Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Beyonce, Blue, Breastfeeding & Blacktating

Did you hear the good news? It seems Beyonce is indeed breastfeeding her newborn baby girl, Blue. A waiter tipped off celebrity magazine US Weekly that Beyonce nursed her baby while out to lunch with hubby Jay-Z. What started off as a blurb on a website for celeb gossip has taken the world by storm.

First there was the awful post on Hollyscoop, likening breastfeeding in public to being milked like a cow and slinging snot at the table. Of course the words "whipping them out" also appeared. For the first time in the history of the Internet, the comments on a breastfeeding in public post were full of win. Moms descended on the post, letting the author know that nursing at a restaurant is natural, legal and of course perfectly appropriate. The smackdown was so harsh the author eventually edited out the most offensive parts of the piece.

By the next day the story had been picked up by ABC News, who quoted veteran breastfeeding experts Drs. Ruth Lawrence and Alison Stuebe. There was even a quote from breastfeeding advocate Emma Kwasnica who you may know for spearheading the movement to get Facebook to stop deleting images of women breastfeeding their babies. Although I was thrilled with such mainstream coverage of Beyonce nursing in public, I was more than a bit confused as to why ABC decided to interview these three women.

Let's see, the hugest celebrity on the planet, who happens to be black, is breastfeeding in public and we interview three white women, one of whom isn't even American, and don't mention race. Color me confused.

So as I am apt to do, I took to Twitter to vent.

Shortly thereafter, Kimberly Sears Allers of, published a piece on the same topic. In her post, Dear White Women: Beyonce is OUR Breastfeeding Moment. Please Step Aside she writes,

Meanwhile, with all the news reports about Beyonce, and all the breastfeeding “advocates” talking about its impact on the nursing world, not one advocate mentioned the particular significance to black women–which is so striking since many claim to be interested in our breastfeeding plight.
Shame on you.
The "shame" didn't stop there. Not only did many breastfeeding advocates insist that Beyonce breastfeeding in public was just as much their moment as ours (it's not) they also allowed their fans to post offensive, borderline racist screed on their Facebook pages. Instead of our "allies" rushing to our defense, I was told it was my job to educate the ignorant (it's not) and that my time would be better spent defending the WHO Code instead of criticizing the breastfeeding community for not putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to conversations on race. You can imagine how well that went over.

Kimberly said there was no mainstream press that reached out to an African-American women for her perspective, but that's not true. Both Time and USA Today's writers quoted me for their pieces on Beyonce breastfeeding Blue Ivy (my words even made their way in the March 19, 2012 print edition of Time). Both writers underscored how huge this is for the black community because of our lower initiation rates, and the level of Beyonce's celebrity. This is way bigger than even Angelina Jolie actually breastfeeding on the cover of W magazine and we don't even have proof, photographic or otherwise, that it even happened!

There is no way to deny that Beyonce breastfeeding hasn't had a huge impact. There was an hours-long conversation on black Twitter about breastfeeding in public after these headlines. Yet I cannot tell you how many white advocates insist that it isn't a big deal, or at least shouldn't be. Strangely enough, whenever I see posts about other celebrities who are breastfeeding and are, let's face it, downright D list, I've seen nothing but praise. Even posts about Jenna Elfman haven't elicited any anti-Xenu snark, for God's sake. Yet it's all eye-rolls and move along, nothing to see here's when BEYONCE breastfeeds in a restaurant? Excuse me if I can't help but think that race is playing a part in the attitudes and responses from moms I've seen online.

Still, I'm thrilled. The past few weeks have been amazing for breastfeeding and I give Beyonce all the credit. This story got picked up in major black interest publications from The Grio to Vibe and Essence magazine. The comments that I saw on those pieces were so positive and encouraging. It was so wonderful to see our community rallying around our girl, and to hear from black moms about how much they loved breastfeeding their babies.

This week really showed black lactivists what this community thinks of us and the work we're doing. Because believe me, these folks are quick to trot out the the statistics on how low our breastfeeding rates our. If Beyonce had mixed a bottle of formula at that table, everyone would have come out of the woodwork to say how sad it was, but not surprising since she is black and this is a problem for us. But when she breastfeeds we aren't supposed to celebrate this as our moment?


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