Black Botanists…You Matter

My biggest hope emerging from this week is that the conversation and celebration of Black people and the plants they love continue!

I love plants.

I love studying plants, learning about plants, reading about plants, writing about plants.

I just love them!

Perhaps one of the things that I love most is the plasticity and resilience of these organisms.

This week in particular has been AMAZING!

#BlackBotanistsWeek exceeded beyond my wildest dreams.

Inspired by #BlackBirdersWeek that followed the targeted and racist harassment of Christian Cooper in NYC’s Central Park, Tanisha Williams coordinated a group of twelve Black botanists (pictured below) in the planning and implementation of Black Botanists Week.

#BlackBotanistsWeek Organizing Team (L to R): Top, Tanisha M. Williams, Nokwanda Makunga, Georgia Silvera Seamans, Brandi Cannon, Jade Bleau, Natasza Fontaine; Bottom, Rupert Koopman, Maya Allen, Morgan Halane, Beronda L. Montgomery, Tatyana Soto, Itumeleng Moroenyane.

The goal of the week was simple: to provide inclusive digital spaces to celebrate individuals who self-identify as Black to celebrate their love for plants. We didn’t want to limit participation to “certified” botanists who have completed recognized courses of study as botanists, but wanted to broadly celebrate the love of plants by Black people globally.

When we started the week, we didn’t know where it would take us, but what a ride it’s been.

I have been so inspired this week to see broad representation of the Black people — including some “Baby Botanists” — from across the globe who eagerly participated in declaring their love for plants.

Representation matters!

It matters for BIPOC to see others like them who love, grow, study, or simply thoughtfully use plants.

But, it also matters [and matters greatly] that non-BIPOC see the large numbers of Black botanists out there and the myriad ways that we love plants, and how we are impactfully contributing to practical, inspirational, and academic knowledge about them.

My biggest hope emerging from this week is that the conversation and celebration of Black people and the plants they love continue!

Furthermore, I hope that every Black botanist that engaged via any of the platforms used during this #BlackBotanistsWeek recognizes that YOU MATTER…WE MATTER!!!

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Figure with text: You matter, you are valued, you are important, you are enough.

I hope to see you on Twitter, where I’ll continue to be, talking about plants, my life as a writer, professor, mentor and so much more.

To the organizers, it was a honor to serve with you.

To all the Black botanists who participated this week, I thank you. You made my week and life forever richer!!!

To continue the conversation or start a new one, connect with me on Twiter at @BerondaM.

My Black Botanical Legacy

I’m a second generation Black botanist.

My mother was the first.

Actually considering the botanists that were certainly among my enslaved ancestors, this accounting is undoubtedly numerically wrong.

Yet, my mother is the Black botanical legacy and Black botanist that I admire and observed up close and personal.

No, she didn’t formally train in plant biology or academic botany in the revered halls of the ivory tower as did I; yet, she is a botanist extraordinaire.

My childhood home and gardens were the stuff of legends – a virtual plant sanctuary.

If you’ve attended any of my talks or workshops on #LessonsFromPlants on mentoring, you’ve almost certainly heard me wax poetic about her “green thumb” that was a gift to our home and the neighborhood beyond. If not, she (and her green thumb) will make an appearance in the preface of my upcoming book.

Mother is a botanist of the broader definition that I’m FULLY embracing this “Black Botanists Week”:

Screenshot from Instagram post @Beronda_M

I’m eagerly looking forward to learning more about and from Black botanists & the broader botany community during #BlackBotanistsWeek 2020 and much longer thereafter.

I look forward to learning about Black botanical legacies far and wide.

Feel free to connect with me on Twitter @BerondaM and with many in the community at #BlackBotanistsWeek or meet the organizing committee and learn more at blackbotanistsweek.weebly.com.

The “radical” thing I did in higher education

I cultivate and guard my affirmation as radical self-care.

One of the most radical things I have done as a Black woman in higher education from the time I was a graduate student and with increasing, steadfast commitment as a faculty member is to show up affirmed and function from this space of affirmation.

I cultivate and guard my affirmation as radical self-care.

I’ve written before about the importance of showing up to my work in academia from a place of affirmation rather than in a search for affirmation. This is indeed one of the “secrets” to my success.

So why is this radical in the context of higher education? Because one part of the unspoken curriculum of higher education is the way in which the academy wields an individual’s need for “affirmation” as a powerful tool for compliance, conformity, and acculturation. The latter is particularly true as it relates to individuals from marginalized and minoritized groups.

So what’s the violence of demanding acculturation? Isn’t learning the culture and “fitting in” a good thing, you may ask? Well no, not by default, especially when “fitting in” is a required process of shedding parts of yourself to take on characteristics deemed “professional” and “civil”. Indeed many of these “demanded” characteristics have little to do with the “contracted” work, but are wielded as appropriate evidence that one “belongs” or “fits in”⁠—or at least is committed to doing so.

As Dr. Django Paris describes, the engagement of formal ‘diversity and inclusion’ initiatives “has always been understood in a one-way assimilate or fail model filtered through the White gaze” (Paris, 2019, p. 219).

Very early on, I recognized that many colleagues, supervisors, and leaders were attempting to offer me “affirmation” as currency. That is, offering me “affirmation” if⁠—and only if⁠—I were to “perform” success through recognized words, paths, production modes, and full-sale buy-in to their conceptualizations of how success and collegiality looked, felt, and presented as to the “majority” in the academy.

I learned that I couldn’t show up needing their affirmation, because the cost of gaining it⁠—and especially realizing that the extension is generally a “short-term loan” and new requests for compliance to “retain” it were just around the corner⁠—is higher than any cost I ever intend to pay. I’m just not built that way.

As I’ve explained before in “How I Work and Thrive in Academia – From Affirmation, Not for Affirmation”, the academy tries to “train” all of us to depend upon, crave, and require their affirmation as one of the key gates along the entryway to and progress along the path of success. Admittedly the course or curriculum has more “lessons” for those of us from marginalized and minoritized communities.

Quote from Montgomery, B.L. 2019. How I Work and Thrive in Academia.

So the most radical thing I’ve ever done in the academy is to completely and irrevocably hold on to my power of defining who holds sway to affirm me, and more importantly who does not.

This is not to say that a need for affirmation is not a core human need; yet, it’s a danger to walk through the world or the halls of the academy in desperate need for it. There are those⁠—including in leadership positions and other positions of power or influence⁠—who are like a lion on a hunt for prey in the ways that they stand ready to offer affirmation to fulfill your need for it that requires you to cosign your own undervaluing, if not your oppression.

This stance I’ve taken is radical because those who understand what has been taken from them will often feel unmoored. They will feel unsettled⁠—if not completely disarmed⁠—when they must engage with you not through offering you the reward of their “affirmation” but through authentically recognizing your already affirmed self and a need to reward your intellect and contributions, rather than demanding your gratitude for the promise of temporary affirmation.

So I’m perceived as radical because my “affirmation bank” is ever full, and I require deposits into my banks of authentic “respect” and genuine “scholarly recognition”, which too frequently run at a deficit in the academy.

References:

Montgomery, BL (2019). How I Work and Thrive in Academia – From Affirmation, Not for Affirmation. Being Lazy and Slowing Down, https://lazyslowdown.com/how-i-work-and-thrive-in-academia-from-affirmation-not-for-affirmation/

Paris, D. (2019). Naming beyond the white settler colonial gaze in educational research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 32(3), 217-224.

If you have comments on this post, as always find me on Twitter—@BerondaM.