I’m a gardener in the upper Midwest, so in July I spend a lot of time pulling up weeds. Just yesterday, along with a lot of other stuff, I probably pulled up a couple of hundred tiny maple trees, growing from the ‘helicopter blades’ that spin to the ground from my neighbor’s maple each spring.
The first year that I saw these sprouting in my yard, I panicked. I think I envisioned our yard suddenly and abruptly turning into a dense maple forest. I paid my kid a nickel each to pull them up; in the course of the summer I shelled out $100!!! Duly sorted in tiny groups of 20 as she collected her bounty whenever she needed spending money.
Now I know that, unless I ignore them for five or six years, these little maples are the least of my worries. Sure, six or seven of them might implant themselves right next to the tomato plant, but a swift yank and they’re gone forever! Nope, the weeds that drive me crazy are much less dramatic, much more insidious, will never turn into trees but will simply plague me in their short green ubiquity. “We’re here, we’re green, get over it!” they seem to taunt me.
The tough weeds, the ones that I will spend my life pulling and re-pulling, never successfully, are the ones that spread underground, in their root system. Crabgrass. Bishop’s weed. Jerusalem Artichokes. (Bear in mind that a weed is just a plant in a place where you don’t want it! In some parts of the world, orchids are weeds!)
This year a friend took a turn at the horseradish plant I’ve hacked at every spring. “I think I got it all!” she declared enthusiastically. I just smiled and thanked her, confident because of past experience that she had not. Sure enough, though it’s gone from the area she dug—a huge four foot excavation—it’s now reappeared five feet away, in the middle of the strawberry patch. Root systems are invisible on the surface, and thus incredibly hard to eliminate.
Interestingly, pulling weeds yesterday led me to think about racism, and what’s going on in the US right now. Hundreds of hours of media attention have been given to the racist utterings of Paula Deen. Indeed, in our media, this story is the central narrative describing racism. From my view, Deen is a maple tree. Her racist practices, weedy as they may be, are isolated, have their own root system, can easily be plucked out. One second; yank; it’s over.
The racism that is harder to see, and harder to talk about, is spreading underground, evidence of its existence popping into view here and there without seeming connection, much harder to identify and eradicate. That’s the effects of the US Supreme Court eliminating the Voting Rights Act, which as far as I can tell is garnering no mainstream media coverage at all. Already in at least seven places, changes have been made to voting that will drastically affect people of color, and all of us, far more than the epitaphs of a random chef. And yet, I don’t even know the names of the people who are enacting these new ways of doing things. I’m not seeing interviews in mainstream media with them, or with the people affected by their decisions.
The problem with oppression is that so much of how it spreads and lives is invisible. It’s not about individual bigotry or what names individual people call each other. It’s about systems, connections of one thing to another that may not, on the surface of things, appear to come from the same roots.
That’s what I was thinking about while I was pulling up the weeds yesterday, anyway.