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Tuesday, May 01, 2007It's been said many times that I have a thick skull. (I'm the last one to deny that.)
But this past week, it's been proven once again, that to blog, you must have thick skin.
I'd imagine that many of you who came in last week, read Morgan Gallagher's piece about breastfeeding and our culture and then went on your merry way. If you did, then woo-whee have you missed a firestorm.
While I certainly didn't agree with all of Gallagher's comments (I noted early on in the comments that I disagreed that breasts were not sexual and that I disagreed that being white is the absence of being black) I agreed with her emphasis that we need to change the debate from an issue of feeding choices to one of the absolute human right of a child to receive the best form of comfort and nourishment possible. (I've also written a post in the past that addressed this very issue.)
Specifically, I found great insight and a powerful call to action in passages like this one:
Tobin has an inalienable human right here that is being denied. The right of a human child to human milk, to nurture and nourish when its psychobiology requires it.
The offended onlooker does not have any rights to be protected. The offended onlooker has a personal issue, a feeling of discomfort and unease, that requires handling. A cultural dissonance, that needs acknowledged,
responded to, engaged with and hopefully smoothed away. The nursing dyad has no such personal issue in this paradigm. The nursing dyad is not operating out of a cultural context. The nursing dyad has supreme importance and protection in this scenario.
There is a simple truth here, that is so awesome and complete in its simplicity, that it's in danger of being overlooked: breastfeeding an infant is not a lifestyle choice. It is not a cultural convention. It is not a personal statement. It is a biological imperative. It is our essential nature. It is an essential element of our species, and the continuation of it. It is a biological norm.
We do not choose to breastfeed. We can choose not to. Likewise, we do not choose to breastfeed in public. We can choose not to. Breastfeeding is not a cultural construct. Not breastfeeding, is. Nursing an infant when the infant needs it, is a biological norm. Deciding that this needs to be done in a certain place, at a certain time, or in a certain way, is a cultural value.
Now, if you haven't been following the comments on that post, you may be wondering where I'm going with this. So I'll tell you...
The following snippet from her post has set off an absolute firestorm:
Quite often, when this sort of thing is discussed, someone will say "Would you ask a black person to go eat in their room if someone else was offended?" and a huge debate will fall open about whether or not that was an appropriate thing to say. One side will scream its not appropriate to reference colour, the other will say "Why not?" and off the merry go round will go.
This started with comments calling the post racist, escalated to posts calling Gallagher herself racist and then pushed even further to insulting me and calling me racist for publishing it. (and to insulting my intelligence, as if the poster has had a personal view of the diplomas hanging on my wall...)
I find that sad. Not because my feelings are hurt. I have thick skin, I can take it. More so because insults are one of the fastest ways to shut conversation down. In fact, being on the receiving end of an insult is often the fastest way to decide that you couldn't care less what the insulter has to say.
I don't want to see that happen. I think there's great opportunity here for educating and for finding ways to come together to work toward a common goal. It's certainly worked in the past.
But that can't happen without respectful discourse.
Sure, it's easy for one side to state that Gallagher's post was not respectful. In many ways, I agree with them. While I understand the comparison she made and why she made it (more on this later) I also understand that for those who have lived the struggle, it's belittling. This does nothing for the breastfeeding cause because it shuts down lines of communication that desperately need to stay open.
Now that said, I'd ask if what I can only assume was a well-intentioned, yet poorly placed comparison is grounds for ending dialogue and hurling insults. After all, who among us has never unintentionally hurt someone's feelings or insulted them? I know I've done it. If you are reading this and haven't, then I congratulate you...I know few people that have made it through life without inadvertently causing offense.
But with that in mind and with the posts calling Gallagher a racist adding spark to the fire, I have to point out the following lines from Gallagher's post:
To discriminate against someone on the basis of colour, is to discriminate on their essential biology. It is to discriminate against their right to exist: it impinges on their human rights. There is no logic, rhyme or reason to such discrimination. It is a cultural construct imposing lunacy on the essential nature of humans. No one decides to be black. It is not a cultural concept. It is not a lifestyle choice. It is an essential artefact of human biology. It is.
