Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Gardening Karens

When the pandemic began and we all started staying at home my  various social media feeds very quickly filled up with two things: images of homemade bread (with a heavy lean towards sourdough) and newly planted gardens. I was not the only one who noticed this of course. The news media ran article after article about bread baking offering a variety of reasons as to why this was happening; people suddenly found themselves with a lot of time on their hands and that they were using it as a way to comfort themselves during a time of fear and uncertainty.  Gardening was seen through a similar lens but also included people trying to assuage anxiety brought about by some food shortage fears.

Not everyone was happy about this.

Admittedly there were some valid reasons one could find themselves upset that the world took up bread baking. Everyone rushing to the store to buy flour and yeast created a supply chain disruption and many regular bakers found themselves without flour or yeast to bake with. I admit to being one of those who was annoyed about this. I have made my own bread for years and while I do it in part because I enjoy the process, it is also how I feed myself. I even made a Facebook post about how ticked off I was about it, until I realized how tone deaf it was for me to be complaining about basically having a home and a kitchen to cook in, just without having the ingredients to cook exactly what I wanted when I wanted it. I was certainly not in any immediate danger of starvation. I took the post down.

But there was also a lot of posts that tended towards the "hey, I was baking my own bread before baking my own bread was cool" and how in six months when the pandemic was over (we were so hopeful then) these new bread bakers would all just give it up and go back to their store bought bread so why bother.

I didn't see as much initial news coverage on the population's newly discovered love of gardening.  Maybe this was because it didn't result in highly visible disruptions like the bread baking did, or perhaps it was just that my Google news feed didn't think I was interested, but it didn't seem to be as intense. When I started to see the backlash against the gardening trend it wasn't in the news media anyway, it was in my social media feeds. And, unlike the bread baking, there was also an image of a particular type of gardener that went along with the backlash...apparently many of our new gardeners were Karens.

For those that don't know, a Karen is basically a white woman who aggressively uses her white, and usually middle class, privilege to get what she wants. She is the one who wants to "speak to the manager" over the smallest perceived slight, and she has a habit of calling the police on BIPOC for doing things like pointing out to her that her dog is off leash in an area that requires one and being in their own car outside their home. She will of course adamantly deny being racist

The posts I saw ranged from ones filled with preemptive schadenfreude about how these new gardeners were doomed to fail because they really didn't know what they were doing, or sharing screenshots of Instagram posts gleefully pointing out a gardening mistake, to how it was only a trend that all these  Karens with their make believe farms would soon give it all up once the trend had passed.

Now, honestly, I get the Karen designation.  To take up gardening you need land and to have land you generally need to be a homeowner, and that particular privilege is most certainly one predominately available to white people. I'm not here to say that these new gardeners are not Karens, but I also think it's possible that gardening may be a stepping stone for some of those Karens to move from being an active Karen to becoming a recovering Karen.

Yes, there will be plenty of people who liked the idea of planting a garden and then abandon it once the romance wears off. There will be those who will just assume that gardening is putting a plant in the ground, doing nothing else, and get frustrated and quit when it doesn't go as quickly or as well as they like. And there will be those people, and this is so very Karen, who see gardening as bending the natural world to their will, tilling up a large garden, filling it with artificial fertilizers, spraying it with pesticides, and claiming victory.  And yeah, there will also be those who don't really garden at all, but hire someone else to do it for them (this is extra Karen).

But there will also be some people, Karen or no, but the Karens especially need this, who start to dig in the soil, plant some seeds, see those seeds grow, and begin to notice things. They might notice how the rain (too much or too little) impacts certain plants, or that some plants wilt in the sun while others thrive.  They may start to be aware that their garden is visited by bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects, and recognize the garden doesn't exist in isolation. It is impacted by non-garden forces, and it impacts the non-garden area around it.

And maybe that will lead them to the thought that perhaps they don't exist in isolation either.  That they, in all their Karen-ness, are part of a system too, and begin to see how their actions impact others. And that, like the garden, the system they are a part of thrives best when every part of it has what it needs to grow.

Now I'm not saying that gardening is going to gift us with a sudden influx of enlightened Karens, but I do know that putting your hands in the earth and paying attention to how all of the natural world's various parts interact, can be a profoundly healing and eye opening act for some people.  It can make one recognize that that we are not separate from the earth, we are a part of it, and that nature is not something we should seek to dominate and control, but a diverse system we need to learn to live in relationship with.

And if any our Karens can get there, then the next step is to recognize that they, as human beings need to learn to live in relationship with other humans beings too. Personally, I don't think you can get to that place with out at least beginning to reflect on your own behavior, at which point our Karen may well be on her way to becoming a recovering Karen. After all, part of recovery is recognizing the mistakes you made and finding some way  to make amends for them.

People start down the road of radical change for a host of reasons, sometimes they hit rock bottom, sometimes they witness a horrible event, sometimes its reading a book, and sometimes its planting a garden.  If even one Karen can have her eyes opened, and it takes planting a garden to get her there, then plant away.


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