, and don't agree' then it would be followed by another and morph into a potentially long debate, I figured I'd share my thoughts here. Yes, I have see it! In fact, not only have I seen this, but I would argue that Bill Cosby is largely incorrect, by offering such a narrow perspectives of the issues, and I find so many things wrong with what he says.

I want to start a conversation about this. Yes, I believe that instead of always talking about floods -- the problem, we need to practice the 'Noah Principle' and build arks -- offer solutions. But what may be best for my social circumstance, for example, may not be best for the next one, so at the end of this post, I'd like you to weigh in with your thoughts.

To be clear, I have NO problem criticizing my community. I admit that once upon a time I may have been reluctant to do so because I thought that if I did so then it would mean that I was not working to clear up these issues instead of bringing them to the forefront. Not anymore. In fact, if you've been reading along then you would know that this is a new area I focus on in breastfeeding research -- what role do we as Black people play in our own disparities? I have no issues with calling things out. What he is doing, however, is quite a bit different, and is basing his information on the perceived (and largely accepted) normalized representation that reflects white ideas and ideals -- at least in some areas, if not most.

First, Bill Cosby, Heathcliff, or whatever he calls himself these days -- Dr. William Henry 'Bill' Cosby, Jr., Ed. D, as it was inscribed at the bottom of the post -- his full name with credentials means it looks more official, I guess, criticizes Black people's use of language, by saying that we don't speak properly. Well, there are some Black people who are praised for how articulate we are and how proper we speak (insert *ugh*), so I reckon he was just talking to some Black folks:
"They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk: Why you ain't, Where you is, What he drive, Where he stay, Where he work, Who you be... And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth. In fact you will never get any kind of job making a decent living."
Getting straight to the point, there is NO such thing as the 'proper' language. All languages are grammatically correct. Bill Cosby (and countless others) have ideas that are based on centuries of English domination and imperialism, which has been used to subjugate others. In reality, *as long as one person understands the point another is trying to covey, that is ALL that matters.* Whether that is Ebonics, Jive, or any other broken and mixed-up usage, what counts is that I get what you are saying. The idea of 'proper' usage is based on nothing more than a system of power, where many people continue to say that this grasp of the English language means we are forced to try and 'live up' to white standards. But I say, if your natural tongue is being denigrated, while cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing happens as the inevitable result by whiteness and English, which has worked ardently for centuries to become the apotheosis of the world around us, then this is not 'living up' to white standards, since this is not ascension. In fact, it's 'living down'.

I just found out there will be a Star Wars Episode 7. Crazy, eh?!

Next, Jr., shed some light on our decline since the days of the the Civil Rights Movement:
"People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an Education, and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around."
You mean like the people marching around and being arrested as we speak protesting the closure of over 60 schools in Chicago? SIXTY!!!!! Mostly elementary schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods? I've inserted a few images, just in case you need a visual.


Keep in mind, Cliff, that this is only a very small glimpse of the overall climate of the racial injustice and culturally insular society, built on a legacy of exclusion directed at our communities. Black literacy was once punishable by death, remember? And even while marching, after Brown v. Board of Education, which he referenced, a suit that argued against the so-called 'separate but equal' law when in actuality Black kids were in sub-optimal classrooms, without running water, libraries, space to move around and learn in creative environments. Remember the money pumped into white households via the racist wallets of the U.S Government (which actually because of taxes everyone paid for), to send white kids to what we now call private schools, to avert interaction with Black ones? Do the images above remind you of something? Should I get into irony of current outdated textbooks, if any at all, thrown down as the crumbs from white people's educational plate, and infused with bullshit ideas on centuries of so-called white sovereignty, being made to abide by a one-talk, one-think system inspired by white standards, that ridicules anyone with a difference -- of opinion -- or of anything. And where being more active and energetic than the student next to you lands you a seat with the psychologist, whose textbook knowledge paints everyone with the same white-centric psychological brush, that is far from many actualized truths.

I won't really get into the $500 sneakers, really, because frankly we've all been duped in that area. I'm not saying that everyone has done so or that I've ever bought a pair of $500 dollar tennis shoes -- or a $500.00 pair of anything for that matter. No way! My most expensive pair of shoes I have are actually not shoes -- my dark chocolate/espresso brown Birkenstock Livorno boots that I got for half price = $125.00, about seven years ago. I admit I do love them. But I'm not worried, because I know Dr. Huxtable isn't really talking about shoes. I mean, I'm sure this is just an example he's referring to because of a much larger issue, and he's right. The issue -- you know the ubiquitous commercials, and billboards that surround us? The pamphlets we receive in the mail and articles promoting consumer goods, that now play before youtube videos? They're also embedded on websites each time you click on a link, and also in the newspaper, -- many people allow them on their personal sites in order to generate revenue from the sales. These corporations even start the kids off early by ensuring they're riddled with a dose of endorsements, with a lineup played during their Saturday morning cartoons -- and all of the other ways we have marketing brutally forced on us without our consent -- just like the ones that came on during your show. Shows. The same ones plastered everywhere that constantly tell us we're useless without their 'stuff' -- yes, even the numerous jello pudding pops you once peddled (I've inserted one of your many commercials for the brand below -- for sentiment. They remind me of my childhood).


