Dear other white people involved in permaculture


(pictured above… Lisa and I enjoying our time with Javiera and Cynthia during our final day of the 2014 Permaculture for Ecological and Social Transformation course)

Hey Folks… For us to do the real work of creating an ECO-logical, as apposed to EGO-logical society. We need to be working on our own personal issues regarding our relationship to the Global Majority, particularly people of color. My friend and permaculture colleague Lisa DePiano (co-founder of Permaculture FEAST) had some good thinking in this regard, which she posted on her Facebook page:

“Dear other white people involved in permaculture,

The tricky thing I’m learning about racism is that it exists on more than one level. Just like the ecological principle of nesting, its internalized (racial superiority or inferiority), happens on an interpersonal level and then on an institutional level (police, education, housing, workplace, healthcare etc)

So you can be a well meaning white permaculturist AND still be perpetuating systems of racism. Just like you can not want to support fossil fuels but you drive a car to work or heat your home with oil or buy food from the grocery store. The system is set up to support fossil fuels. Just like the system is set up to benefit whites (not all white folks equally) on the backs of communities of color.

The exciting thing that is happening now is that this movement [Black Lives Matter, and others], led by people of color, is calling out the systemic nature of racism. Its not just about isolated incidences of state sanctioned racial violence but they are exposing the long history of racism that this country has been built on. That is extremely powerful and very aligned with permaculture both in the systems connections and in the ethics & principles.

Frankly its a missed yield (to put it gently) if we are not drawing connections, supporting and building relationships between this and the permaculture movement and then we wonder why there are not more people of color in permaculture.

IMHO It is also because of the process of assimilation or becoming white from Irish, Italian, German etc that many white folks traded in their culture (ways of farming, cooking, language, music, skills) for the perceived benefits of larger white consumer culture.

Permaculture is in a way reclaiming those traditions but often not naming why or how this happened all the while downplaying the significance of contributions of communities of color and the fact that we occupy first nations land. Time to address that.

See you in the streets,

Lisa DePiano”


13 thoughts on “Dear other white people involved in permaculture

  1. Jonathan, a beautifully stated, but sad, truth we all should acknowledge. How deep do these roots go? Carl Jung (philosopher, psychologist) talked about our “shadow side” way back in the 20th Century. Part of that “shadow” was expressed as white’s fear of people of color. It is deeply sunk and rooted somewhere in our hidden awareness that is blocked by the millennia of conditioning that reinforces that fear and perpetuates the “shadow”. Is it possible, if current research is possibly correct, that this fear has been imprinted on our DNA – a social and cultural evolution that we are just beginning to understand? The more we reveal the truth, as Lisa articulated, the more we’ll be able to work on the causes of resistance to behavioral change.

  2. “IMHO It is also because of the process of assimilation or becoming white from Irish, Italian, German etc that many white folks traded in their culture (ways of farming, cooking, language, music, skills) for the perceived benefits of larger white consumer culture.”
    Yes, I am experiencing some of the skills my family has dropped from three generations ago. While I do them I feel a great connectedness to my own ancestors, a huge benefit! Hopefully, my children will pick up more of these skills, as my daughter has begun to. These include, gardening, fermenting and live yeast cultures, music but not the brewing of beer (oh well, maybe I’ll get there). Hope all can experience the joy of appreciating our roots, and other people’s as well!

  3. Hi,
    It was nice to read your comments and as a person of color who is trying to learn permaculture in an urban setting, I can appreciate some of what you’ve said. I attend many events, workshops and meetings and the first step is to make everyone feel welcome. Often that is not the case. I have been politely ignored, it’s been assumed that I am a casual by-passer from the other community, I am performing community service through the courts or I am treated as an outsider with nothing to contribute. At one event the speaker lamented that the group was a circle of white people in the middle of a predominately black community, ignoring that there were two black participants standing right next to him. He wondered what could be done to “engage ” the community. How about starting by acknowledging the two black people in your group and working from there.

    • Hello Terry,
      I really appreciate and respect your comments. Thanks for sharing your experience, one that happens over and over, even in places/organizations that are supposed to be holding progressive ideals. The more I get to know people who have similar realities to yours, the more I’m able to be a witness, and call it out for everyone to see. I want permaculture to be on the leading edge of eliminating racism… being able to fully speak truth to “People Care”.

  4. Pingback: Dear other white people involved in permaculture | The Backyard Bioshelter Blog

  5. Pingback: Dear other white people involved in permaculture | Paradise Lot

  6. Give me a break. I’m so tired of this racism thing being a “white” issue for us other “white” people to get on board with. “TerryJJ” for heavens sake SPEAK UP at the moment you are being overlooked because it is THAT particular person who has a personality problem to fix. WE ALL need to lift each other up and participating in permaculture and community gardens is a good start. I’m sorry, I’m not buying into the “other white people involved” strategy or opinion.

    • Hello Christine,
      I appreciate your comments. I would suggest that you dig a little more into the issue of racism and how it effects those people targeted by it. By asking TerryJJ to “speak up” for the racism s/he is experiencing, you are doing two things: 1st, TerryJJ’s experience is an example of a POC not feeling welcome, and thus unsafe, asking them to be “brave” and speak up ignores that reality and is racism; 2nd you are ignoring TerryJJ’s direct request for a non-POC to stand up to this example that perpetuates the larger institution of racism, which in itself is racism. Not ignoring TerryJJ’s experience and request for support is the best way we white folks can “lift each other up and participate in permaculture and community gardens”. Listening, and then acting can do a lot to help end racism (white domination) for everyone, white and black, and that is ultimately my hope in posting this article.
      P.S. I’m also sorry you feel inconvenienced by black people not standing up when they experience racism. Your privilege (whiteness and/or class background) is probably getting in your way.

  7. A bit late to the discussion, but I though I could add my two pence.

    Racial justice is something that emerges from People Care, one of the 3 basic tenets of Permaculture. The requirement thereof is satisfied when people of different races and ethnicities can apply Permaculture principles in the way that best suits their particular situation. In other words, each person of each race or ethnicity is allowed the option to address their issues on their own terms. To have, for example, only White people be able to practice Permaculture and insist that everyone else outside this category apply its principles as White people apply them can be considered racist and therefore in contradiction to the principle of People Care.

    There is no one-size-fits-all here. The current consumption-based culture has its advantages and disadvantages. We can use Permaculture principles to correct the imbalances created by said culture and in the process provide an alternative to those who are not entirely supportive of it.

  8. Are there “best practices” in permaculture that cut across the work of anyone doing permaculture? My understanding of best practices in agriculture, as in many creating and building processes, is that those practices are more likely to get you the best outcomes. If so, wouldn’t that apply to growing plants for food and environmental sustainability also?

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