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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