Well, consequently, these same messages are ones that disproportionately affect the communities that you pinpoint -- the ones who, according to you, have no money for 'real' things, and are 'uneducated' or undereducated, have low literacy rates. And as it turns out, William, personal property and consumption offer a greater sense of security -- a way to fit in with others around. And though it's definitely a false-sense of security, a feeling of higher self esteem, which then falsely morphs into a sense of a higher social esteem (yes, I have personally researched this). But this is not exclusive to these communities, but they just face the brunt of the stigma. I  mean I bet you and the people in your own social circle fall victim to aggressive marketing or a desire to fit in. What kind of cars do you drive?

Maybe at some point I'll get into my thoughts on the idea of the so-called normative nuclear family, another area he criticized, along with his other opinions on our names, and sentiments towards Africa, and I may even continue the conversation on all aspects because there is just so much more to say. For now, though, I think my point is clear. I'm not placing Blacks in a position of people without agency. That is farthest from what I think or believe. And I'm not suggesting we can't do something, because I know there are plenty of areas that need improvement, and agree it is absolutely frustrating as humanly possibleBut there is a much larger picture, and a one-sided argument excluding the details of how some are gaining while others remain on the sidelines is getting us nowhere. 

Bill Cosby is praised for his philanthropy, and hailed for his multimillion dollar donations -- especially that one --  when he cut a 20-million dollar check to Spelman University some time back. Was it the 90s? That is some gesture. And I can see his desire to help improve certain social circumstances. But Bill Cosby profits off of and supports the system run by corporate moguls that only reinforces this dynamic of power and inequality, worldwide! I would be much more inclined to believe in this type of work if it actually did something, perhaps, like criticize a system that allows ONE man to make that much money by doing nothing more than reading some scripts from a piece of paper into a T.V. screen -- nothing that betters the human condition, if it even contributes to anything at all. Some people get 20 million dollar checks, others starve -- are out on the streets -- aren't in school -- don't have jobs....

CRITICIZE THE FOUNDATION THAT SUPPORTS THIS DYNAMIC. 

Get to the root!

If you support what he's saying, then that is your right. But I don't think I'm too fundamental in my thinking to say that this is a much larger problem, one we all must take part in to create a more just society and a more equitable world. Conversations like these, geared at maligning more vulnerable populations are just another way for each of us to try and weasel our way out of recognizing that We are ALL to blame, and are ALL responsible. And we must keep this in mind if we are going to create change. We all play a part. Myself. Others. And yes, William Henry Cosby. Even you.

What I'm reading :: MEDICAL APARTHEID: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans (Video)

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, is a book by Harriet A. Washington -- and it was literally on my wish list for about three years before I finally got it the other day. It sounded interesting when I first came across it, but it didn't really grab my attention the way it has lately; I wish-listed it and sort of forgot about it for a while until more recently. What I've realized is that the difference between then and now is that since I've began exploring more areas of critical medical breastfeeding and birth..? (if that's what you call it when you're more interested in raicalized politics and other justice issues than practical areas), I now look at this history through an entirely different lens than I would have then. Then, I wouldn't have really known what to do with the information. I wouldn't have been ready for it.

From what I've uncovered so far, Harriet Washington's extensive research provides details about how the vast amount of scientific experiments leads us to what we have seen for generations, with the mistrust of healthcare professionals. I knew of this mistrust, but like others I knew of select case such as the Tuskegee experiment, for example, where over a 40-year time span, Blacks visited doctors, and believed they were receiving treatment, but instead researchers were only gauging the effects of untreated syphillis. I also knew of a few others, and I recently read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, whose rapidly reproducing cancer cells were taken without her knowledge and have been used in countless experiments in medical research facilities across the world (and in space), for the past 50+ years, to create vaccines, find cures for diseases, along with a slew of others; these cells have impacted and in some way helped save my life, yours and the life of everyone you know. Harriet Washington tells us most people view these types of incidents as isolated and sporadic, but the reality is that this anti-Black racism has been at the foundation of this society, and the history of experimentation is deeply ingrained in the fabric of the U.S. healthcare system, and has been ongoing for hundreds of years.

From the reviews I've read, many people talk about how unsettling the narratives are. I've heard the author talking about this book on a few occasions when I've found videos online -- one is embedded below (she does not provide gory details in this video, btw, just in case you are concerned). I've also heard about some of the procedures performed on Black people, often without anesthesia that she highlights. This is probably the reason I've also read by others, that Medical Apartheid is one of those books you pick up, read a couple of pages, and put it down for some time before getting the courage to continue. If this is the case, at over 500 pages, I won't expect to finish anytime soon. And I admit I am a bit nervous about the coming chapters; I've laid awake many nights before, after reading about things like women being stripped naked and whipped near death by a slaver for  accidentally burning his toast at breakfast, just as one example, so I only imagine what I'll feel learning about the information in this one.

