Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Where have I been and weighing in on the Gallagher Article

Apparently, I have been under a rock. I didn't realize I have not posted since April 19th! Yikes. But I have good excuses...I am launching a new Happiest Baby class at the local Gymboree, we are applying to a private school for the princess in the fall, I am working on my CLE workshops, I am running a breastfeeding support group on my own, teaching breastfeeding class, attending meetings and oh yes, I cook and clean for and keep tabs on three children and a husband. It is also dance competition season for the princess. However, that does not absolve me of my duties as the mistress of this little spot on the web you have come to know and love as Mocha Milk. I hope you have been kept "abreast" of current happenings in the lactation world by my fellow bloggers. Jennifer at the Black Breastfeeding Blog has been faithfully writing and had several interesting entries about wet nursing. She said everything I would have said and more (It's so nice to agree :)) so please check out what she had to say.

Apparently while I was gone, there was a big stir over an article posted by Jen at The Lactivist but written by Morgan Gallagher, a self-described Lactaneer. If you read some of the comments posted (strangely mostly by "anonymous" posters) they call the article "racist", say they are comparing the breastfeeding rights struggle to "slavery and its repercussions" and say it compares "racism to breastfeeding" and then some go so far as to call both Gallagher and Jennifer racist themselves and "using blacks for their dumb-a$$ causes".

Jennifer added a post on May 1, essentially stating that she understands why the analogy of being black to a baby's essential need to eat/breastfeed would be offensive, belittling and poorly placed. Jennifer, please don't feel the pressure to apologize, soften your words or even call the article poorly written. It was beautifully and properly stated. This is a case of the Jessie Jackson/Al Sharpton bullying so common in American culture today. Just because a White person said it, doesn't make it racist or wrong. I could have easily said the same thing, and in fact have made similar statements myself. I will address this more later.

Call me an Uncle Tom if you will (However I won't post your comment, because first off that's a dumb insult if you've even read Uncle Tom's Cabin and like on The Lactivist says, name calling will get you nowhere.), but I think race is a PERFECT analogy when discussing a baby's right to eat and a mother's right to breastfeed.

Gallagher wasn't talking about our struggle, slavery, the civil rights or lynchings. The point was biology. I am pretty sure the point was not to insinuate that women breastfeeding their children are under the same persecution as Blacks during the Civil Rights movement. The point is this: I can not stop being black any more than my baby can stop being hungry or wanting to breastfeed right at the moment he is hungry/scared/uncomfortable/thirsty, etc and needs to nurse. Breastfeeding is what baby human mammals do. A baby shouldn't have to eat in a toilet or under a blanket because they are a baby and get nourishment from a woman's breast. A mother shouldn't have to hide what she is doing because it is how a human baby eats. That was the point. Nothing more, nothing less.

One anonymous poster said that the struggle to protect breastfeeding and the baby's right to be breastfed is not a civil rights issue/can't be compared to the civil rights struggle. It is fundamentally a civil rights issue. Her argument is flawed because she says breastfeeding mothers aren't lynched, or crosses burned on their lawns. If that's the criteria for a civil rights issue than what about the rights of disabled people, Native Americans, religious minorities, etc. Most of those groups didn't suffer lynchings or cross burnings either (some actually did if they lived in KKK areas during certain periods of history). Regardless, this is not the struggle TODAY. Maybe the anonymous poster works for Jessie Jackson. He is always riding on the glory days of "the struggle". We have to realize that we are fighting a different struggle now. I live in the South. Are there still scary pockets with crazy racists loons? Yes. But we have a strong, educated, (biracial) Black man running for president, Black CEOs, entrepreneurs and some of the most powerful people in television and government are Black. If you are a Black child and want to go to college and make up your mind to do so, YOU CAN. We now struggle against self-perpetuated stereotypes (in entertainment), poor education, poor neighborhoods and our inability to work together (Bill Cosby says it much better than I). But I digress...we were talking about breastfeeding.

