Iola Kostrzewski on Black Breastfeeding Week

by  Iola Kostrzewski

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Black Breastfeeding Week is not, I repeat, is not a week to have more of the white versus black argument. It’s not a week to get white women to notice black women breastfeeding, or even to get white women to acknowledge the fact that black women do breastfeed. It’s a week for us black women to bring awareness to other black women that, yes, we are in control of our bodies, that we need to no longer let historical trauma hold us back, that we need to have more free breastfeeding education classes and access to those classes.

Black Breastfeeding Week is bittersweet. It says, “Hey, there is enough of an issue that World Breastfeeding Week is no longer cutting it.” If anything it’s a black versus black week; it’s about trying to change the outlook on the breastfeeding from within the black community.  We need to do whatever we need to do to raise the rate of black women breastfeeding.

From the time Black Breastfeeding Week was announced, I have seen women who call themselves breastfeeding advocates make some of the most racist comments I have ever seen written by anyone who claims to promote breastfeeding. I have seen women who have had nurse-ins, who stand up for the rights of nursing mothers, argue that there is no need for this week. They argue that the week, even though black women created it, is racist.

Let’s stop, gather our thoughts, and breathe.

Let’s also take the time to remember that this week is not about whites versus blacks.

Yes, I understand that there was a World Breastfeeding Week a few weeks ago that is supposed to promote equality for women of all races who breastfeed. Yet how can we have equality when the statistics show that black women are lagging behind when it comes to breastfeeding? We cannot be equal until all women are on the same playing field.

No matter how hard I try to understand, I don’t understand how this week is offensive.

What’s offensive is making the comment “Black women are just lazy” or “Black women just don’t use their mind” after reading explanations about why this week is needed.  What’s offensive is refusing to acknowledge your white privilege while continuing to ramble on about how, yes, you have had hard times when it comes to breastfeeding, but you got over it. What’s offensive is going on to question why there isn’t a “White Breastfeeding Week”.  Though, I sit here and wonder to myself how can you have a “white” week? Wouldn’t you mean a German, Norwegian, or Polish week?

What is mind-boggling is how a person can say she is color blind to race, yet follows that by saying, “I have a black friend who has mixed kids and she breastfed them.” How in anyway is that being color blind?

Yet this week is not about me versus you.

This week, in all reality, is Black vs. Black.  It’s about battling the misconceptions about breastfeeding in the black community, particularly in the United States.  It’s about being able to breastfeed in front of my mother without her cringing and saying, “That’s what slaves used to do.”  It’s about not being told by a black parenting group that the project I have been working on is too “explicit” and offensive to Jesus. Jesus was breastfed.

This week is about letting certain black celebrities know that milk sharing and wet nurses are not just things that slaves did, and that a 150 years later it’s done by free will. This week is about letting black women know that if we work together we can make a change.

So, instead of saying this week isn’t necessary, tell me “I support you.”  Tell me that what I am doing is beautiful.

Many people I know don’t support breastfeeding at all. It isn’t celebrated in my culture.  Black Breastfeeding Week is helping to make it part of my culture. My friends and family, my neighbors and community leaders need to see breastfeeding as a normal part of life.  Help me make that a reality.

This week targets the population with the lowest breastfeeding rates overall.  Let’s work to bring those numbers up so we can all celebrate together.

It is my dream that in a couple years Black Breastfeeding Week will no longer be necessary.  My hope is that we can make enough of an impact together to close the statistical gap. This is something we need to do together.  Black women need to come together and show our community that breastfeeding is normal. And, we need the support of our friends of all colors and walks of life.

The author wishes to thank Amanda Jenson, who provided moral and editorial support for this piece.

Iola Kostrzewski is a wife, mother of two boys, babywearing educator, lactation educator in training, and an aspiring midwife.  Iola blogs at What the b**p and I doing?! .

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Comments

  1. Amanda Jensen says:

    Just Wanted To Say You Are Beautiful And i Support You!

    (And You Spelled My Name Wrong)

  2. I love this article and totally support Black Breastfeeding week. I think it is vitally important that we encourage and support all mothers, but most especially black mothers, in their breastfeeding journey.

    I do have one point of contention with this article. The line, “Though, I sit here and wonder to myself how can you have a “white” week? Wouldn’t you mean a German, Norwegian, or Polish week?”. This kind of upset me. I understand the author’s point. But by saying this, she should recognize then that Black Breastfeeding Week should be African American Breastfeeding Week, or African Heritage Breastfeeding Week, or some other African nation Breastfeeding Week. If you are going to say that “whites” need to use their original point of origin (British, Polish, German, etc), then you need to say that “blacks” need to use their original point of origin as well. We are “white” just as you are “black”. Personally I find both terms very simplistic and not very useful. I prefer Caucasian and African American, or better yet, American (or other nationality), women, mothers, and breastfeeders! :)

    My personal opinion is that Black Breastfeeding Week is MOST definitely needed. I understand they are the most underrepresented segment of society in the breastfeeding community, and I want that to change. I never knew there was a stigma against it in their community dating back to slave times. So BBW has changed my knowledge of the issue. If it has changed me, it has most definitely changed others.

    So I applaud your work, and I hope as well that in the future, ALL women can feel empowered to breastfeed.