I've put a lot of thought into the ways Black people have been abused by the medical system, and the effects of this continued legacy; I think about the ways Black women have suffered greatly, and definitely around areas of breastfeeding and birth. This is also why I am so angered at the idealism that surrounds this area, and how birth workers keep disregarding the blatantly obvious -- that this is not some long lost idea that happened in the very distant past that has nothing to do with us. It's happening now. And it affects each and every one of us.

One of the reasons I am so thankful I became a doula, trained by a Black midwife, who centers Black women's experiences, is because of this. One major benefit of doula support in addition to successfully increasing breastfeeding, is that it reduces the rate of cesarean sections, so women can have a natural vaginal birth, instead of the major (and debilitating) surgery that c-sections are. Being in this role ensures that I am actively working to resist the ways our bodies have been commoditized and mishandled, used-up and disposed of, and it gives me a direct hands-on approach in challenging this legacy. Because I think we've been experimented on and cut into for too long.

Have you read Medical Apartheid? What are your thoughts?

What are some ways we can use the information to raise awareness and work towards solutions inside of the healthcare industry as well as outside of it?


Are you on Goodreads? I am as of late. Look me up and add me. Let's share our reading interests.

Trade Books for Free - PaperBack Swap.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Book Review :: Mama Midwife A Birth Adventure

What an anti-racist and social justice activist who constantly deals with stressors of social issues and inequality relishes, are moments like these when we receive children's books such as Mama Midwife, to review.

Mama Midwife, A Birth Adventure, is a self-published text by California resident, Christy Tyner, mother of two, whose children's playtime activity sometimes includes stuffing their clothes with animals and playing 'midwife', acts as one of the inspirations behind this creative work. More inspiration comes from Christy's partner -- a midwife, and the text also served as a way to appeal to children, helping to curb some of the potential trauma inflicted through 'Hollywood scenes where every birth is an excruciating emergency in a hospital that requires intervention.'

Mama Midwife is told through the eyes of young Miso, who finds herself in an interesting story-telling situation when explaining her mom's work. During Miso's first slumber party, mama is called that night to work, and that sets Miso's friends on curios path full of questions. After the friends decide Miso's mama is not a 'secret agent,' but is instead someone who 'helps babies come out of their mommies,' and 'takes special care of mommy while the baby is growing inside,' the remainder of the story unfolds, and shows an eager to help out, Miso, who eventually gets a chance to assist her mother during a birth.

Mama Midwife is filled with fun, rich and colorful illustrations, along with a story of participating in safe, woman-centered birthing. Mama Midwife displays diversity with a range of characters from elephants to snails, to a raccoon and others. It is not focused on just one category of species, but encompasses a varied selection of those from different groups, which is just as important as the message about birth itself.

Ironically, however, my favorite scene in Mama Midwife, just so happens to be in the area where I also find the largest weakness of the text. The impending delivery of Mama Grizzly is near, and she has called on the midwife. This scene captures a spectacular image of a laboring bear leaned-up against a tree, and receiving encouragement by her partner, and other family before being submerged into a birthing tub and delivering a healthy baby cub. After the delivery, however, there is no mention of breastfeeding this new baby or any other mention of mama's milk anywhere in the text -- at all. Not even when Mama Grizzly is herself drinking chocolate milk with her scrambled eggs as she is recuperiating after labor. A breastfeeding scene would not only add to this story's rich detail, but it would solidify the message of healthy first foods, in natural birthing and infant feeding -- that children also must be exposed to.

Please see the updated post, with the addition of breastfeeding. 



I'm happy I had a chance to review this children's book. Not only was I inspired by the story of Miso and her 'mama midwife,' but my kids were just as eager. I read this to them one night at bedtime, and after they turned around and read it to me -- once each on their own. The story was read three times back to back that night. 

I'm also made me think of the lay and professional birth workers and advocates I know and have encountered, and reminds me of how they are appreciated for all of the woman-centered, healthy birth outcomes, and the positive impressions they make on us, especially when their work gets conveyed in stories like Mama Midwife. As I said earlier, for me it was refreshing to be able to shift the focus from the more serious areas of my work, and relax and read about a heroic birth worker. Mama Midwife has me thinking of going on the hunt for more children's books on the topic or ones close to it. This one was definitely a treat for me, and it certainly helped me exhale. 


Author: Christy Tyner
Publisher: Self-Published @ CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Year: 2013
Paperback: 11.50
Hardcover: 15.99
Genre: Children's
Pages: 36
ISBN: 978-1480244108

Thank you, Christy Tyner, for providing a copy of Mama Midwife: A Birth Adventure, for this review.