Maybe I have a deeper understanding of what she was trying to say because I live with the reality that the very life I live is offensive to some people - Black and White. My husband is White.(Which to some of you will disqualify everything I have to say.) I am Black. (Race in itself is actually a cultural construct not a biological one which actually makes the whole argument silly but I am making a point.) There was a time, about 40-50 years ago that the thought of the two of us holding hands or eating together in a restaurant would have made people sick. We would have been told to leave restaurants, not sit together on buses, told we can't "do that" here. Now, for the most part, we are free to do as we please, go where we want, be together and be who we are, without fear of harassment or danger.

No one is implying that a baby or mother is lynched for breastfeeding. However, being kicked out of a restaurant, having security called, having to bring in lawyers, being treated like a security threat on a plane, having your milk poured out as you weep, are all forms of intimidation, abuse and harassment. These are actions that may cause women to choose not to breastfeed, to wean early or supplement with formula when in public. These actions lead to health problems (whether you can see them or not - they may take years to manifest), infections, and increased morbidity and mortality rates (or at least no improvement).

And the problem is, having a culture that encourages the breastfeeding mom/baby pair to hide, stay home and not "offend" everyone else is hurting OUR PEOPLE the most. Our babies are dying in greater numbers, our babies have more disease, more infection, more obesity, less connection and bond to the family and die more often. So here we bitch and moan about how white women are exploiting us to promote breastfeeding when we are not doing enough to further the cause in our own community. When we are still looking at the lowest breastfeeding rates among all races in America. I hope those that were applying the racist label and recounting all the bad things ever done to Black people by White people are actually spending half as much time promoting breastfeeding - the single most beneficial, the cheapest and easiest health intervention among our people - as they were spending trying to shame someone for actually pointing out that it is wrong beyond all reason to tell a person to eat in a bathroom because of the color of their skin just as it is wrong to tell a breastfed baby (via the mom) to eat in a bathroom. The reason it is a powerful argument, is because today, virtually no one would dare suggest that Black people shouldn't eat in public (as was the sentiment 50 years ago), but we do that to babies when we say their mothers should not feed them in public.

That was the point, and it is a point well taken.

For further thoughts on this subject see my former post on Rosa Parks and Lactivism.

I would be happy to hear your thoughts as well.

23 comments:

Doulala said...

Micky, I'm so happy that you and (BBB)Jennifer posted about this. As usual I completely agree with you. I posted over on BBB that the firestorm had me worried that I was somehow not sensitive enough to racism because I wasn't offended by the post. As a matter of fact, I didn't think twice about the race issue until I started reading the read some of the comments.
Like you, I'm in a biracial marriage. I'm ashamed to say that was part of the reason I stopped myself from jumping in and defending Jennifer. Thank you for beign so much better at speaking your mind.

Off topic, my sister (and her multicultural family) is moving to NC this fall. I'm trying to convince my hubby to let us follow her. I would love to hear more about what it's like down there.

Leah said...

Apparently I was under a rock too. I missed the whole firestorm because I read in an RSS reader.

I have commented at the Lactivist before, but never here because often I feel that I have nothing to add as a white woman. I read your site though, and am fascinated by your insights into our culture.

I live in Chicago, home of Jesse Jackson, and I have thought similar things many times. He seems to know that actual CHANGE in the status of black people in this city (and everywhere) would threaten his status. And the money he takes in. But people who really do want change think he does too, and he keeps raking in the money. But again, I always feel like it's not my place to discuss.

I think that is a major part of the tragedy of racism. That the dialogue is silenced.

Thanks for this blog - you have done a lot yourself to help me understand another perspective.

Jennifer said...

Geeze, wish I could have shared my sentiments that well. Thanks for weighing in Micky. I'll admit that I was curious to hear your thoughts.

I'm going to edit my post from yesterday to include links to your post and Jennifer's post.

Micky said...

Leah,
That's the problem. We can't have an open dialog because of the name calling and under-the-belt tactics.

I attend a church called Strong Tower Bible Church where we have discussion nights called G-RACE - and they are racial reconciliation summits where we discuss the difficult issues surrounding living together in our culture - the past, present and future.

