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6 Oct, 2021 15:19

‘Woke’ govt-funded London tour guide targets racist PLANTS, says botanical terms like ‘native’ & ‘invasive’ are offensive

‘Woke’ govt-funded London tour guide targets racist PLANTS, says botanical terms like ‘native’ & ‘invasive’ are offensive

A sightseeing pamphlet funded by Transport for London has claimed that the capital’s gardens and green spaces are filled with colourful colonial legacies and that many terms in botany, like “exotic”, are insulting and offensive.

The ‘Art on the Underground’ pamphlet guides visitors around the UK’s capital city through green spaces in Brixton and South London, focusing on the “colonial connotations” of British gardens and horticulture. 

The downloaded guide says it “addresses the legacies of the British empire” and looks “at gardens as places to consider injustice, oppression and colonial legacy” – rather than somewhere to simply enjoy plants and nature.

According to the pamphlet, many common plants found in the UK have “colonial roots” and reflect “racial slurs.” For example, the sightseeing map states that Wisteria’s problematic history is related to John Reeve, an East India Company tea inspector, who brought the plant to England in 1812. 

The East India Company “had its own armies to conquer and control territories in South and East Asia and plant collectors used East India Company ships and networks,” the pamphlet notes, adding that the slave-owning firm and its members were at the centre of importing seeds to Britain. 

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Other plants such as the London plane tree are also targeted by the state-funded tour guide, with the authors noting it is descended from an Oriental Plane — and that ‘oriental’ is now regarded as a derogatory term to describe people or objects from Asia.

But the guides don’t stop there. They note that the kaffir lime has offensive connotations as the word “kaffir” comes from the Arabic word for non-believer, often used as an offensive term for black Africans. The succulent Crassula marnieriana was also deemed offensive as it is known as “hottentot” – a term also derogatorily used for southern African Khoekhoe people.

The ‘Art on the Underground’ pamphlet also argues that simple terms in botany like “exotic” also have “colonial connotations” and can be offensive as it represents the “mysteriously foreign.”

The map authors highlight local greenspace Myatt’s Fields Park and its apparent colonial legacy. They note that the space is named after 19th-century rhubarb producer Joseph Myatt, whose trade increased in relation to the importing of sugar, which was produced by slaves.

The map further highlights the sale of breadfruit in the markets of Brixton, noting its links to slavery and its cultivation on plantations.

However, the map’s theme hasn’t proven to be universally popular. Dr Zareer Masani, a historian of Britain’s colonial past, condemned the publication’s authors and Transport for London. “Organisations like TFL need to get a grip and focus on the services they’re meant to provide,” he told the Telegraph, claiming that the craze to associate almost everything with slavery and collonialism had gone too far. “One can only guess which new area of our lives is left for our new Puritans to attack next," he added. 

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Robert Poll of Save Our Statues has labelled the guide as the “most tenuous link to slavery yet,” citing that it was “bonkers” to make any link between rhubarb producer Myatt and colonialism. 

Others agreed, with one Twitter user noting that they could understand if the plants had been used to “whip or tie slaves”, but dismissing the guide’s tenuous link with colonialism.

Another person asked jokingly why potatoes hadn’t been referenced, given they’re from South America, before telling people to “stop getting so easily offended.” 

Another, addressing Transport for London, asked, when is “this woke crap going to stop?”

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