Note: All opinions are my own and honest, and I am not compensated by the author!

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

BLACK FEMINIST BLOG CARNIVAL CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Debunking the 'Man-Hating' Myth

Black Feminist Blog Carnival

There has been an ongoing misconception about Black Feminism. The experiences unique to those of us who have adopted a Black Feminist framework in order to understand the social atmosphere regarding gender, race, and class, has somehow relegated us to hate our Black male counterparts.

Complete MISrepresentation of Black Feminism

This Blog Carnival is for those who identify as a Black Feminist or Womanist. It is inspired by the countless amount of inaccurate information defaming Black Feminism and its regard to Black male interactions. It's purpose is to bring together those powerful voices and simply debunk the Black man-hating myth. There are issues dealing with the unquestionable and complex dynamic between these genders, but the fact remains that the quest for social justice is moot if such a 'man-hating' stance existed.

Complete MISrepresentation of Black Feminism

Update: With more and more people weighing in, I have posted a few updates to this post. Mostly, I want to let you know that I am well aware of the (raging) 'gender war' between Black men and Black women, and understand that many who identify as Black Feminists have had very strong contention and/or outright trauma with Black men. My intention is not to use this space to try and mull over or ignore this crucial area that needs much attention. If anything, perhaps this will continue or open up a new conversation on the topic.

Working to challenge notions like ones in the video above.

Video: What IS Black Feminism?

There are folks who have produced different bodies of knowledge regarding just who can label themself a Black Feminist. In Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment, for example, Patricia Hill Collins explains that in order to be a Black Feminist it requires experiencing life and viewing society through the lens of a Black woman. Others suggest that it is more flexible, allowing anyone who wants to identify as such do so to avoid the exclusion Black women have suffered. I don't know what theory you subscribe to, but I will not reject your submission, based on how you define yourself. 

********************

WHAT IS A BLOG CARNIVAL? A blog carnival is an online action that aims to utilize the growing power of our combined reach on social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest) to jumpstart – and jump into! – a national conversation. This “Black Feminist” blog carnival will have blog posts ranging from the personal to the political, in a range of mediums, from text to video. I will collect and publish the individual blog posts. The links to all posts will then be gathered into one overarching post that will serve to host and introduce the blog carnival (momrising.com).

HOW TO SUBMIT: Please submit through the link, or you can email it directly to: lactationjourney@hotmail.com

Please do not feel you need to be a 'writer' in order to participate. Whether you consider yourself a 'seasoned' professional, or not, your voice counts! Please bring your honest perspective, and you are welcome to be as personal, conservative or as politically-charged as you'd like.

INCLUDE:
  • Your  post! Can be previously published work, and there are no restrictions on length. You are welcome to use whichever format you'd like in order to convey your message, i.e. creative fiction article, poem, YouTube video, etc. Please note: If you insert a YouTube video in leu of a full-length post, please include a paragraph or two explaining the key points of your video. This will be inserted into the post (here's an example). Please also include the url to your video. 
  • Post Title
  • Your name and email address (or you can submit anonymously)
  • A headshot 
  • A picture to insert into your article. This is not required, but often times posts containing images related to the post topic are shared more frequently around the social networking sites. 
  • A link to your website or blog
  • A 2-3 sentence byline/'About Me' (preferably in third person -- he, she, they), and can include your Twitter @. 

TIMELINE: This carnival will be hosted here on the Lactation Journey Blog, and posts will be published on Thursday, May 9th 16th, but you are welcome to submit yours as soon as you'd like.

*This blog deals with the social, cultural and very racial aspects of Afro-decendent breastfeeding from a radical Black Feminist perspective. It is straight-forward and quite political (unapologetically so). If you feel this may be a concern to you, before you submit, I would encourage you to click around on this site for a bit, to ensure you are OK with having your content featured here.

*Comments: Comments are maintained by Disqus. I suggest when your work is published here, you subscribe to the comments. To do this, navigate to your post (or any other that you'd like), and scroll down to the very bottom until you reach the 'comments' section. There, you will see two grayish links, which allow you to subscribe either by RSS or through email. By subscribing, you will be notified when someone has responded to your post, and you can make sure you engage your reader and answer questions, if necessary.

If you have any other comments, concerns, thoughts or questions at all, just ask!
 
Deadline for submissions is Thursday, May 2, 2013! Thursday May, 9th, 2013!

School official refuses to dismantle white supremacist breastfeeding curriculum

Think back to last year and the 'white breastfeeding policy.' Do you recall when I enrolled in the PEBL (Professional Education in Breastfeeding and Lactation) course, in order to obtain a Certified Lactation Educator Certificate (CLE)? Do you recall how excited I was before class began, an enthusiasm that quickly diminished on the first day, when it became clear this would be a experience to learn more ways to cater to white women -- and produce more maternal-infant mammies -- only learning ways to focus on white women's birthing and breastfeeding outcomes? My frustrations with the course material were so intense that I approached the director of the school about this concern, and she suggested we get together to 'discuss it' when I had time? She said they had been looking for ways to de-center whiteness? I never scheduled that meeting. I ended up being super busy, but aside from that, I decided it was not my job to volunteer my time to educate this institution on ways to make their curriculum less exclusive and be the 'bridge' for Communities of Color.

