Karlesha Thurman (pictured) had no idea that a simple, yet beautiful photo from her college graduation would turn into a national conversation over breastfeeding and the harsh criticism of those who choose to do it.
The 25-year-old mother was at her graduation ceremony at California State University, in Long Beach, May 22 with her then-3-month-old daughter, Aaliyah, when she opened the top of her gown and began breastfeeding her daughter after she crossed the stage to receive her degree. A former classmate sitting in front of her asked if he could take a photo, and she agreed.
“No one said anything,” Thurman told NewsOne. “They all thought she was so cute.”
It wasn’t until Saturday when she was scrolling down the Facebook page “Black Women Do Breastfeed” that she saw an interesting status update that encouraged her to post the photo of herself breastfeeding in the comments thread. The administrator of the page, Shlonda Smith, reposted the photo hours later, and it was shared hundreds of times that day alone. It was the only place where Thurman posted the photo. She never posted it on Instagram or Twitter.
However, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook went ablaze with men and women, mostly Black, calling her a wide-range of unprintable profanities. And though Thurman graduated with a degree in accounting, people were calling her a “ghetto high school graduate” who shouldn’t have been “hoeing around.”
I’m all for breast feeding. But at a graduation come on y’all that was inappropriate—
Souls of Black Folk (@jerseygrad2016) June 08, 2014
That picture of the girl breast feeding her baby at graduation was not “empowering” at all.—
Mexican Vampire (@lovelylooksz) June 09, 2014
Not to mention the fact that she took a picture. Like breastfeeding is one thing, at/during a graduation in public is another AND a picture?—
Slim. (@whatdidaprilsay) June 08, 2014
Other Twitter reactions were far worse, but all of them shocked Thurman because she didn’t actually think the photo would generate that much attention. “I really didn’t know that breastfeeding in public was such a controversy,” she said.
Lactation experts told NewsOne that breastfeeding in America, especially in public, is still a very uncomfortable subject for Americans. But according to the American Public Health Association, only 59 percent of Black Mothers breastfeed their children compared to 80 percent of Hispanic women and 75 percent of White women. There are a wide range of reasons why this gap exists, such as lack of education on the benefits of breastfeeding and a woman’s upbringing.
Lauren Powers, a program coordinator at the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association (BMBA), in Detroit, told NewsOne that many of the Mothers she works with were never breastfed themselves, but once she educates them on the benefits of breastfeeding, they are a lot more open to it. But Powers also said that stereotypes over what a breastfeeding Mother looks like can discourage some mothers from considering it.
“Seeing the Erykah Badu types, that is what people associate with breastfeeding,” she said. “I think a lot of women think that. They think you have to have the natural hair, things like that to be a person who breastfeeds.”
As for Thurman, she never had to contend with any of those stereotypes because of her mother.
“She breastfed all four of us,” she said. “When I told her I was pregnant, that’s the one thing she would always tell me, “Make sure you breastfeed. It’s really important to breastfeed [your daughter].” She told me all of the benefits of breastfeeding and told me it’s the best thing for her and, of course, I want the best for my daughter.”