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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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Publication Date

Fall 2020




California Western School of Law




In Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice, Andrea Freeman brilliantly explains how racism results in lower breastfeeding rates by Black mothers,1 which in turn results in poorer health outcomes--including higher mortality rates--for Black babies.2 She provides four primary reasons for this phenomenon: (1) the history and legacy of slavery, (2) the imposition of racist gender stereotypes on Black women, (3) racially-targeted formula promotion by manufacturers and hospitals, and (4) government benefits and employment policies that obstruct poor people's ability to breastfeed. The first two of these reasons are particularly devastating: the legacy of slavery and misogynoiristic3 stereotypes continue to shorten Black babies' lives. This is a profound takeaway because it shows the enduring and deadly impact of slavery and anti-Black racism on the most vulnerable and precious members of society: infants, not to mention older children and adults who may experience life-long health consequences from not having been breastfed.

Well-intentioned skeptics might discount anti-Blackness and the vestiges of slavery as significant forces that drive breastfeeding disparities, which result in Black mothers who are 20% less likely to initiate breastfeeding than white mothers.4 These skeptics may think that current policies and practices which discourage breastfeeding and encourage formula feeding-along with Black mothers' feeding preferences-are the only causes of this racial disparity. This is problematic because it frames the health problems and deaths of Black people that result from the failure to breastfeed as race-neutral problems. This essay seeks to augment Freeman's revelation that the legacy of slavery and continued anti-Black gender stereotypes are significant driving forces behind racial disparities in breastfeeding. This is done not by comparing Black and white experiences, but by comparing Black and Latina experiences. Despite similar socioeconomic environments in terms of targeted formula promotion, medical practices, and government benefit and employment policies, as well as experiencing racial subordination, Latina mothers breastfeed at rates similar to-or even higher than-white mothers. 5 Contrasting Black and non-Black Latina breastfeeding rates lends support to Freeman's arguments that slavery and contemporary racism against Black women are, in large part, to blame for lower rates of breastfeeding by Black mothers.

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