I write from what is today known as "Maine", where I was born, raised, and introduced to healing plants and gardening 46 years ago. This is where Avena Botanicals was born, and where I, as a white-identified, rural-raised herbalist still have the privilege of living, farming, making medicine, learning, and teaching. Over the past week I have read Stephen Buhner’s letter, and a few posts in response that were sent to me. What follows my brief introduction is a letter from the board of The Herbal Classroom at Avena, condensing some of our reactions.
As an "older" herbalist, I have participated and benefitted in many herb conferences over the years, and I supported the 2019 conferences' shift to include BIPOC spaces and more local BIPOC teachers. It is long overdue that herbalists speak out against white supremacy, and that white-identified herbalists no longer center ourselves, that we disrupt oppressive patterns, and that we become more accountable for the harmful impacts of racism. I apologize that I remained silent and did not question why white-led sweat lodges occurred at the women’s herbal conferences, and I know this is just one example of countless exploitative and disrespectful experiences Black, Brown, and Indigenous herbalists have pushed through in their efforts to participate and facilitate change. I am sorry for the harm that was done. I know I have made mistakes by remaining silent, and I know I will make mistakes going forward. Please white herbalists, can we stop being defensive and making excuses, and commit to uprooting racism, offer reparations, listen, participate in skillful white caucuses, and become disruptors of white supremacy in the many ways this can happen.
And now, some words from a small white caucus group which formed several months ago around the educational wing of Avena. We have discussed Buhner’s article and what it represents, and we offer these words as part of the ongoing conversation.
— Deb Soule, 20 April 2021
That lilac over there is downright flirtatious today, so I wipe the soil off my hands for a love letter. I love you lilac, uncurling leaf, nettle newly greening my tea. Spring is the other side of death— chicken skull sifted from the living rich dirt. Recently a person famous in his own world asserted for twenty pages straight that he is dying and terrified about it and tried to blame us for his pain. It is an honor to become compost, but it is a big change. Across the country we see everywhere this thrash of people with power against transition; their last word is enemy, which is a sad last word.
But with love as potent as an unopened bud we ask: what will grow, what glow, from the end of whiteness?
No, we are not pricks or fucks or cannibals. We (the authors of this letter- Laura Brown-Lavoie, Susan Staley, Stephanie Cesario-Debiasi, Doug Decandia, Deb Soule) are a younger generation of plant-touched people, gathered in the gardens of Avena Botanicals, listening to the specific call of our time. We are descendants of Europeans who settled on this land, in many iterations of blood and need and take. In our years collectively working with plants we have found, contrary to the assertions of the aforementioned angry man, that the plants do know us, each, uniquely, the song and skin and illnesses we bring.
Dandelion, how did you get here? Dandelion grins her lion teeth, I came on a ship Honey, how about you? It is a chosen deafness to ignore that question, and it festers. We are called, in caucus and in collaboration, to address the deep fever of old wounds— genocide and enslavement on this continent, and the cycles of harm in the Old World which made our people capable of what they did (and continue to do) in the way of exploitation and murder.
We believe that there are wiser ways of being in relationship— with plants, with these lands we are guests upon, and with each other. Our potentiality as human beings degenerates in the brine of hate.
Plants offer medicine, and they call medicine forth from us, the human kind, which is love, real and courageous. We take this opportunity on a Sunday in spring to affirm our love for the Black, Brown, and Indigenous healers who took the lead in cracking open such a beautiful seed of truth and transformation at the 2019 International Herb Symposium and New England Women’s Herbal Conference. They are our teachers, our friends, and our inspiration. We take their lead as we do our work.
A most painful gesture of white privilege is to take up the call of anti-racism and then put it down when it gets too messy, the putting-down itself a privilege only white people can claim. We affirm in our lifework as healers the centrality of ending white supremacy— our own health, the health of the land and of everyone we love is at stake.
So Dinosaur, go down easy, into the mud with your favorite fern. Of course this work is intergenerational. We seek the company of elders whose hearts are brave for change. We pray to age into ever more open-mindedness, that we may be held, and hold space for, the visionaries to come.
(April 19, 2021)