Black farmers in US struggling to uproot racism

2020-10-05 20:08:25
Black farmers in US struggling to uproot racism

The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States has focused on police violence and racism in American cities, but racial injustice in the farming sector remains less well-known.

African Americans are clearly under-represented on US farms. There are only 45,000 Black farmers, just 1.3 percent of all agricultural producers, even though Black people make up about 13 percent of the US population, according to census data.

A century ago, nearly 15 percent of American farmers were Black, reflecting reforms that followed the end of slavery in the 1860s. But during the 20th century, racial segregation, discriminatory laws and the many obstacles to farm ownership forced many Black people to leave farms in southern states and search for work -- often in factories -- in northern states.

One of the most common discriminatory practices was that of "redlining" -- refusing credit to poor people, many of them Black. It remains difficult even today for African-Americans in many parts of the country to obtain the bank loans they need to buy and develop a farm.

"We all realize that while we don’t have a physical knee on our neck, Black farmers have had an economic knee on their neck since the end of slavery," said Dewayne Goldmon, executive director of the National Black Growers Council, a group advocating for black farmers.

"What makes it worse in rural America, and certainly in the farming community, is that that knee that was on the neck of my grandfather still impacts me today," said Goldmon, who runs a family farm in the state of Arkansas.

Adding to the economic inequities are persistent prejudices. Justin Butts, a Black farmer and livestock manager at Soul Fire Farm in Pennsylvania, faced the skepticism of white colleagues when he took up farming.

"Other farmers didn't believe that I was a farmer and was legitimate," said Butts, a former naval officer. "Or they would tell me that Black people don't farm -- when I was a young person just beginning the farm. And it was very insulting."

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