Shawna Murray Browne of Heal A Sista Project - smudging police baricade in Baltimore.
By Molly Meehan Brown
An observation that I feel compelled to state, knowing that it may/will be misconstrued by some. I will start this by saying my instinct in my work and collective work with others is to always try and build and connect vs be devisive. The intention of this post to ask real questions and hopefully help us a community of healers reflect on healing and solidarity, what that means, and the herbal movement as a healing space for everyone.
It is uplifting to see the herbal community organize in support of the LGBTQ family post Orlando, this solidarity and support is essential and shows the power of organizing and community. Same with the organizing in solidarity with the herbalists being unjustly attacked and sued in the wake of the Free Fire Cider campaign - but I also voiced a few reflections on that at the time as well (like why aren't folks so up in arms about the patenting and copyright of traditional Mayan womb massage that is so very popular, or the pervasive extraction, packaging and commodification of traditional knowledge into certificate programs be it yoga, herbal, the list goes on). The support and organizing that went/ goes to support these efforts is essential and I know sorely needed to these injustices. These demonstrate the power of community. I honor those organizing these efforts and willing to stand up for them.
However, I can't help but feel a heaviness regarding the silence and total lack of collective support when calls went out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and particularly in Baltimore in the wake of the murder of Freddie Gray, or Charleston, or the countless other murders of black people that continue to devastate and terrorize., Not only was there total silence but also a total lack of support for communities that too have been historically and continue to be at the receiving end of state sanctioned terror. The magnitude of the injustice across our nation - the healing space that is needed - and I literally never heard a peep about it in the herbal movement. The folks that donated when we were organizing for Baltimore (which was shared in similar forums as the other efforts being compared here) were all local and I believe with the exception of Mountain Rose Herbs and one other herbalist - they were all people of color. And there are countless efforts lead by communites of color - Native communities, Latino communities - all that need healing support - and go ignored.
This reflection is not necessarily about the lack of support of a specific organizing effort - but rather a good hard look at these issues in the herbal movement.
I don't know what all to make of this - but its both glaringly obvious and alarming. WHY? Is racism just to hard to face? Can we only hear the call to organize when its primarily expressed by white people? Is the whiteness of our dominant herbal movement not incredibly apparent? Does it feel too polarizing, is it just easier to ignore?
And if we continue to ignore it can true healing really ever be a possibility?
I know until we take a good hard look at the ourselves as an herbal movement - looking at intersectional justice, inclusivity, a community that is yet to reflect the contributions of POC to herbalism and often whitewashes their traditions - I cannot express how regularly POC have told me they don't feel honored, acknowledged, welcomed or included in herb schools/conferences etc. Why would they - none of the teachers look like them - their story largely isn't being told in these spaces. In all of the educational spaces I have been in I have never witnessed a "History of Herbal Medicine" talk that wasn't as columbused as US History text books. The story goes something like, first there were the Native Americans . . .then here is all this in depth info on the European contributions - Eclectics, Physiomedicalists .. . I have rarely heard the contributions Africans to American Herbalism be acknowledged both historically through the slave trade or currently in these spaces. Latino Herbalism is native to the US - but again rarely mentioned as such or explored in any kind of meaningful way. Then with the advent of pharmacueticals and modern organized medicine - herbalism apparently died. Now its not to say that there weren't systematic efforts to dismantle herbalism - however to make such a broad sweeping statement isn't reflective of the fact that herbalism has continued to be practiced amongst many communities in the US - many of which are communities of color and in ways that dominant culture might not recognize or acknowledge - and to say otherwise again erases experiences of communities. The story continues that then in the 70's a handful of folks reignited what is now the blooming resurgence of herbal medicine in America. Now - this statement is not to disrespect the efforts of several incredible herbalists who truly have contributed in invaluable ways to keeping American Herbalism alive, to protect the plants, and have worked tirelessly and selflessly to do so. They should be honored and acknowledged. This is more a statement on the story that is being told and how it largely erases the stories on non-European people.
Its as if as a movement there is no effort made to actually acknowledge this reality - and no a diversity committee is not the answer - its actually time for white folks to move over and stop taking all the space. I see on the same forum who hosts the diversity committee some of the most bigoted and insensitive statements come out of major herbalists mouths and NONE of the 'leaders' in the herbal movement having the courage to speak up. Its cultural, its systematic, and until this is acknowledged and explored by ourselves as white folks - the herbal healing community and movement can never be a safe space or a healing space.