Our church is strange - A Black pastor, both Black and White on staff and a congregation that looks like Heaven on Earth. Black, White, Native American, various Asian cultures, Hispanic and many of the families are even mixed races.

What it shows is that we can live together, respect each other, learn from each other and challenge and change each other in a meaningful, helpful way. In the words of Sixpence None the Richer it's a "beautiful mess". Sometimes it is uncomfortable, sometimes it is tearful and difficult but it is always respectful and fosters growth and understanding.

I hope my blog (and all I do)does that too.

Micky

JudyBright said...

Thank you for posting this. I posted basically the same sentiments in the comments section of Jennifer's original posts.

It just stinks that we can't even talk about racial issues, or even mention race. It seems like if we try to be reasonable an not reactionary, I'm called racist because I'm white, and you get called an "Uncle Tom" because you're black. It's so frustrating.

Michelle said...

I'm a black mother that has breastfed both of her children and who encourages other mothers to breastfeed. It's fine that you weren't offended (though please spare us all the "Black people will call me an Uncle Tom because my husband is white" mess. My ex-husband is white too, trust me no one is thinking that hard about your love life) but you do not speak for everyone.

I am a lactivist and I can still manage to fight aversive racism when I see it. My comments were not anonymous (I don't use Blogger, but I can be found online at karnythia.livejournal.com) and I stand by my assessment that such comparisons are othering and unnecessarily divisive.

Micky said...

Michelle,
I am glad you are above the "uncle tom" name calling. To be clear, I wasn't saying that I would be called that because my husband is White, just merely for disagreeing with other Black folk. So often we are all painted as having one voice, or a collective brain with the offical opinion given by "Black leaders" like Jesse Jackson et. al.

What exactly was offensive about Gallagher's and Jennifer's statements. I would like to understand your perspective. Please separate them so I know which one you are referring to. I am sure you are busy, but I would like to understand where you are coming from if you have the time.

Micky

Micky said...

And to be clear, I never said I speak for all Black people. Only me. Little ole me. That's what Blogging is all about.

Micky

Eilat said...

Thanks for posting this. You make all these points that have been spinning round my head so logically and clearly.
I posted over at The Lactivist and thought the piece was lovely.

Great blog! I might pop in once in a while :-)

Editor said...

Glad we agree;)

Jennifer said...

I haven't laughed this hard in a long, LONG time. Thank you, Micky. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Chris said...

I was so sorry to see Jennifer take so much flack for publishing Morgan's amazing Human Rights piece (which I posted on my blog as well, but I already have a strict No Insult-Hurling in My Internet Living Room rule, so the Anonymice leave me alone). I was just composing my own response to the comments on her blog, accusing her and Morgan of racism, when I came across your beautifully articulated response. Well done & thanks.

Sue said...

WOW...I have chills! What a wonderful post. I do nurse my baby in the toilet stall and/or under a blanket. I have large breasts (which happen to be white) and am SO nerve wracked about them being exposed that my stress typically does not allow for a very calm nursing experience. I wish I could let it all hang out for the cause but I can't. You definitely have me thinking about it though!
This is the first I have gotten to hear a black person's view of the Jesse & Al team - thank you for that!

Rachel's Tavern said...

Micky, I think this comment in your post reveals at least one reason why Gallagher's comment is racist. You said, "(Race in itself is actually a cultural construct not a biological one which actually makes the whole argument silly but I am making a point.)"

She insinuates that race is biological, and she insinuates that black and white are opposites in the whole "white is the absence of black" comment. That a really simplistic view of race, and it is an kind of odd reiteration of the one drop rule.

I don't mind having people compare struggles for rights of minority groups, but I do think that breastfeeding blogs, mommy blogs, and parenting blogs are overwhelmingly white, and I think the comparison is not going to work for many white women because we often don't understand the depths of racism.

I think the author also insinuates that people are more liberal on race than they really are. We may not have segregated restaurants, but we do still have a large contingent of white folks who do feel uncomfortable eating at the same table with black folks (you can count my relatives as some of them). They may not tell be so bold to tell the black person to go some place else, but they'll be the first people to put up the for sale sign in the yard, after their new black neighbors bring them homemade cookies.

