Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Inaccessibility of Modern Western Herbalism

This is just a quick note after stumbling upon the mention of a new "free herbalism" lecture that will be available in the fall in the midwest. It got me thinking about how the herbalism created by many ancestors of color was free and how far we've moved from that. Healing is something you've got to pay for now. So many people are clamoring to go to traditional chinese medicine, ayurveda, and herbalism programs so they can charge money. So many mainstream healers have gone to other countries to gather ancient knowledge only to come market it back to the descendants of the creators of that knowledge at a premium price. I know that people have to sustain themselves...but seriously? How are these (often new age) healers any different than western medicine practitioners? 

Capitalism traps us all. 

It does not truly allow for the "altruism" necessary for true and effective healing. If we are so worried about paying bills and making ends meet that we turn down a person who is suffering from illness...can we call ourselves true healers? We know how this exchange has gone awry and we see it daily in our broken (no decimated!) health care system. And we especially see how it affects low income folks of color who can no longer afford wellness and don't always have access to prevention (especially if living in toxic towns, food deserts, and/or living high stress, low quality of life situations working 2 and 3 jobs).

When I see the marketing of ancient healing knowledge and the inflated sale of this knowledge, I am *more than disappointed. I am especially disappointed in the way that some people market themselves as radical but are the first to try to charge a sick person living in poverty based on "principle" (the principle that everyone should pay). 

I am disappointed that there aren't more holistic healing programs allowing for scholarships for low income people of color to learn what has been lost to us so that we can, in turn, take it back to our community to heal. It costs thousands of dollars for these programs- and by all means, if people have it they should pay it. I think we all know what demographic can usually make that type of "monetary sacrifice," though. We see this clearly in the number of white holistic healers to holistic healers of color. It becomes more and more apparent that some of these folks would rather keep this knowledge and sell it to low income communities and not necessarily pass it on or have it propagated. 

Hmm...Healers as gatekeepers...

I feel that after the hippies began to appropriate other cultures and their healing modalities in the 60s that much of this knowledge became inaccessible (and inaffordable) as decades passed. Of course, there were also people who came to the US to market these healing modalities, as well. (And many times at a premium price- why not get these affluent westerners to come out of pocket?)

But herbalism...something so rooted in indigenous culture. How is it now more and more expensive to attain this knowledge? How is it becoming less and less accessible to folks of color who need it the most? Not to mention communities like the queer community who also don't have access to western medicine and would benefit from traditional forms of healing--it's just too expensive many times. I appreciate sliding scale, but when are we going to address the fact that we need more people from marginalized communities healing in those same communities. Which means- we need those who have been marginalized to be able to get this information/education. 

That is all- 
for now.


frelsingi said...

I am so feeling these words right now. As a white privileged person in poverty, my own vision is to have these skills and provide access to these services. I think Yo San University is the only one I have heard of which has any kind of social justice worked into the curriculum. At the end of the day, this education furthers capitalism and in turn does not affect a deeper and more personal healing which your article addresses.

So without personal access to this education to promote the ideals of the Black Panther Party (for starters...), I am in search for what to do next. Do I push President Barack Obama, in the words of Cornell West who quotes Curtis Mayfield on Democracy Now? If I did I would push the socialist agenda of the Barefoot Doctors in China, which provided education to individuals who represented their communities, often remote and rural areas, bringing back localized information on herbs and treatment plans. Unfortunately this practice was abolished.

I appreciate your critique, it feels so rooted and those roots are deep. Thank you for sharing it.

Toi: Afrovisionary said...

Thank you for your words! I am certain you will create your own path from an amalgamation of the great ideals of previous movements with a more present social justice framework. I look forward to building with more folks like yourself in the Herbal Revolution! :)