It’s Black Breastfeeding Week. And that seems to cause a lot of ~feelings~ for white women.
Every year, Black Breastfeeding Week celebrates the different lived experiences of black women, and highlights the racial disparities in breastfeeding support which impact infant mortality rates.
And every year, during this celebration, promoters and supporters face accusations of being “divisive” and even “racist” for discussing these different lived experiences and documented racial disparities. It’s rare to find a social media post about Black Breastfeeding Week which isn’t littered with comments and complaints from people who can’t see the need for such a campaign.
The complaints come primarily from white women who feel excluded from a celebration which isn’t about them.
If, by chance, you’re reading this and you, too, feel that Black Breastfeeding Week is divisive, consider this:
Do you think breast cancer awareness is divisive because it solely focuses on breast cancer? When people fight to save the whales or protect the rainforest, are they being divisive for not saying “Save all the everything!”? Is it acceptable to occasionally focus on one specific cause at a time?
Talking about race can be uncomfortable, but the discomfort it causes doesn’t mean talking about race is bad. The reaction to the discussion is where the problem lies.
The celebration of Black Breastfeeding Week is persistently derailed by the feelings of white women, and it needs to stop. This is legitimately a life-saving issue, and it’s far bigger than the instinct to center oneself.
Here are five reasons why white women should support Black Breastfeeding Week:
1. The Facts — Did you know that breastfeeding can prevent illness? Did you know UNICEF and the World Health Organization estimate approximately 1 million lives could be saved every year if more babies were breastfed? Did you know black women are less likely to receive breastfeeding support? Did you know the health risks related to not breastfeeding lead to “life-long health disparities between black, white and Hispanic infants“? Breastfeeding saves lives. The experiences black women have with breastfeeding are different than those white women have, in general. We need to acknowledge these issues in order to make progress.
2. Representation — “When is White Breastfeeding Week??” you might find yourself asking. The answer is: all the dang time. When breastfeeding is depicted in the media, at your doctor’s office, in advertisements, white women are the default. Go to Google Images and search “breastfeeding.” The vast majority of pictures that pop up are of white women. Representation matters. One thing which helps women breastfeed is seeing breastfeeding. The more normal it becomes, the more common it will become. This will literally save lives.
3. Facebook Censorship — Facebook has been accused many times of censoring the topic of race and racism. As an admin of a relatively popular Facebook page, I am familiar with the drastic plummet in views when the topic of race is brought up. Promoting black breastfeeding is no different. Post a photo of a white woman breastfeeding — thousands of views, likes, and shares. Post a photo of a black woman breastfeeding — a couple dozen views, if that, and even fewer likes and shares. It’s not just that people aren’t interested in the photo — Facebook appears to actively censor views on this topic, meaning they don’t put it in your newsfeed. Meaning you don’t see it. So, when you do see an article about Black Breastfeeding Week or an image of a black woman breastfeeding, be sure to click it, like it, and share it to counteract this censorship.
4. Privilege — White privilege is a documented issue which exists, even in spite of the media pundits and online trolls who now make a lifestyle out of denying these facts. Say the words white privilege and ten people will appear to call you a triggered safe space snowflake. And still, the issue is real. If you are white or white-passing, you have some inherent privilege because our society is structured around whiteness. It is up to us to use that privilege and the platform it gives us to support marginalized people. That means amplifying the voices of people of color, reading their writing, donating our time and money, and supporting issues like Black Breastfeeding Week. Click here to learn more about privilege (preferably before denying you have any).
5. White Tears — What are “White Tears”? The concept of white tears refers to the noticeable reaction some white people have when race and racism are discussed. The topic might be reparations or appropriation or police brutality or Black Breastfeeding Week. Whatever the topic, there’s always at least one culpable white person who jumps in to derail the discussion and center their own feelings. Talking about the survival rates of black babies as it pertains to breastfeeding? Doesn’t matter — a white lady is mad because “talking about race is what causes racism.” Ol’ Sally-Centers-Herself just can’t help it. We need to start calling it out. We need to round up our own. We need to take the time to explain why these issues matter. Don’t let people get away with the intellectually vacuous idea that talking about race causes racism. Don’t let them center their feelings when we’re talking about actual life-or-death matters. Offer to message with them privately to explain the issue, take ’em down in the comments section, talk to them in real life. Tell people why Black Breastfeeding Week matters, and don’t let White Tears dominate the discussion.
Black Breastfeeding Week was created by black women who saw a need in their community. Let’s stop derailing and start supporting. How are you celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week?
Image credit: Steve Evans