This year’s National Breastfeeding Month (NBM) celebration has come to an end, but our momentum as maternal child health advocates– striving for equitable care for all– powers on.
The 2020 NBM theme, Many Voices United, called on us to come together to identify and implement the policy and system changes that are needed to ensure that all families have the support and resources they need in order to feed their babies healthily.
Achieving this shared goal requires daily self-work and individual introspection so that our collective can be as effective as ever. No matter how socially-conscious, open-minded, anti-racist, (insert adjective), we think we may be, we still have learned biases and prejudices that require near constant attention. Much like I remind my children to brush their teeth every morning and every night, as a white, binary woman, I must remind myself to examine my biases and my privilege daily.
With NBM’s theme of unity in mind, this Upworthy video features an art installation that demonstrates our society’s interconnectedness. With a piece of string, the installation shows an intricate, densely-woven web created by individuals wrapping thread around 32 poles with identifiers arranged in a circle.
“You can see that even though we all have different experiences and we all identify in different ways…We are really one,” the project’s creator says in the video.
The sentiment and the product are truly beautiful and fascinating. While appreciating the beauty of unity, it’s important to keep our critical thinking and progressive attitude sharp, refraining from slipping into too comfortable a space where change cannot happen.
Recently, I’ve seen a few statements on unity circulating social media that I’d like to embrace with a “Yes!” Instead, I find myself reacting, “Yes! But…”
My worry is that these well-intentioned mantras we live by– much like some might argue certain microaggressions are well-intentioned– are also dismissive.
- We all bleed the same blood.
- Children are not born racist.
- I will teach my child to love your child. Period.
Let’s break those down starting with “We all bleed the same blood.” Some things to consider:
“Black breasts do not exist separate from Black bodies and the situated existence we navigate in this world nor the racialized experience of motherhood. Racism and classism intertwine to act as a containment, working to make some of us feel as if we are walking in quicksand. Add to this the complexities of new motherhood and the needs of the postpartum body and now we have a cocktail for failure. Literal milk plugs. So, although her precious body may be able to produce milk, her situation prevents her and her baby from receiving it. Even the intention to breastfeed cannot save the milk of the mother who cannot find time for pump breaks as she works the night shift as a security guard. Or, perhaps she cannot figure out why pumping is not working, but she doesn’t have the time to seek the educational or financial resources to help her problem solve.” (underline added by OMW)
Racism affects People of Color (POC) at a cellular level. Studies show that the experience of racial discrimination accelerates the shortening of telomeres (the repetitive sequences of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect the cell) and ultimately contributes to an increase in people’s risks of developing diseases.
It’s epigenetics; the environments POC of are growing in affect their biology.
Children are not born racist, but white children are born into a racist society that they will benefit from.
From the very beginning, white children have a better chance of survival than Children of Color; African Americans have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites.
What’s more, Black children are three times more likely to die when cared for by white doctors, while the mortality rate for white babies is largely unaffected by the doctor’s race, a recent study found.
White children are born into being part of the problem and just the same, can be part of equitable solutions.
I will teach my child to love your child. Period.
Love is action, and even if it’s easier said than done, there are so many ways to teach our children about race, inequities and injustice. Afterall, “If Black children are ‘old enough’ to experience racism then white children are ‘old enough’ to learn about it.” – Blair Amadeus Imani
- Read and offer books about diverse experiences.
- Be careful what you say. As a young girl on my way to ballet class one day, my mom, while locking the car doors, pointed out the barred doors and boarded windows in the neighborhood we rolled through.
“That’s how you know this is not a safe neighborhood,” my mom warned me.
No questions asked, I noted the building facades, and then I noted the Black people. Because there wasn’t any further conversation, I made the connection that Black people must be “not safe” and ultimately, that there must be something wrong with Black people if they’re confined to neighborhoods “like this.”
Imagine the impact we could make if we showed our children that there is nothing inherently wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.
- Interrupt racism everytime. From Privilege to Progress has a whole collection of one- liners we can employ.
As a nation we are apathetic, made apparent by a recent poll. The survey shows that only 30 percent of white people have taken concrete action to better understand racial issues after George Floyd’s killing.
The poll also shows that White Americans are also the least likely to support the Black Lives Matter movement, with 47 percent expressing support.
Is it because we don’t claim it as our problem? Is it because we misunderstand the problem? Is it because it’s easier to point fingers at others than ourselves?
I’d like to leave you with this video of writer Kimberly Jones where she provides a brief history of the American economy told through an analogy using the board game Monopoly. I urge you to watch it, and then watch it again, and again, and again.
There is no time for complacency within these truly abhorrent systems. When we start to lose sight of that, envision the tangle of yarn from the aforementioned unity art installation and remember that vastly different experiences are networked together.