Photo of the Day: #normalizebreastfeeding

enhanced-8442-1402282882-2 When Karlesha Thurman, a 25-year-old mom and recent graduate of California State University Long Beach, posted the above image on the Facebook group page Black Women Do Breast Feed, a group dedicated to promoting awareness as well as remove the stigma of breastfeeding in black community, she wasn’t looking to stir up controversy.

If anything, it was a celebration and acknowledgement that her daughter was her inspiration for her finishing her degree. Thurman wrote in a separate Facebook note, “I found out I was pregnant my last year of college. She was my motivation to keep going, so me receiving my BA was OUR moment.” After publishing this snapshot from college graduation, Thurman was subject to some nasty comments from slut shaming to misogynistic name-calling and calls for “modesty.” The image went viral.

In 2014, there are some among us who are too squeamish to deal with mothers breastfeeding their children in public spaces. That is some buttery bullshit. 

I suppose that’s why people are still scandalized by Rihanna’s aureolas.

Yet, what’s equally annoying about this faux controversy is how people read the photograph itself. The frame is a close up of Thurman and her daughter. The entire breast isn’t exposed. Thurman is surrounded by other graduates. The outrage seems to imply that the image was projected on a jumbotron, and Thurman made herself spectacle while engaged in the natural act of nursing. It’s an incredibly ignorant read of the picture.

Ebony’s Jamilah Lemieux writes:

The sight of breasts should be shocking to no one at this point. But regardless of your personal taste in cleavage fashions, it’s irresponsible to think of breasts as fashion accessories or sex toys and not acknowledge their most significant purpose: feeding children. And while Rih can easily decide that Tuesday is a “t*tty out like what, I don’t give a____” and then decide to go for a turtleneck on Wednesday, nursing moms are not making style choices or giving peep shows; they are attending to the hungriest, most impatient and important people in the world. And the last thing they should have to worry about is the comfort of someone else. Every mom has the right to decide whether or not she’ll nurse (and for as great as it is for your little one, it simply doesn’t work for all families), but those of us who are not feeding children from our bodies shouldn’t have the right to determine the appropriate time and place to do so. While a blanket or nursing apron may seem like an acceptable compromise between parties, how about we simply keep our eyes on our own paper when someone is feeding their baby?

Moreover, breastfeeding among black mothers is low. The BBC points to recent figures from the CDC that note “only 62 percent of black babies born in the US in 2010 started breastfeeding, compared to 79 percent of white babies. After six months, only 36 percent still breastfed, compared to 52 percent of white babies.” As studies have pointed to the health benefits of breast milk over formula, a host of socio-economic barriers — from poor healthcare to low-wage employment — have often proven prohibitive to African American women returning to breastfeeding at higher rates. This reality is certainly one of the reasons a Facebook page promoting and sharing stories of black women breastfeeding is important.

I don’t know what it is that makes the public freak out at the sight of a woman’s aureola in 2014 — let alone a baby attached to it. I don’t know why it is that some men’s immediate knee-jerk reaction to seeing an exposed part of a brown woman’s body is to judge her as a”hoe” instead of “mother.” She’s not a thing, she’s a person. And babies gotta eat.

Congratulations to Karlesha Thurman, recent college grad and breastfeeding mom.

sm-bio Syreeta McFadden is not a mother but has one. She has big aureolas and you will deal.

SYREETA MCFADDEN is a Brooklyn based writer, photographer and adjunct professor of English. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and Storyscape Journal. She is the managing editor of the online literary magazine, Union Station, and a co-curator of Poets in Unexpected Places. You can follow her on Twitter @reetamac.

Syreeta McFadden is a contributing opinion writer for The Guardian US and an editor of Union Station Magazine.

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