Breastfeeding At College Graduation: Karlesha Thurman Facebook Photo Ignites Backlash

Karlesha Thurman, a 25-year-old single mom, graduated from California State University at Long Beach May 22, but her graduation turned into a bizarre and often sexist online hate fest that completely caught the proud graduate by surprise.

The reason? After graduation, Karlesha posted a picture of herself breastfeeding her four-month-old daughter, while in her cap and gown, during the graduation ceremony. You can see that picture by clicking on this link, but be warned: if you are like the people online who lashed out at Thurman and you’re easily offended by breastfeeding, please do not click on the link.

When the photo was posted to the Facebook page Black Women Do Breastfeed, it received so many negative comments that the photo was soon deleted. The title of that Facebook page refers to relatively low rate of breastfeeding by African-American mothers. According to the Center For Disease Control, while 79 percent of white babies start life breastfeeding, only 62 percent of black babies do. At age six months, 52 percent of white babies are still breastfeeding, compared to just 36 percent of black babies.

Thurman — who did not post the photo to Twitter or Instagram or anywhere other than the Black Women Do Breastfeed Facebook — says she was taken aback by the angry response to the photo, snapped by a classmate sitting in front of her, that showed Thurman breastfeeding her daughter, Aaliyah. “No one said anything,” Thurman told the African-Amercan news site NewsOne. “They all thought she was so cute.”

But the photo set off an online firestorm.

And those weren’t the strongest reactions. “Nobody told her to hoe around in 3rd period,” said one typical post.

But for the record, Thurman’s boyfriend Andre Brown took to Facebook to say, “People Really Going Crazy Over My Girl Post…. I Support Her 100%,” which he followed with a series of hashtags: #TeamBreastFeeding #FamilyFirst #SuccessIsEverything #MyGirls.

And there were some supportive tweets, as well.

Thurman said that, though when she found out she was pregnant in her final year of college she contemplated dropping out, instead she decided the best course for her baby would be to stay in school.

“With me having a better education, I would be more likely to provide her with the things she wants and needs in life,” Thurman said.

Thurman also insists that she had no idea the photo would provoke an angry response.

“I posted it to show that [breastfeeding] is natural. It’s normal,” she said. “People do it all the time. It’s unfortunate that I did get as many negative comments as I did, but the main reason is still there.”

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