About a week ago, someone posted a flyer in a birthing group page on facebook. This flyer stated that it was time for professionals to begin discussing the 'social determinants of health' -- that there are outside influences that determine women's birthing outcomes, based on race, class. Ya think? An interesting conversation erupted in the comment section of this one. I weighed in, of course, and simply said that this move was "LONG overdue!!" A few other folks chimed in, too, and one of them was the director of the school where I received my CLE. She ensured that the school she directed will now begin implementing discussions on these social determinants of health in their upcoming intro doula courses -- something like that. Of course she received those many fallacious 'Likes' that people give so freely on facebook, but I thought this was a good opportunity to ask her about her breastfeeding course. I asked if the school would be implementing ways to address the overrepresentation of white women. I told her that at it stands now (which I'm sure she knows) the curriculum makes the entire breastfeeding experience (including the complications) central to the white body -- this is dehumanizing to communities of color. I told her that this change was also long over due. Well, guess what her response was.... NOTHING! That's right she ignored me and didn't responded to my question. AT ALL! 

I was actually surprised she ignored me. I really didn't expect it. If anything, I would have figured she would at least try and skirt around the question -- maybe pat me on the back and fill the atmosphere with false hopes. Isn't that the way most folks do things, especially when they're confronted with issues of exclusion? But that didn't happen. I'm disappointed. Not surprised. I'm not the only one who felt this way about the course curriculum, but I'm probably the only one to speak out about it in such a public forum, where hundreds of other people could see. I also know this is a much larger problem than simply one institution's refusal to move beyond the scope of whiteness. But this, like any other experience -- I'm going to own and call it how I see it where I see it, whether on a large or small scale.

I would like to suggest to the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA, that you are benefitting no one by your refusal to address the racism and xenophobia infused in your breastfeeding curriculum. In addition, this avoidance only makes you in direct compliance with the many health and social disparities rampant in this society and on a larger scale, in which everyone (yes even white people), suffer. The students at your institution, who believe they are signed up to provide health and medical services to those in need only continue to receive a direct lesson in white supremacy, which only contributes to their physical, moral, mental, and spiritual deterioration. Additionally, they simply remain ignorant in assisting a certain percentage of the population, and this fortifies the rampant maternal-infant mortality our country faces, especially among Black, Brown and other NON-white populations. And more, People of Color who enroll in your courses never even learn how to serve our own communities. Think she knows that Black women have the lowest breastfeeding initiation and duration rates of any group in the country, and that breastmilk is literally the difference between life and death for some of our babies? 

I hope you can see, Ms. Kennedy, that this only perpetuates the cycle of racism and the myth of white supremacy in your school and beyond. And I hope you can also recognize, too, that by continuing to ignore this even in an environment that is supposed to contribute to the health of people by teaching birthing, breastfeeding and other so-called holistic practices, you are only doing more harm than good.

Inequity in Breastfeeding Support Summit Registration Now Open!

Registration is live for the breastfeeding summit, focusing on 'The impact of institutional racism, power and white privilege on breastfeeding rates and maternal-infant mortality.' This summit is happening on June 21-22, 2013, at the Brockey Conference Center South Seattle Community College in Seattle, WA, and is 'A collaboration of the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington, Mahogany Moms Breastfeeding Coalition, Native American Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington, and Community Breastfeeding Activists.'

There's a pretty cool line-up of speakers, including Kathi Barber -- author of The Black Woman's Guide to Breastfeeding, Midwife Shafia M. Monroe, founder of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing, where I joined as a member and also trained as a Full-Circle Doula

The purpose of this conference is to collaborate, educate and act together as a community of breastfeeding supporters to learn about and counter institutional racism and social injustice in perinatal support services. 

Below is the rest of the info I copied from the event page, with a bit about the speakers, and you can click here to register:

Goals:
Raise awareness in the breastfeeding support community and other perinatal support fields, of significant health disparities between women of color and white women and the impact of racism, injustice, and white privilege on maternal-infant health services and outcomes.

Facilitate the development of an action plan to address these disparities and identify actions that individuals, organizations, and communities can take, in line with the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.

Objectives:
Educate health care providers, breastfeeding counselors, childcare providers, employers and community members on how to counter institutional racism in their communities and organizations.

Facilitate a dynamic cross-exchange of culturally competent breastfeeding information and best-practice support strategies for women of all ethnicities.

Facilitate collaborative discourse to develop an action plan to address current disparities in both breastfeeding rates and access to breastfeeding services.