So in all sincerity, I ask...does an unfortunate analogy override the sentiments above? Does the fact that Gallagher (and at times myself) use an analogy that angers some within the black community negate the heart and soul of a person's thoughts and beliefs?
Does using a bad analogy make you a racist?
Because honestly, the idea that it would or does astounds me.
But with that analogy in mind, let me try and shed some light on why it is that white women in the lactivist community often turn to that example.
Breastfeeding is a normal, natural part of life. It's the way we were designed to function and as Gallagher points out, it is not a "lifestyle choice." At least not anymore than kissing a boo boo or giving your child a hug is. Yes, you can choose not to do it, but there's little arguing that breastfeeding is at the biological core of mothering.
With that in mind, when anti-NIP types get going, their first argument is generally that they don't want to see it and therefore, they should not have to see it. This line of thinking comes about due to the belief that their personal comfort level ranks higher than the rights of the mother-child pair to engage in a natural, healthy function.
Analogies are powerful in debate. They often allow people to view something in a way that they never have before. It opens eyes, it gives people a way to relate. Thus, analogies are sought.
When it comes to creating an analogy for the nursing dyad, things get difficult.
The fact remains that no one in the United States has the right to not be offended. Seeing, hearing and reading things that we dislike are par for the course of life in these United States.
So, the mind whirls with ideas of what to compare it to.
There are things that people find distasteful...chewing with one's mouth open, smoking, body odor. The problem is that these things are intrinsically offensive in our culture. Comparing breastfeeding to them denigrates the act and lowers it to something intrinsically offensive that must be tolerated.
So instead, people seek to find situations that are NOT intrinsically offensive, but that offend certain people due to their own personal issues.
Being a minority, being handicapped, having a different faith, speaking a different language...none of these things are offensive, yet some people would rather not deal with them. That's not ok.
As such, breastfeeding advocates seek to lift breastfeeding to a level that most people can understand by using an analogy that no one should have a problem with. After all, what kind of person do you have to be to refuse service to someone based on their color, creed or physical ability?
Now, with that out of the way, I want to make very clear that I understand why some of those close to the heart of the issue of racism are upset. I understand why you feel that it devalues your cause. After all, while women ARE discriminated against, refused service and denied employment options due to their choice to bear children and breastfeed, there is still a choice involved.
So is this comparison racist? Absolutely not. Is it insensitive? Probably.
I would ask though (and I ask this of all readers, not simply my non-Caucasian readers)...what comparison can we use? What analogy can we build off of that gets the point across without lessening the very real oppression that some have experienced through history? How do we move this debate forward? How do we explain the very real right of a nursing mother and child to exist in the public eye despite some people's dislike of the act?
Beyond that, I would also ask how conversation can move forward when the response to someone using an analogy that you don't like is to call them a "clueless bint" or a "whiny white woman" that fights for "dumb ass causes."
After all, any offense I created was inadvertent. There's no denying the intent when someone posts to question your education, state that people have grounds to call you a racist and to dub you a "clueless bint." I could also argue that fighting for the right of a mother to nurture her child without being removed from a plane because someone didn't like it is hardly a "dumb ass cause."
On the other hand, there were posters that make pointed arguments against the use of the race analogy in a much more productive manner.
There's room for this conversation to go forward. There are opportunities to educate, to enlighten and to work toward understanding. I'm up for it and I offer up this post as starting ground, but I'll make one thing clear...
This blog is not a democracy. It's a "me-ocracy." I'm up for debate and conversation but not for name calling and insults, no matter who you direct them toward. In fact, while I've published every comment received up to this point, I'm done with that. If you want to hurl insults, do it on your own bandwidth. The conversation can't move forward while people are busying hurling insults.
So share your thoughts, your reasons, your experience, your ideas and your outrage. Offer up suggestions, solutions and ideas. But know that if your comment hurls insults at anyone (myself, the author or another poster) I'm not publishing it.