It’s All about Racism: White reaction to the ‘Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act’

Image by Clay Banks.

Facts Matter

There appears to be a lot of outrage and faux victimhood coming from some White farmers and their political allies concerning the ‘Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act’ which was recently passed by Congress. The Act attempts to address some of the past wrongs committed by the United States Department of Agriculture against farmers of color. Those who oppose the Act contend that it actually discriminates against White farmers. They have apparently received support from a judge who put the distribution of funds on hold. To better understand this historic legislation and its purpose one has to first understand and accept the history of racism by the USDA and America itself.

One of the outcomes of the Civil War was the promise of “Forty Acres and a Mule” for freed Black men. Relying in good faith on that promise, the formerly enslaved aspired to build wealth and create an economic system for the benefit of their newly liberated Black community and move them toward equality with Whites. Unfortunately, like so many promises over the past 250 years that promise also remains unfulfilled. Even so, through hard work and perseverance, by 1910 approximately 900,000 Black farmers acquired over 15,000,000 million acres of farmland. Rather than support these herculean efforts, the White power structure and the USDA, which was established in 1862 to provide assistance to farmers and rural communities, created significant barriers to undermine the Black community’s success.

Recognizing that Blacks were moving quickly toward economic and political independence in the South, White America launched an all-out campaign to dispossess Blacks of their farms and land. The campaign included terrorism, legal trickery, and denial of access to USDA resources based on race.

The campaign never ended, instead it proliferated and is now part of the fabric of this country’s agriculture system. The result is that today there are less than 45, 000 Black farmers who own approximately 4,500,000 acres. In stark contrast, White farmers own over nine hundred millions acres and 97% of land value. While Blacks have experienced an almost unabated decline in farmland ownership over the past two centuries, Whites have experienced a steady increase.

The key reason for this disparity is systemic racism within the USDA that allows White farmers almost untethered access to resources that are necessary to develop successful farm businesses. Because Blacks were denied that access, they often lost their farms and livelihood. Unfortunately, the beneficiaries of that loss were often White farmers and landowners.

Those who oppose the ‘Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act’ are trying to frame it as being meant either exclusively for Black farmers or some form of reparation. They know that by packaging it as such, they can tap into the long and wide vein of racism in this country. The fact is, as stated in its title, the Act aids all farmers of color. As for reparations, the budget for this Act would not even constitute a down payment on reparations for Black farmers. Also, let us put to rest the argument that the Black farmer’s discrimination settlement against the USDA should be enough. That argument too is steeped in racism. The fact is that, even though the USDA admitted that it actually did discriminate based on race, the Black farmers who could individually prove that they experienced race-based discrimination, on average received less than fifty thousand dollars from the settlement– not even enough to buy a good tractor and no Black farmer was made whole.

To those who oppose the ‘Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act’ because they believe it discriminates against White farmers, I think it is only fair and just that White farmers do the following:

1) prove that the USDA has discriminated against you since 1865 because you are White,

2) produce a Black farmer who has a similar operation as you, but received loans from the USDA while you were denied,

3) present evidence that your race lost over 90 percent of its farm land over the past two centuries,

4) show how the Act actually takes resources away from you,

5) join Black farmers in their effort to make this country’s agriculture system more fair and just and, most of all,

6) prove that this country has a history of systemic racism against not only White farmers but White Americans in general.

I believe that if you do this you will receive overwhelming support from not just Black farmers but Black Americans in general.

Edward “Jerry” Pennick has had over forty years’ experience in community organizing and program development including extensive experience in policy analysis, development and expertise in African-American land retention and land-based rural economic development with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, Tuskegee University and many other organizaitons.