Confirmed Speakers:

Kathi Barber, CLC, Founder of the African American Breastfeeding Alliance and author of The Black Woman's Guide to Breastfeeding

Sheila Capestany, MPH, MSW, Executive Director of Open Arms Perinatal Services

Shafia Monroe, Midwife, President and CEO of International Center for Traditional Childbearing

Cynthia Good Mojab, MS, IBCLC, RLC, CATSM

Joan E. Dodgson, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN

Jeanette McCulloch, IBCLC, LLL & Wendy Gordon, LM, CPM, MPH

Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, MSEd & Jeanine Valrie, MPH

Inga Aaron, BA, Community Breastfeeding Activist

Sherry Payne, MSN, RN, CNE, IBCLC, Executive Director Uzazi Village

Camie Jae Goldhammer, MSW, CLE, Postpartum Doula, Founder and Chair of the Native American Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington

If you have any other questions, let me know. Or you can email the committee. Hope to see you.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Book Review :: The Doula Guide To Birth: Secrets Every Pregnant Woman Should Know #DoulaProgression

There is a growing trend in women who are electing to have a doula (doo-luh) -- a "woman servant," present at her birth, and many others who believe no woman should be without these assistants, so it is not surprising that more and more written work on the profession and how doulas can be helpful, are appearing in bookstores. This one, The Doula Guide To Birth: Secrets Every Pregnant Woman Should Know, is a text written by Ananda Lowe and Rachel Zimmerman, who both have done extensive work with pregnant and birthing women.

The Doula Guide To Birth places birth companions in the context of pregnancy and shows exactly where we fit. It begins with examining the origins of doulas, and over 12 chapters the pair take turns with discussing the benefits of doulas, whose presence can provide emotional support along with other benefits like pain relief. It also provides information and advice for partners of a pregnant and laboring woman, discusses how difficult yet rewarding labor is, how to find a doula, understanding early labor versus active labor, epidurals, cesareans and more. This easy to understand text is not filled with esoteric ideas and medical terminology that requires a certain level of knowledge about birth practices or medicine. For example, Chapter one, Doulas Are Great Pain Relief, offers an explanation on how pain relief could be curved with the assistance of a doula. Amanda and Rachel tell us that the comfort women receive makes doulas the 'best medicine' in preventing intervention, by being available throughout all stages of early and active labor. In this way, a doula can assist with breathing techniques, suggesting different positions for comfort, offer a massage, and others, all which help to ease or erase a woman's fear. Chapter two discusses Fathers, Partners, and Other Loved Ones, and how we can assist. This chapter discusses the impact doulas have on other members of the family -- fathers, children, grandmothers, for example, and to show how a doula's presence can assist with these other members who choose to be present at the birth.

The remaining chapters on labor, labor techniques, dilation, birth plans, exams and others, are helpful in developing a image of why doula work is a burgeoning field. For those like myself who not as seasoned in the birthing scene, I find The Doula Guide can be used as a tool for practical ways to understand how birth companions can be of assistance to women, who are largely birthing in hospitals. The experiences of women who have used doulas, are a component of this texts, as they share their stories of fears, frustrations and triumph. Though the large part of the conversation focused on romanticized notions, that didn't go as deep as necessary, there was attention given that birthing will not always happen with a mother-father dyad, and that being single or estranged from the baby's father or partner is a possibility.


I became a doula to fortify my breastfeeding work. After doing some researching on the profession, I knew that it would provide me an additional layer of insight, and allow me to go deeper on ways to promote the tradition. I knew that along with numerous other benefits we have positive outcomes with assisting women, and the chances of successful breastfeeding increase tremendously when one is present. Because of this, my initial goal was to practice postpartum. Once I showed up to training, though, and sat through class those few days learning of the countless other reasons why women need these birth companions I knew that my trajectory had changed. This book was initially required reading before attending doula training -- I had no idea it was even on the list until I showed up to class and heard others talking about it. I'm not sure how I missed that important detail.

Authors Ananda and Rachel both have a love of birth and a desire to see women have happy and healthy pregnancies, and for these reasons, it is remarkable that the issues of social inequity that grossly affect the more vulnerable populations are avoided. Since this book talks to expectant mothers as well as doulas, averting discussions on issues of race and racism, class stratification, and others, gives the assumption that everyone experiences pregnancy and birth the same, that everyone can afford a doula, that racism and class issues are not inextricably linked to birth disparities or how someone experiences pregnancy and birth, and assumes everyone has access to a doula. This important discussion remained absent from the text. The usefulness of the large amount of practical information, to me, is overshadowed by the lack of attention to critical areas where birth companions (and everyone) should be concerned. The modern maternal-infant mammification of Black women continues to gain traction, as critical attention to areas of gender, race and class are omitted, and Women of Color's unique circumstances in this society are overlooked.