    • Hi Ruth, thank you for sharing and thank you for your comment. I too kind of had a hard time with that particular line but when understood as black being cultural and not entirely about skin color, her comparison makes sense. The reason “African” doesn’t really work either is because many blacks are not from the continent of Africa (which I guess then we’d actually need to use country specific or continent specific language) but include blacks from, say, Jamaica, etc. So black as a cultural identifier is, in many ways like German or French as cultural identifiers. ~Jessica

      • Jessica, That is a really great point. I hadn’t thought of it in cultural terms. That makes a lot more sense! Thanks for the clarification. ~Ruth

      • Iola Kostrzewski says:

        The reason the line was used was because even though someone says they are white… you can usually look back at someone in the family and find out what country they have come from. I like most blacks cannot. We not African because we are a mixture of things. Yes Black is a race, but it is now also a culture.

    • Christina Saunders says:

      I think the point is that the majority of “black” people do not know their country of origin. I can tell you that I am English, Irish, Scottish, Italian, & Cherokee. My husband on the other hand knows that he’s black, he hasn’t even the smallest clue what nationality he might be. Can you see the difference?

  3. THANK YOU!!

  4. I support you!!

  5. I too thought that the concept of a black breast feeding week was offensive. I’m white, and would be horrified if someone were to create a white breast feeding week. However, I also wasn’t aware that African American women face such adversity to breast feeding because it was associate with slavery. So good luck with spreading the word! :)

    Perhaps this is not the forum, but I still disagree about the author’s statement about French/German/etc. breast feeding week . How can you demand tolerance when making such an intolerant statement? I don’t identify myself by all of the random European countries mixed into my background. Many black families are mixes of different backgrounds too. The country your great grandparents are from does not define who you are unless you yourself make a big deal out of it.

    I’m American. I promote breast feeding. And I think that until all Americans feel that National Breastfeeding Week speaks to each individual, inclusive of individual cultural/historical background, we’ve got to push to do whatever necessary to make that happen.

    -written as I breastfeed my little boy, who we are sure has German, Polish, Chekslovakian, Hungarian, and Russian genes, to name a few. But who cares.

    • ” The country your great grandparents are from does not define who you are unless you yourself make a big deal out of it.”

      Rachelle, while I am sure you don’t mean it to be, that is extremely condescending of you. I wish there was a way for people like you to paint yourself brown and live in the person of color’s skin for a month and then come back and say ‘unless you make a big deal about it’.

  6. Breezy Kimerly says:

    I live in Montana where we have more “White” people than anything else. Here’s our census stats.
    -“The racial makeup of the city was 92.1% White, 0.5% African American, 2.8% Native American, 1.2% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.5% from other races, and 2.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.9% of the population.”

    Here we don’t say, black. It makes me uncomfortable to even type it. It’s not a PC term here and to hear it thrown around does make us (me and others who live in Missoula) uncomfortable.

    When describing people of other race, their color is usually not even mentioned. I remember a time we hired a new guy at work and he was described as “the kinda shorter guy with lots of tattoos.”

    However, I never knew racism until I watched the movie “Good Hair.” I was absolutely shocked when A. the high school girls said they wouldn’t hire the adorable girl with the fro and B. A bunch of guys tried to stifle another from speaking his mind in a barber shop.

    So while I naturally feel as though “Any Race Anything” is exclusionary (unless it’s a big community get together like Celtic Festival, which is very fun) I now understand the societal pressure that is trying to be chipped away at here, and I have to pour my full support into breaking anything like that down, despite what it’s called.

    I support you and you’re beautiful.

  7. Great article! I support all black women in their choices in how they feed their baby. I support BBW because I hope it encourages and gives strength to black women (and their families) who do have “bad feelings” towards breast feeding because of their ancestors being forced to breast feed other babies. Women should have never been used and objectified by being forced to be wet nurses. It is appalling, obviously. I urge black mothers to also coinsider the time BEFORE slavery began in America. Their ancestors DID breast feed their own babies (and probably milk shared with other babies / moms). Take back what was taken away, the FREEDOM to breasted their own sweet babies. I hope I didn’t say anything offensive, as I do not personally know the struggle black mommas face.

  8. Well said. I was appalled and saddened by the response from a very vocal portion of the breastfeeding community – and the willful ignorance and inadvertent discrimination pushed in the attempt to be “colorblind”. How white women (and I am, myself, white) could think that they are right and just to tell black women to not organize, not recognize the real and measurable disparities in breastfeeding rates, not provide an event to support their families and community…..and then claim they aren’t being racist.
    BBW has my full support- it is a beautiful thing and kiddos to you and everyone who has lent voices and hands of support.

  9. “No matter how hard I try to understand, I don’t understand how this week is offensive.”

    ITA. I find it shocking that Black Breastfeeding Week met with controversy, but the misguided “I Support You” initiative was welcomed blindly. This year’s WBW theme was all about support and peer support in particular. The breastfeeding organization I am involved with recognizes that we seem to be a little too insular and we are looking for ways to be more inclusive. I think designating one of the weeks in Breastfeeding Month toward the additional supports that black women need is a great thing. I hope that in 2014 things go more smoothly

  10. Zunika Crenshaw says:

    I love it! For a black mother of four!! I have breastfeed all of my babies!
    I would not have had it any other way! Unfortunately a lot of young women need more education on nursing! This is just what we need. I wish I had it when I had my babies.
    I love it! 100% support!

  11. I was unaware this was an issue within the black community until this week. Thank you for the wonderfully written article. I support you and your work and hope that you have already seen the effects of your work within your community!

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