This Week In WTF: Mail Tampering as Lactivism

There’s a great column in the New York Times called The Ethicist by Chuck Klosterman. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s written by a professor of ethics and people write in with knotty problem. Usually, it’s really interesting. This week, it’s really infuriating. Here’s one of the questions from this week’s column:

I volunteer for a program that serves homeless and at-risk American Indian people. I sometimes sort and distribute their mail. In a separate community role, I advocate for infant and maternal health, because infant mortality rates in the Native community are three times higher than average. While distributing mail, I found an “introductory” infant-formula package for a Native mom. My first instinct, knowing the proven health advantages of breast-feeding, was to toss the package into the garbage, which seemed unethical. But it seems more unethical, given the higher infant mortality rates, to give her formula marketing materials without providing her the information that breast-feeding is better for her baby. S.M., TACOMA, WASH.

This? Right here? Is why people get angry at self-professed lactivists. Because there are some who will engage in a federal misdemeanor offense like mail tampering to manipulate the behavior of others to suit their agenda.

The Klosterman had a wishy-washy response about how an illegal act is morally more wrong than allowing a woman to get advertisments for formula and advised the woman to give the Native mother her mail and engage in breastfeeding education as well.

I would have said “Get your hands off her mail and look for a new line of work, you myopic dingbat.”

The reason for high infant mortality among Native populations, particularly among homeless and at-risk women such as the ones this letter-writer professes to deal with, is not formula samples. It’s entrenched poverty, lack of education, poor access to health care and possibly also maternal substance abuse. A volunteer working with Native communities should know that already and should know that lectures about breastfeeding won’t stop that. No amount of breastmilk is a salve for the centuries of exploitation and neglect the Native people of North America have faced at the hands of European settlers and their decendents. Mail tampering isn’t the answer. Advocacy on behalf of Native peoples is.

Yeah, maybe nursing would help some individual infants have a better chance but if your really want to improve the situation of the entire community of Native people, don’t steal their fucking mail to prove a petty point. Get to work making sure they have access to things like decent schools, doctors, housing and jobs.


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