Although birthworkers ignore these areas, it is no secret to lay and professionals that the scale is unquestionably weighted against certain members in this society. Economically disadvantaged women, for example, have unequal access to resources, creating larger health and equity issues among these groups and the overall society and complications in pregnancy, birth and postpartum increase. It is also no secret that Black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. FOUR TIMES! And many Women of Color's birthing outcomes are too often fraught with inequality due to racism, immigrant status, sexual identity and many who have issues even getting care. So while I wouldn't disregard The Doula Guide, it is not without the absence of disappointment. I would urge its authors and everyone in this area -- privileged midwives, doulas, birth assistants, Drs, nurses, Lactation Consultants, to stop idealizing birth and pretending that everyone births in an idealistic setting. Stop overlooking that racism, class division and all other socially manufactured circumstances is NON-existent when it comes to carrying a child. Stop ignoring the impact of these on her, her baby's health and safety and breastfeeding success! And more urgently, stop ignoring that Communities of Color are not mostly affected. As birth workers, we bear the responsibility of proactively exploring and examining issues of injustice and inequality, and work at eradicating these for more positive outcomes.

I'm not surprised this text was used in the doula training I was enrolled in -- a training that centered the experiences of Black women. The Doula Guide does offer information that can be useful as a starting point to understand what a doula does, and may possibly be beneficial in allowing women to make more informed decisions. The conversation, however, must move away from the largely idealistic and saccharine ones we too often see in these professions and focus more on birth justice so one day every woman can experience this, because as of now this is not the way it is, and depending on who you are, being pregnant can kill you! 


This text was not provided by the publisher to review on my site. It was purchased with my own funds, as part of Doula Certification, which requires a written review and submission of birth and midwifery texts. This post is here simply to share this report/review with my audience. 

Author: Ananda Lowe, Rachel Zimmerman
Publisher: Bantam
Year: 2009
Paperback: 17.00
Genre: Pregnancy
Pages: 270
ISBN: 9-780553385267

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pearl Primus is in bloom again! (I hope)

Having this plant really means a lot to me. I got this from friends of the late, great and renowned anthropologist, Dr. Pearl Primus. In 1990, Dr. Primus gifted this type-of-a-sanseviera plant, native to West Africa (which I'm sure she picked up on one of her many trips there), to her friends -- who would later author a book on her life, The Dance Claimed Me: A Biography of Pearl Primus, to tell how she challenged social inequity and racial injustice through education and dance anthropology.

 

After I read the text that worked up the most insatiable appetite possible to know more about Dr. Primus, and had already rendered her a major 'Shero', I became acquainted with one of the co-authors of The Dance Claimed Me, who I eventually got this plant from. It is offspring from that original gift, -- an 'indestructible' plant and because of that characteristic is said to be good luck. It has been growing, reproducing and being shared for the past 23+ years. Except for that it wasn't growing -- for me, at least. 

When I first received her (yes, my plant has a gender) almost one year ago, I placed her in the kitchen and watered her every two-three days. But that didn't work. Last Summer, I talked to someone, who suggested I "clean her up" by removing the dead leaves that had begun accumulating because she just wasn't thriving, and my sister suggested putting her in new soil. She bought me the cute planter that you see in the picture, along with a bag of nutrient-rich soil, and after I repotted her, initially I thought she was an outdoor plant, so I sat her outside, which ended up being a bad idea! Something took a huge bite out of her and she has even fallen over twice, breaking her leaves -- and still wasn't growing. My feeling have been continuously hurt over what's happened to my plant, along with her 'failure to thrive'. When I brought her inside and made her new home in the window sill is only when I began to see a bit of growth last year -- but then the cold season came and that was the end of that. Now, it's finally Springtime again, and we have as much sun as one can hope for around here, so I'm hoping she will begin to do some blooming over the next number of months. I check on her daily, and make sure she stays hydrated and well-fed, so I'm looking for something amazing, so keep an eye out. And if you have any suggestions at all for how my brown thumbs (literally and figuratively) can get her to thrive, then please let on.

Dr. Pearl Primus
"Dance is my medicine. It is the scream which eases for a while the terrible frustration common to all human beings who, because of race, creed, or color, are "invisible." Dance is the fist with which I fight the sickening ignorance of prejudice. It is the veiled attempt I feel for those who patronize with false smiles, handouts, empty promises, insecure compliments. Instead of growing twisted like a gnarled tree inside myself, I am able to dance out my anger and tears." - Pearl Primus, 1968

Mock Anthropology, Mock(ing) Culture and PDN (Public Display of Nipples) Apparently Aren't OK on the Menfolk Either (Video)

The mega online education platform, Coursea that offers free education classes, played a joke on those of us who 'Like' their facebook page. On April 1st, they sent a course description informing us of a new five-week-long course in Underwater Basketweaving, taught by a "Maritime Anthropologist" and was starting that day. My fingers could not press 'I'm in!' fast enough (it literally takes one click to enroll), but almost as quickly -- minutes after this course was introduced, we received an email that explained that the professor "Due to an unplanned research trip to a recently unearthed Aquacamamatian burial site, has decided to postpone his class." For me, (and probably many others) it was only after the dialogue on facebook, and recognizing that this was a prank, is when I did more investigation, including returning to the page, re-reading the description and then watching the accompanying video, which I had not done initially.

