Thursday, May 10, 2012

In America, everything is politicized


When I read this article, I had to laugh. It brought to mind a conversation I once had with my friend, Maina, a Kenyan living in the US. We were both attending an event organized by an African American student group. Some of the African American women attending the event were dressed in the best of African couture, but there was a distinct difference between the way they carried themselves and the way a Kenyan or Tanzanian woman dressed in a similar outfit would have carried herself. I put it down to the fact that the American women probably felt self-conscious in their dresses. Maina, who had lived in the country longer, had another theory. He figured that Americans didn’t know how to simply be. Everything they took up, every cultural practice or idea they picked up from another nation, they had to repackage, politicize and turn into a movement.

I shook my head in doubt, but Maina smiled. “Believe me,” he said, “this lady in the Kitenge is probably wearing it to express political solidarity with pan-Africanism. She’s not wearing it for the reasons our moms or aunties would- because they liked the color or because the pattern flattered their figures.” I never did ask the lady in the Kitenge why she was wearing the dress. That would have been rude. But today, as I read this article on Digital Journal, I have to admit to myself that there may have been something to Maina’s words.The title of the piece is “Time magazine cover features boy,3, sucking on mother's nipple.”  And here is an excerpt from the article:

The cover of this week's Time truly shows a boy being breastfed by his mother, exposing some side-boob. Aram Grumet, 3, was asked to stand on a chair and place his mouth over his mother's breast, a practise familiar to mom Jamie Lynne Grumet. The Grumets employ attachment parenting in their household, described by Time as "extended breast-feeding, co-sleeping and 'baby wearing,' in which infants are physically attached to their parents by slings.

I come from a part of the world where women routinely breastfeed their children. It is simply what they do. Most Kenyans, female and male alike, don’t give a second thought to a breastfeeding mother in the room. I can't imagine a Kenyan photographer conceiving of breastfeeding as a controversial subject, and going out of his way to have the mother and child pose in a manner designed to provoke readers. It is true that, in Kenya, some kids still breastfeed occasionally beyond the age of 3. This is normal. They ultimately outgrow it. It's not an issue that has to be politicized.

Apparently, a different order prevails some hours West of the Greenwich Meridian. Not only is the decision to breastfeed or not to breastfeed a political stance backed by ideology, but basic childrearing practices are also labeled with special terminology. America has already given us “helicopter parenting.” Make way for “attachment parenting,” “extended breast-feeding,” “co-sleeping,” and “baby wearing.”

Seriously, it would never have occurred to women of my grandmother’s generation to come up with fancy names for these basic practices. Nor would it have occurred to them that, one day, parents would engage in battles over the legitimacy of their child-rearing ideologies in the comments sections of magazine articles and blogs on the Internet. I think Maina was right. Americans can be a tad bit too ideological about everyday matters.

This work is licensed to Rose Kahendi under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

3 comments:

  1. Well Said....Even in eating,exercising, car buying,biking Americans tend to toe the idelogical lines....If you bike to work, then you are an environmentalist...If you shop at organic stores, you are making a statement about your support of fair labor practices in far away lands...Some times I laugh at my american friends for the things they do...yesterday a friend of mine bought a Hybrid...Just to make him feel good about not polluting this world...

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  2. Thanks for replying.

    For the record, I have no problem with any of those actions: eating, exercising, car buying, biking, shopping at organic stores if one legitimately believes it will make a positive difference. In fact, I have done a few of those things myself.

    What I find problematic is the elevation of a personal conviction into some highly-developed ideology, and all that comes with it. Some folks actually start proselytizing for this new 'religion,' being aggressive, feeling superior to others, and insisting that others must agree with them.

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  3. Just to concretize the sentiment that these ideological wars actually take their toll on real people's lives:

    http://teamaidan.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/the-other-side-of-the-boob/#comment-770

    http://rachelheldevans.com/enough

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