It is with heavy hearts that we have decided to cancel the Leeds Radical Herbalism Gathering that was due to take place 17th & 18th February this year.
We are a very small group and simply do not have the capacity to finish organising the gathering whilst dealing with certain responses to our decision to decline two workshop facilitators who are white and have dreadlocks. We regret that we didn’t have a safer spaces agreement in place before we did a call out for workshops so that people interested in running a workshop were informed about the ethos we stand for before applying. We apologise for this.
Whilst the decision wasn’t supported by all the organisers, a consensus was reached. The decision attempted to address issues around whiteness and cultural appropriation, and tried to shift the demographic balance of who is platformed and represented in herbalism.
As we said in the Safer Space agreement we feel that too often ‘alternative’ spaces can have the same exclusions and oppressions as mainstream spaces. We hoped to make some steps towards undoing this by being more aware of who has power (for example, white, middle class and cisgender people) and who is excluded and trying to reverse these trends.
One of the facilitators we declined responded thoughtfully and constructively, offering suggestions for ways to address these hard topics. Unfortunately, the other facilitator responded very destructively on social media and demanded our names, threatening “it will go viral and you may find this will have serious repercussions on reputations”. Supporters of this person bombarded us with emails and discussed protesting the gathering.
White people being outraged at being asked to not lead a space and failing to see how this would affect people of colour is a prime example of how white supremacy plays out in our lives. To then centre themselves in this conversation and fail to listen to voices of colour is what produces and sustains a system that systematically excludes people of colour.
In light of all this we feel concerned that the atmosphere at the gathering might not be the inclusive space we had hoped for anybody wanting to learn and share ideas around herbs and the politics of health, especially for people of colour.
What has come out of this process is that these conversations really need to be had especially in networks that consider themselves progressive. It hopefully will be a catalyst for more discussion of the related issues: what is cultural appropriation? What is the legacy of colonial history and the impact of ongoing colonialism now? How can we decolonise the culture of herbalism? How do whiteness and white supremacy play out in our movements? Who is visible / dominant / supported in radical herbalism and who is excluded? Whose are the different voices around these issues, and how can we hear them?
We have also received significant support for our decision and for our Safer Space agreement. We are hopeful that these connections will lead to collaborations in the future and we are excited by the conversations that have begun.
Leeds Radical Herbalism Gathering, 3rd February 2018.