Micky said...

Rachel's Tavern,
In regard to what you said, Gallagher actually said that SKIN COLOR was biological, not race. That much is true. Is that still racist? What about it is racist? Maybe there is something I don't understand.

She says skin color is biological and that Blackness or dark skin is the biological norm. Whether it is the biological norm is debatable, but it is certainly not a put down to Black folk. If anything, it is saying that Whites/Caucasian are the variation of the norm which could be construed as a put down, but isn't necessarily one.

I am not really sure what you mean by "Liberal on race". There are bigoted, ignorant people in every shade, from every background, in every town. It was my (Black) family who had a difficult time with my choice of husband (White) when we got married with virtually no opposition (one uncle who was put in check real quick by the rest of the family) from my husband's family. His family is as old, country, southern USA as it gets and my mother-in-law would step in front of an on-coming train for me. So be careful who you paint with a broad brush.

You may say as a White woman, you don't understand the depths of racism, but you don't know the history, life experiences and relationships of others. I am confused as to why the blogs being mostly run by White people has anything to do with whether or not it is a valid metaphor.

Micky

Micky said...

Sue,
I don't speak for anyone else regarding Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Some people like them, some people don't. Not everyone considers them "black leaders" (like we can't think independently and need leaders, but I digress...) like the press portrays.

There are many different voices and movements and ideas just as in every community and ethnic group.
Micky

Sarahbear said...

Thank you for clarifying the difference between skin color and race. I had heard a few people comment about race being a construct before but never fully understood that term until your post and comments that followed.

I guess ya learn something new every day.=)

Michelle said...

Sorry it took me so long to get back to this, real life beckoned in the form of grad school apps and the LSAT. (Never apply for a dual degree program, it'll just make your hair want to fall out.)

On the Gallagher front, she previously compared being an extended nurser to bein Rpsa Parks on that bus in Alabama. Last I checked nursing a toddler doesn't involve risking being jailed, beaten or lynched. It's offensive to draw such an analogy and ignore the historical framework of racism and the Civil Rights Movement. The same goes for the comparison to being black and breastfeeding. As I said elsewhere, the two are not comparable. Breastfeeding is finite, being black is not, racism isn't something you outgrow. For that matter once again this comparison ignores what it took to change the Jim Crow laws. No one is setting dogs loose or turning fire hoses on women for breastfeeding in public.

Jennifer essentially invalidated the response of various WOC that pointed out exactly why Gallagher's words were offensive. Even after I broke it down into itty bitty chunks, she said "In reading your post, I can say that if that's how you are interpreting the intent, then I 100% agree with you that it's aversive racism and therefore, actual racism." But then she goes on to continue defending the analogy even after seeing that this isn't the first time Gallagher has drawn such a backward comparison. Black women breastfeed, and the analogy distances them, and it doesn't make any sense anyway. Why hang on to such things and try to make them acceptable to the WOC that find it offensive?

Rachel's Tavern said...

Micky said, "There are bigoted, ignorant people in every shade, from every background, in every town. It was my (Black) family who had a difficult time with my choice of husband (White) when we got married with virtually no opposition (one uncle who was put in check real quick by the rest of the family) from my husband's family. His family is as old, country, southern USA as it gets and my mother-in-law would step in front of an on-coming train for me. So be careful who you paint with a broad brush."

Micky there are hundreds of studies on racial prejudice and whites consistently display higher levels of racial prejudice. This is at the group level not the individual level. Sure there is some variation, and there are bigots in all groups, but on the whole whites are more prejudice than Blacks. This is particularly true on the area of intermarriage. That certainly may be true for your case, but out of all of the interracial couples I've interviewed, white families tended to be less approving (this is my area of research, so I'm not just making a personal observation here). One thing I also found was that partners in interracial relationships often hid their family's disapproval from their partners, which is another interesting issue, but that is for another thread.

Micky said...

