Lactivism Is Not Work For Whites Only

As I’ve mentioned before, my super long-term goal is to start a nonprofit that provides marginalized parents with lactation guidance in a safe, diverse, and accommodating environment. While the populations I have in mind include trans and gender queer folks, non-hetero folks, and teens, I also intend to help racial minorities.

One of the things that has consistently disappointed me in my recent search for lactation books, materials, and swag is the overwhelming whiteness of it all. Searching Etsy for handmade breastfeeding art brings up jewelry and artwork that is full of white women; browsing CafePress and Zazzle for ridiculously overpriced breastfeeding t-shirts likewise does the same. Even the textbooks and study guides that I will eventually need for my lactation internship, such as The Breastfeeding Atlas, Clinical Lactation: A Visual Guide, Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, and Counseling: The Nursing Mother all have covers featuring white babies, pink nipples, or women without even a touch of kink in their hair. [The cover of The Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice is one of the rare exceptions, although I will note that unlike the more modern style of the other books, this cover features a pre-industrial illustration of a non-white nursing dyad, which is slightly dodgy considering the all-too-common tendency to depict POCs as if we’re all stuck in a time warp.]

While I do understand that authors do not have total (and sometimes any) control over the art that goes on their books (for example, check out the feathers that were understandably ruffled over the cover of Liar, a young adult novel told from the point of view of a black girl that features a white girl on the US version of the cover – because according to the publisher, books with black faces on them “don’t sell”), I still can’t help but feel slighted by the racial homogeneity of these books that will be some of my most important resources in the next year (and for my entire career beyond that).

I do not ever, as a general rule, buy or wear swag (such as buttons, t-shirts, etc) that depicts only white skin, and I do not buy those things for Eve either. Because of this, I have to really look to find images of non-white breastfeeding advocacy swag, and have to stick to text-only or non-racial iconic artwork if I can’t find anything else. It’s not that I don’t find such images and art beautiful because they are white – to the contrary, some of the artwork I’ve found almost hurts me with their beauty.

But I will not support artists who do not support brown lactivists, brown mothers, or brown children. And if it has never crossed an artist’s or mother’s or lactivist’s mind that not everyone will identify with a pinkly-nipped white woman, then they are obviously so deeply steeped in their ignorance and privilege that I cannot support them with my hard-earned dollars – and I am especially not going to wear images that erase my very existence on my own person. I refuse to accept whiteness as default, as the norm, or as the ideal image of the nursing dyad.

Fortunately, there are other women of color out there who are fighting the good fight. Elita from Blacktating asked recently, “Where are the images of black mothers?” and the answer was quite disappointing:

Take a look at Nestle’s Baby Milk website. The first thing you see are two images of women of color, a mom who appears to be black and another who is Asian. When you get to the main content page all you see is black women and babies…

Compare that with La Leche League’s magazine, New Beginnings, where I was unable to find any pictures of black women breastfeeding in the recent issues. The seminal breastfeeding organization in the world, the go-to folks for breastfeeding information, and no images of black women.”

Elita is also one of the presenters for this year’s National Seminar sponsored by the Black Mother’s Breastfeeding Association. I wish I could go, but alas, I am in another state – and the seminar is being held on a damn Monday, to boot.

Also holding it down for nursing black moms (who have the lowest nursing rates among all races) is the blog Black Women Do Breastfeed, which features an adorable close-up of a black baby happily nomming on a black breast at the top of the page.

Finally, allow me to share white anti-oppression blogger Arwyn’s letter to white lactivists who kinda suck at race.

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6 Responses to “Lactivism Is Not Work For Whites Only”

  1. pitmanpixies Says:

    As the (white) author of several breastfeeding books, can I just say that this is a HUGE source of frustration for me? I find that US publishers are absolutely convinced that books must show white women and babies in order to sell, no matter what the writer wants. I’ve fought this fight and lost. Canadian publishers are not quite as bad, in my experience. I think it becomes a circular argument: they have books about breastfeeding showing white women, only white women buy them, therefore they conclude that only white women buy books on breastfeeding. Thank you for bringing up this issue.

    • August Says:

      Yes, it’s definitely a circular problem, and you can see it reflected in almost any mainstream media! I’ve got to keep in mind that there really is only so much that an individual author can do; the publishers really are the ones making these decisions. (Although it’s not so for self-published and handmade breastfeeding books/art/etc. Those creators are totally responsible for the diversity – or lack thereof – of their materials.)

      What are some of the titles of your books? I’m always on the hunt for more to add to my reading list. 🙂

  2. Soapbox Sunday: Mixed Bag Edition « Navelgazing Says:

    […] White Lactivists“. Taking her lead, August of  She Has My Eyes followed up with “Lactivism is not Work for Whites Only” and “Trans Women, Lactation and Exclusion“. Then Analytical Armadillo wrote on […]

  3. Elita @ Blacktating Says:

    How about the fact that there is literally one one breastfeeding book written specifically by and for black women? The whole thing is really frustrating. But if you’re looking for some fairly inexpensive swag, I do like these “nursing cover” hats. You put them on your baby’s head while breastfeeding to cover up your boob *snicker*. It comes in whatever shade you’d like!

    • August Says:

      OMG!! I just bought one of the black boobie hats for Eve (and gave the seller a special thank you for offering diverse skin tones). THANK YOU for that link, it’s FANTASTIC!

      I recently ordered the Black Woman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. It should arrive this week. You would think (hope) that with the dismal breastfeeding rates among black women, that there would be more stuff out there targetting us…but oh well. I read your review of the book a while ago, so I’m looking forward to checking it out.

      Speaking of which, do you know what happened to the African American Breastfeeding Association? They seem to have dropped off the face of the planet, which REALLY disappoints me.

  4. Gladys and Elizabeth « She Has My Eyes Says:

    […] First, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m generally a little frustrated with the very limited selection of non-white breastfeeding art that is out there. It also makes me feel warm and fuzzy to see a black mother-child dyad depicted […]

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