lawsuits being brought by white farmers against the U.S. Department
of Agriculture over the department's plan to provide support for
black farmers, whose land and farms have been stolen through
generations is giving the nation an idea of how difficult it will be
to achieve some form of reparations.
USDA's program provides some $4 billion for what the department calls
“socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, or forest
landowners,” to somewhat compensate for the fraudulent or
outright theft of black-owned farms and land throughout much of the
racism that caused about 920,000 black farmers to lose their farms
was the result of routine abuse of the power of the local USDA
committees made up of local white farmers, who were carrying out the
programs of the USDA in their counties or areas. It seems
inconceivable that the numbers of black farmers could drop from
nearly one million in the 1920s to about 17,000 in the mid-1980s,
without some form of drastic intervention by other than "market
forces," which were hitting all farmers throughout the century.
drastic intervention was the desire of the local committees across
the Black Belt South to see to the demise of black farmers, much of
whose land would be valuable to the white farmers in their counties.
So it happened that the local committees could act with impunity to
delay and deny loans, seed, fertilizer, and other necessities of
farming operations to black farmers, to the extent that they could
not make a living and were forced to give up their farms and,
ultimately, sell out to white farmers or be foreclosed. In any
event, the black-owned farms ended up in the hands of white farmers.
Biden's American Rescue Plan included the money to forgive loans and
provide assistance to farmers who have been historically left out of
most programs. That included not only black farmers, but brown
farmers and indigenous farmers, ranchers, and landowners. USDA's
attempt to make slight recompense for the wrongs that had been done
routinely to minority farmers and ranchers has been met with cries of
"discrimination" from white farmers, who feel that "reverse
discrimination" is what is happening to them. The primary
question for them is: "Where were you when the land was being
stolen from black farmers over the entire last century?" There
was no cry from white farmers that black and other minority farmers
were being defrauded and cheated out of their land over the past
of the white farmers who would complain about being left out of the
rescue plan were the beneficiaries of the former president's
ridiculous trade wars with China, in particular. He set aside
billions of dollars to compensate them for the loss of sales to China
and other customers of agricultural commodities that white farmers
produce. The Trump administration called that "rescue plan"
the Market Facilitation Program, which directed about $24 billion to
farmers. About 99.5 percent of that money went to white farmers.
It's easy to see that there was little left for minority farmers in
that program. Yet, those same farmers are whining about being left
out of Biden's rescue plan.
year, USDA provided $9.2 billion through its Coronavirus Food
Assistance Program (CFAP) to attempt to mitigate the impact of the
pandemic on farmers. Again, most of the money went to white farmers,
according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which found that
almost 97 percent of the funds in CFAP had been allocated to white
farmers. White farmers received on average eight times more from
those funds ($3,398) than the average black farmer ($422).
Boyd, president and founder of the National Black Farmers
Association, has said, in light of the generations of bias in USDA
programs and general bias and racism which caused black farmers to
lose their land and farms, that black farmers are on the brink of
extinction. They cannot survive under the conditions that have
prevailed over the past century. Biden's approximately $10 billion
rescue plan, about $5 billion of which will go to black farmers, is a
small step toward compensating them for the loss of their land and
the nation's right-wing politicians don't see it that way. Senator
Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., has raised the alarm bell, claiming that the
rescue of black and minority farmers is tantamount to reparations.
In doing so, he is paying his dues to the former president, who he
once criticized as of too low character to serve as president. Since
then, he has become one of the former president's most vocal
sycophants. In denouncing the Biden rescue plan, he likely believes
that he is doing the bidding of Trump, whose racist impulses would
never consider a plan like Biden's.
farmers and ranchers have a tough time staying on the land and
producing the food that we eat, but there are plenty of them who will
not give up, no matter what the obstacles they face. The main one,
though, remains structural racism and its odious results. The
lawsuits that have been initiated on behalf of some white farmers
certainly demonstrate the difficulty that the U.S. has in coming
face-to-face with its racist past. It is the nation's racist present
that is the problem and it is clear to anyone who will look with a
national apology for the treatment of black citizens and all
minorities is due and reparations need to follow. There will be
reconciliation if there is goodwill among the dominant classes, then
followed by reparations, in whatever form they take. Some committees
and commissions exist now that have drawn up proposals for
reparations, but there is yet to be such an agency of the Congress or
any of the state legislatures. Biden is prepared to support a
"study" of reparations, but the form it will take has yet
to be revealed.
by the response to Biden's rescue plan for black farmers, however,
the subject of reparations will be very touchy. The response we're
seeing, lawsuits based on “reverse discrimination,” are
likely only the tip of the iceberg of racism, when it comes to paying
for past crimes. The longer these crimes are suppressed in the
history and myths of “American exceptionalism,” the more
virulent will be the infections that eventually will surface. Better
to face facts and the truth now.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John
Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who
lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor
work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the
land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land
Mr. Funiciello and BC.