I have purposely embedded this video twice -- because I don't want you to have to scroll up. The first time, I am suggesting to pay attention to what "Professor. Dunne" has to say about his work among the 'peoples of the Aquacamamata Peninsula,' before focusing on other areas.


To be honest with you at first I was amused; it is very obvious this professor doesn't have a clue what he's doing. Pulling the large basket from the water -- one that I have seen used for fruit, was pretty funny. But that's in the very beginning. As the video progressed, it is clear to me why this video became a hot topic in a course that quite a number of us students just ended on Aboriginal Worldviews and Education, and why the faculty members of the course sent out an email discussing the significance of this 'April Fool's joke.'

With anything, there is always quite varied opinions and interpretations. I have my own thoughts about it and I'll briefly weigh in later. But for now, take a closer look at the images below. I took screenshots just in case Coursera decides to delete the video.

   

While I was watching the short video, what also caught my eye was that "Professor Dunne's" shirt was wet after giving his first 'demonstration' but that's what made me notice something else. His nipples are pixelated!

I had to rewind this because I was kind of shocked. I haven't seen this type of _____ modesty(?) towards male bodies and their chest areas before (none that I can recall, anyway), and so I had to share it. I wondered if this was part of the joke or was it intentional, just to keep them from protruding through his shirt? Below is the same video. But this time get your glasses out if you need to, and pay attention to his chest area between 1:25 - 1:33.


Did you catch that?


To be clear, if there were indeed an actual class on underwater basketweaving, taught by an anthropologist, or anyone else, I would be the first to sign up. I have only heard of this subject as a mock area of study in colleges before -- one that was suggested to people as something laughable in the face of "real" subjects. I also believe this course and video were not intended as anything other than a joke by the part of Coursera staff. Finally, and most importantly from my perspective, I also believe some may say one would need a great understanding of the history of basket weaving, in order to understand this offense. I'll admit I don't know much about the sacred tradition of underwater basket weaving, but I do have a good grasp of colonialism, white supremacy and the history of anthropology, and think that's sufficient enough to criticize this course material.

Instead of being able to shake this off as a harmless joke, I am personally offended and quite infuriated. This mock anthropology professor portrays the 'normalized' representation of a white man who has traveled abroad to study the 'Other'. Not only does anthropology have a history of participating in colonialism and using the 'findings' from a Westernized gaze to put communities on display, but I've also explained briefly before about racial and gendered exclusivity, which I'm sure is not too difficult to imagine how this would work against basket-makers, who I can only imagine consist of a largely female population. Also, here in the United States, people of color were drawn to the discipline because they believed that by proving that there was no biological basis for race, it could help erase the racial injustice in this society that was responsible for countless atrocities largely against Black and Brown communities. Stemming from the work of these pioneers of anthropology, there have been many who have made efforts to decolonize and transform this discipline, and work hard against this legacy, making it one where anthropology is used to make a positive difference -- and not to one to make people different (the 'Other'). There are some New Faces of Anthropology and anthropologists, myself included, committed to using the tools of this discipline for the good -- to learn from each other in order to bridge social, and cultural gaps in our understanding and positively impact, for a more just and equitable world. 

Is there a difference with this video and the portrayal of Blackface, where whites would apply black paint/shoe polish/whatever else, on their faces to mimic and impersonate Black culture? In this country, Blackface is something that grew during the depths of overt racial injustice, and it continues to have a tremendous impact today. Is his use of a mock-language while describing the procedures and steps for basket-making among these "Aquacamamatians" any different than the ways English imperialism has castigated non-speakers -- and has opened the floodgates for creating, or at least using mock languages (and we can't overlook the fake accent)? Why didn't he use his native language? How is this different from prevalent stereotypes that portray Natives and Aboriginal people as teepee dwellers who sit around and smoke peace pipes and braid their hair? Is this different than Redface? Is this different from any other racist and largely inaccurate representation of a people or community, even though this is a made-up group?

Although there's plenty more to be said about this phony course, professor and video, including the fact that these issues "can lead to discrimination and the support of racist laws and policies," I'm not going to go too much more into this. I want to see feedback from you, readers, on what you think. What are your thoughts on 'Professor Dunne', his Underwater Basket Weaving course, use of a mock-language (especially the Hispanic accent) and his portrayal of anthropology? What about his nipples (or lack of)? Of course I'm interested in this coming from a site dedicated to breastfeeding and its interlocking politics. Is it at least interesting to you that in a society like one here in the US, so obsessed with controlling women's bodies, that his are deemed inappropriate, if that's indeed why they are pixelated? Can we just call this humor? Or, if you feel there is no concern with any of this, I want to hear that, too. Share your thoughts. I'm looking forward to the dialogue.

In solidarity.