Michelle,
I guess, I see it from the Baby's POV. They can't just decide to stop being a human infant with the need for human milk in that instance where someone has a problem with it. And if you want to talk about the mom, a woman has breasts her entire life. Those breasts have many functions including lactation. She can't just take her breasts off (well, surgery can) but it is the breasts that are offensive because no one objects to bottle feeding a baby in public. If anything this is a human rights and women's rights issue, because women have to carry around these offensive breasts no matter where they go.

The essay was not about the civil rights movement. (Others may be, but not the one we were originally talking about). If she had compared it to someone with red hair or freckles or something else would that be okay? Or is that offensive too? If I made the comparision, would it be okay?

I do not buy into the whole, well, we can say it but they can't thing so I am really trying to understand . I am not trying to be smart, just trying to foster understanding.

I have a post about Rosa Parks and breastfeeding that was one of my first posts. There is a link to it in the corresponding post. So, I guess I don't have as much of a problem with it as you do.

When you say the analogy distances WOC, I assume you mean only Black women (why would an Asian woman or Indian woman be offended?) and include us all in one big group. As you can see from my picture, I am a WOC and the analogy doesn't distance me. I have no problem with it at all.

Micky

Micky said...

Rachel,
Okay, what is your point? Everyone knows that as a WHOLE, Whites have and currently show more racial prejudice.

I don't know what current studies have and are being done in the area of race and interracial marriage, but I REALLY think it is changing and has changed a LOT in the last 20 years.

STBC - the church we attend with a Black pastor, and both White and Black men and women on staff, as decons and elders. The body is Black, White, Asian, Native American and more with an almost even distribution between White and Black. That church could not have existed 50, 40 or even 30 years ago.But it is a strong, growing church in the heart of the South today. We don't hide, we don't live in fear, we are open and involved in the community at large in one of the wealthiest, most affluent counties in the US.

In 10 years of marriage (12 together) in the South I can say we have NEVER had an instance of nasty, overt racism. A strange look, perhaps, but nothing I really remember. We have never been denied housing, never asked to leave somewhere, never been yelled at, harassed or approached violently.
We have traveled around the country and when not traveling, live in the buckle of the Bible belt.

I understand that some may hide their family's disapproval, but it is difficult to hide disapproval when you get into the marriage stage or when you are around them all the time.

If anything , I think White liberals are so scared to do anything wrong and so obsessed with being PC that they bend over backwards to welcome minorities and interracial couples.

Yes, there are still some being raised to "stay with their race (in all races, by the way - I had a huge discussion with another Black mother who would NEVER accept her sons dating a White woman) but by and large, popular culture today is supportive of interracial dating, same sex dating, whatever-makes-you-happy dating (and marriage).

Micky

Rachel's Tavern said...

Micky said, "In 10 years of marriage (12 together) in the South I can say we have NEVER had an instance of nasty, overt racism. A strange look, perhaps, but nothing I really remember. We have never been denied housing, never asked to leave somewhere, never been yelled at, harassed or approached violently.
We have traveled around the country and when not traveling, live in the buckle of the Bible belt."

If this is true, then you are very lucky. Because that doesn't jibe with the experiences I know of. Perhaps, you're relationship is exceptional or maybe you live in a very progressive community.

I about the same age as you and have been denied service in at a restaurant and a bowling alley, including the guy threatening to call the police if we didn't leave. I don't even count stares because I expect that.

But this is a side track from the original post, so I'll stop about the interracial stuff.

Micky said...

Rachel,
So if I don't encounter overt racism it's luck?

Nashville and it's suburbs very progressive? I don't really think so. It's no Oregon or Washington State or California. Not by a long shot.

Where do you live, Mississippi? Alabama? I might expect to get the cops called on me for holding hands with my husband in some po-dunk town in Mississippi but anywhere else, I would honestly be shocked if that happened in 2007.

How about, times are changing? And have changed for the better?

My biracial children will grow up in a world, that for the most part will appreciate their unique heritage and accept them based on their character and abilities instead of the shade of their skin or their parents' skin.

At least we can agree on this: I do have an exceptional relationship, with an exceptional man.

Micky