According to HHS, the Average U.S. Mom is White, White or White

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Department on Womens Health, is having a contest to choose the cover photo for an update of its Easy Guide to Breastfeeding. I popped over there when I saw the notice on Twitter and thought the choices weren’t very interesting. They are generic photos, none of which clearly show a latched baby. I decided not to vote because I didn’t like any of the three choices. There was something just plain vanilla about all three.

Elita over at Blacktating has a great post on why I saw vanilla. Mother and child in all three photos are white. Not only do I agree with her on the impropriety of having only white babies to choose from but I find some of the comments to her blogs disturbing. Go over and have a look.

Even if one thinks it is legitimate to chose a representative baby by the skin color of the majority of babies born in the U.S (a questionable criteria, in my opinion), take a look at the U.S. Census Bureau data on the “race” of women who have given birth in the previous twelve months for 2006-08. Add up all the people who identify as non-white in some way and compare that number to the number of those who identify as white. “Average U.S. mom” is not “white.”

In the three photo choices, both mother and child are white. I don’t have the statistics (I don’t find either the U.S. Census or the website for the Census Bureau particularly user-friendly), but I suspect the number of non-white babies born in the U.S. is even higher than the number of non-white mothers. So making both mom and baby white is even more inaccurate if we are using the “average dyad” criteria for choosing the appropriate government document cover photo.

I am not arguing that there is any particular physical characteristic that makes one photo a better choice than another. I don’t think the mother or child have to be part of the majority race (if indeed the U.S. still has one). I would vote for the photo I think is more beautiful or most what I associate with breastfeeding. I would chose the photo that seems most realistic or perhaps even most interesting or most compelling. But if the U.S. government is truly asking people to make a choice, we have to be given choices. “White, white or white”? No contest.


  • Elita @ Blacktating
    Twitter: blacktating
    May 13, 2010 Thank you! I had a conversation with a friend about this yesterday (she is white) and she said none of the photos appealed to her either because none of them show a mom enjoying and engaged in the act of breastfeeding. Even if all three photos had been amazing and beautiful, I just don’t understand how it could be acceptable for NONE of the choices to feature a mom of color.And your guess about the birth rate is probably right. Statistical Abstract doesn’t appear to list Hispanics & Whites separately, but I bet if they did it would be glaringly obvious that they are more children of color born every year than white. reply
  • Jake May 13, 2010 I am still staring at my 2010 Census form because the Census Bureau defines “race” in a way that seems designed to offend everyone. Even if one accepts that “race” is something real (I believe it is socially constructed and while of social significance because of the privilege it carries, has no scientific or biological basis), “white” is not a race. That means none of the choices on the form apply to me. But, though most people would look at me and say I am white, none of those babies looked like mine or had that sometimes relaxed, sometimes intense urgent, something nursing babies have. I don’t think any of the photos would make want to breastfeed and ultimately isn’t that what the booklets should be doing? reply
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