By: Waetie Sanaa Cooper Burnette
Waetie Sanaa and her 2.5 year old nursing and enjoying pizza at Dudley Dough, Roxbury
It’s Black Breastfeeding Week and I have been charged by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance and our mission at Vital Village, to examine and promote all of the different ways that black mothers excel and thrive at mothering in spite of sexism, racism, and institutional oppression. We highlight breastfeeding during this week in an attempt to encourage more moms to find the support to meet their own goals, but acknowledge that breastfeeding is far from the only way that we can excel at giving our families the very best that we can. Ultimately, part of that work as BMMA has defined it is: challenging the negative stereotypes that communicate that black women are capable and best at mothering everyone else’s children but their own. One of the ways we can do this is by sharing our own mothering narratives. Today, I offer a part of my story and what motivates me to do this work.
When I imagined motherhood, before becoming a mother of two, I never anticipated how much time I would have to spend seeking out the many perspectives and voices who specialize in what it means to raise children of color to become healthy and whole. It took becoming a parent and reading a lot of parenting magazines to see how little our day to day concerns are featured in the national parenting dialogue. As a child of immigrants who was greatly formed by growing up in Cambridge, MA, and the example of my parents assisting so many adults and their children to resettle here after the Liberian civil war, I look back and realize how much our family has overcome without any road map and how much further we still have to go.
So, while it was my day off from parenting today, and I could have very well been walking in the streets as a part of the protest of the Free Speech Rally, organized by the Boston Free Speech Coalition, I am instead at home writing. I am very grateful that there are so many willing residents of Boston and activists from across the country who will be walking from Roxbury to the Boston Common to communicate their lack of support for the racist and anti-Semitic speech and thinking that fueled the recent outburst of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. As an African American single mom, and a writer, my own activist journey begins and ends with fitting my activism around my children’s needs and priorities, and making sure I make it home safely each night. This is not so much out of fear but pragmatism.
March, or no march, I will continue to face an ongoing battle between challenging the structures of an oppressive and sometimes violent society and learning how to spread the mission of Christ in a way that extends love and understanding to those who are most marginalized as well as to those who are so successful or removed from the spirit that God (and social justice matters) seem irrelevant. Because, we black moms, like most parents, want to create enough sanctuary and peace for our children to grow up healthy and whole, but we cannot do that without addressing and facing the fact that there are real systematic barriers to overcome for our children to succeed and learn to lift as they climb. It is a complicated balance that I aim to strike, and one that I will continue to explore in this blog and elsewhere.
One of the reasons I love writing this blog is that I get to draw upon my over 15 years of experience recruiting, coaching, and working as a dorm parent in private, boarding school environments as well as my time working with recent immigrants and parents of young children in poor communities. I am dedicated to filling in more of the roadmap for families of color who struggle to see the resources that can be at our fingertips if we avail ourselves and share our knowledge. Some of those resources are institutional, but many of them are people in our Vital Village Network and beyond who have a wealth of insight to share. And, as I teach and share, I am in the process of both raising my children and continuing my own learning as a Masters student in Early Education and learning through the arts at Lesley University. I am learning so much in school about the bedrocks of child development in the early years, literacy, social emotional learning, and special needs students, but it has been my extremely varied life experiences living in very wealthy and very poor communities and advocating for my family and friends that have taught me that parenting has its real challenges no matter where you choose do it! It took my own failed marriage with two young children in tow for me to not only be greatly humbled but awakened to all of the questions and reflections that now form the crux of my life’s work: what is it about parenting that we can all do to raise our children of color well that is not simply about moving to a predominantly white neighborhood and creating the exclusive and expensive existence that seems to be heralded in article after article in so many parenting resources? Because, while more money can help, I think its also important to remember that our consistent and genuine efforts to create opportunities and seek out positive experiences for our children can matter just as much.
Actual parenthood has taught me how important it is for me and others to talk and write about how we nurture our children and give them not necessarily the best of everything, as society defines it, but the best chance at learning how to emerge from their younger years feeling loved, whole, and capable of sharing their unique gifts with the world. My hope is that this blog will offer a view point that explicitly and consistently acknowledges how race, class, and so many other factors can impact our parenting journeys. By interviewing our partners in the Vital village and expanding our base of resources, I hope to offer content that is written by, for, and about us, and helps to fill in what I see as a hole within many parenting magazines and online forums. During times like Black Breastfeeding Week, we get to acknowledge that there are aspects of being a black mom that are just like everyone else, but it is also ok to talk about those aspects which are altered by race and/or sex. We get to recognize that some of the decision making and support we need to make expert choices on behalf of our children of color is very unique to parenting in the United States. Black Breastfeeding Week is all about centering ourselves, our stories, and our successes, in spite of the fact that we are so often presented with a predominantly white, middle class, two-parent focused, heterosexual model of how our lives and parenting should look. This is a week where we get to look each other in the eyes and deeply affirm and highlight the reality of how our parenting journeys actually are and continue to support one another as we aspire to be the best parents we can be!
Join me and the Boston Breastfeeding Coalition as we celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week and we Lift Every Baby at The Hood Milk Bottle by the Boston Children’s Museum at 10am on Thursday, 8/31. More information here.
Daily Milk hosts articles, posts and ideas from various members of our breastfeeding coalition! Our regular contributor, Waetie Sanaa, shares stories on children and parent's rights, maternal wellness, and all things breastfeeding.