Or, what you choose to do or think about as you prune your roses is entirely up to you
This newsletter is the last in a trio that I have published in relatively quick succession. It has been my response to something that happened recently…
A week and a half ago an MP felt compelled to comment on me personally and my work with @decolonisethegarden and a newspaper published it. Then the following day, a journalist for the same paper ran another story in which they again felt the need to comment on and name me personally. The articles came about after I was invited to speak at a public event (the event in question hadn’t even opened yet at the time, nor had I spoken).
I have never met or spoken to any of these people, was not made aware the article was being written and I was not asked for comment.
They also used an image of me, as well as some of my friends in this space doing similar work, without our consent.
I have no interest in driving traffic, and in turn clicks, views and revenue their way. So I will not be linking to it here. I’m sure you can imagine how it goes, it is no different to all the other “anti-woke”, “culture war” articles of a similar ilk trying to appeal to a particular audience… The benefit of having my own platform is that I can have my say and I do think there are some important wider issues that I’d like to address.
For a start, I don’t find it a surprise that some politicians and parts of the media take any opportunity they can to latch onto gardening and anything around it as a prime target for their manufactured culture wars (see also Kew and the National Trust). There is much perceived “Englishness” tied up with gardening for many people - a story that is regularly reinforced. There’s a sense of ownership (who gets to garden and to talk about it) and national identity at play. Gardens and gardening can very much be viewed as a cultural institution. Plants and botany have long been a site of power and politics. This should be clear by now for anyone who has been paying the slightest attention.
As with the function of any such institution, gardens and botany play a key role in the conservation, interpretation and dissemination of culture and knowledge. It’s a channel through which people are informed and educated on aspects of culture, history, science and the environment. And how we understand these things is exactly what coloniality seeks to control and manipulate and which decoloniality calls into question.
So, it’s no surprise then that these spaces come in for targeted attack by the establishment if anyone dares to talk about decoloniality, equality, antiracism or explicitly move towards any decolonial practice: see Kew, the National Trust, museums, universities, schools etc…
There will always be people bent on preserving the dominant social structures and ways of seeing the world at all costs. Even as it becomes obvious that they do not work for the majority of people. Even as it becomes obvious that they are leading us towards ecological breakdown.
As one openDemocracy article on these culture wars points out:
“…the reason some [issues] get so much attention is that they tap through rotting pillars holding up our traditional social hierarchies and allow us to see beyond. Other ways of understanding the world begin to come into view…”.
And goodness, does gardening show us ways to tap through those rotting pillars. That’s one reason why it is such a powerful channel for decolonising! As a conscious practice and as an art, gardening has the potential to help us question, challenge, subvert and change how we see the world.
If we’re honest, this act - the tapping through of the rotting pillars and seeing beyond to other ways of understanding the world - can be, and is going to be, panic-inducing for some.
Some people (in this particular case, people in positions of power, trying to protect their power and the status quo) will want to continue to control and dictate how we talk about and understand the world. Hence the so-called “culture wars”. It can be disconcerting to see the structures that underpin and inform our worldview being called into question. Having our dominant perspective being picked apart at the seams can be bewildering. And it’s beginning to happen all around, from multiple places and all angles, and with increasing regularity. The veil is unravelling.
There will be an element of cognitive dissonance at play, and we also have to recognise that this fear and panic is going to happen. And that is OK. We need to be willing to take everyone with us. If we’re going to heal divisions, process our traumas and compost our rotting systems for something more nourishing, regenerative, loving and resilient, then kinship must prevail. Not playing into oppressive, divisive tactics by using them ourselves. I don’t want to let someone else’s panic, dissonance and fear (which leads to them clinging to power and dominance, lashing out, oppressing and dividing us further and ignoring people’s humanity), lead to me dehumanising them too. That’s not the kind of world I want to be a part of creating.
I am not saying that trying to break out of a colonised mindset and not falling into the modes of behaviour that don’t serve us well and that we are trying to move away from is always easy. Nor that I always get it right. None of us are perfect or infallible. Plus perfection is a myth that keeps us stuck and trapped.
I get angry too. And that is perfectly OK. Anger is an emotion and it is valid as any other. There’s a heck of a lot to be justifiably angry about, quite frankly! But I know that I can choose where to direct my divine rage.
It’s important to remember also that we are, all of us, living under what Mignolo and Walsh call the colonial matrix of power. We are all operating under the same systems. And we are all contributing to them in some way or another. But we can choose to work to move away from those oppressive structures and to find a decolonial path in the margins and the cracks. Change may not be fast and in many respects, we are just one of many in a long line of ancestors laying the groundwork.
“Our work is inter-generational. That means it’s not upon us to ‘get it’ or to be ‘saved’. That is still premised on the idea that we are individuals and that our lives are still isolated from other lives…
Even our failure matters. … And they will stream down and ripple out into the world at large. … Our failures, even the things you’re struggling with today, the threadbare edges of the fabric that you’re weaving, it might be the threads of a fabric that another generation uses to compose myths and stories of emancipation. It doesn’t end with you. It doesn’t end with me.”
None of this is easy. The world as we know it seems to be fraying and changing fast. Every few weeks something earth-shattering seems to hit the news. And the multiple crises facing us, of which the climate is one, is making it clear that the impact of our actions - of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, extractivism and consumption - driven mainly by the rich, Global North - are spiralling out of our control. We are beginning to understand that our views of the world and the ways we’ve been living are not, and were not, sustainable and has even caused, and continues to cause, untold damage and immense suffering. There is an awful lot to process. Yes, some of us may feel a great sense of urgency around it all. And yes, we also have to allow room, and to learn how to, process and grieve it all.
There is a really wonderful newsletter by Holiday Philips where she talks about how we have to create space for the old stories to die and to hospice them as they take their last breaths. You can read it here:
I don’t see how we can truly heal and repair unless we process our past and speak about it honestly. We cannot change what has already happened, but we can all improve our understanding of it with more listening, more nuance and greater honesty, with more inclusive perspectives, to help us make better sense of where we are now and to figure out how to best move forward, together. We need to move beyond shame and shaming and away from binary thinking. As Sophie Strand says, the process we’re in is additive:
“This isn’t a process of negation, it’s a process of addition. We are composting and adding. …We’re trying to add to the compost heap of stories, of cultural imagination, so something more adaptive and interesting can sprout. It’s not trying to erase anything or to make anything “bad”, or trying to make something “good” or to redeem them. The aim is to compost them to see if we can’t make better soil, adapted to the crises we are facing.”
I’m here for the composting.
I’m here for liberation.
And the liberation I am interested in is collective.
We are all kin.
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