Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Andrea Freeman's "Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice"

Andrea Freeman is Associate Professor at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law. Freeman writes and researches at the intersection of critical race theory and issues of food policy, health, and consumer credit. She is the pioneer of the theory of "food oppression," which examines how partnerships between the government and corporations lead to racial and gender health disparities. Her work has been featured on NPR, Huffington Post, Salon, The Washington Post, The Conversation, Pacific Standard, and more.

Freeman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Skimmed shows how the stereotype of the Bad Black Mother, which began in slavery to justify the cruel separation of Black mothers and children, continued in cinema throughout the twentieth century. Portraits of Mammy first appeared in minstrel shows in the 1820s then jumped to the silver screen in 1915’s infamously racist The Birth of a Nation. Later, when Hattie McDaniel became the first Black actor to win an Oscar for playing Mammy in 1940’s Gone With The Wind, she needed special dispensation to collect the award from the segregated Ambassador Hotel. Other movie roles for Black women trade on the age-old tropes of the sharp-tongued, ball-busting Sapphire (think Foxy Brown) and the hyper sexual Jezebel. Halle Berry took flak from critics for performing an Oscar-winning role straight out of the Jezebel playbook, lustful Leticia, in 2001’s Monster’s Ball.

Page 99 gives a sneak peak into the Bad Black Mother stereotype’s depth and breadth. Expanding from popular culture into news and social media, she evolved into the modern Welfare Queen, a mythical figure who combines elements of Mammy (kind to white children but indifferent to her own), Jezebel (impossible to rape), and Sapphire (lacking a single maternal bone in her body). This lie supports restrictions on welfare and other social programs that make it harder for Black women to breastfeed. It makes doctors and nurses offer Black women formula instead of help. And it explains why the only images of Black women breastfeeding appear in formula ads and National Geographic. Ultimately, it contributes to Black women having the lowest breastfeeding rates and their children having the highest rates of related health problems, including infant mortality.

Missing from page 99 is the book’s central story of the Fultz sisters. Annie Mae Fultz was a Black and Cherokee woman who lost the ability to hear and speak in childhood. After the miracle birth of her four adorable, identical daughters, her White doctor Fred Klenner opened a bidding war among formula companies competing to become the girls’ corporate godfather. Pet Milk’s campaign featuring the girls opened the door to decades of successful race-targeted formula ads. Government support of the formula industry, including the United States’ refusal to sign on to an international agreement to limit formula marketing, harms Black women the most. The Bad Black Mother myth let Fred Klenner get away with tearing the Fultz family apart for his and Pet Milk’s gain. The stereotype masks the reality that using formula is not always a personal choice. Sometimes, it’s the result of structural factors that lead to ‘first food’ oppression.
Learn more about Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue