Black farmers in the U.S. have shouldered many blows, but this time, their livelihoods are seriously at risk of extinction. The days when Black farms flourished around the nation are long gone, and now out of the 3.4 million farmers in the U.S. today, only 45,000 are Black, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
So, what happened? How did we go from nearly 1 million Black farms to fewer than 36,000 today? Black farmers say that a combination of systematic racism, discriminatory government policies, and more recently, the effects of the pandemic have led to their downfall.
Without loans from lenders such as the USDA that allows farmers to buy seed, scale, and support themselves during the times between harvest, Black farmers are forced to shut down their farms and say goodbye to a legacy of agriculture.
According to Natalie Belize, author of “We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy,”the cycle of the mistreatment of Black farmers has persisted for decades, and its “cascading” effects leaves farmers paralyzed as they face a mountain of growing debt.
And now, with the disproportionate economic and physical effects of the pandemic on Black people, Black farmers require critical help and fast. But just when the government has finally stepped up to the plate to provide financial relief for Black farmers, a judge has pushed back and put the money on hold as white farmers cry reverse discrimination.
If passed, the relief plan proposed by the Biden administration will provide $4 billion in loan forgiveness for socially disadvantaged Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Alaskan native, Asian American, or Pacific Islander farmers. White farmers are ineligible for relief, hence why they believe that the relief package is unconstitutional.
But non-White farmers have been victims of the mistreatment of the USDA for over a century. Not only were Black people not given the 40 acres and a mule following the Civil War that they were promised, but since then, they have been repeatedly denied loans, forced to foreclose their farms, and watch as white farmers reaped the benefits.
Although the USDA has many spokespersons who say that the institution is committed to eradicating racist and discriminatory practices, many Black farmers just don’t buy it, like John Wesley Boyd Jr.
“I think discrimination is still pervasive. I think that it’s done in a much subtler way,” Boyd said to CBS News. “I don’t think you’re going to see many USDA officials spitting on people now or maybe calling them colored, but they aren’t lending them any money—the way they lend White farmers.”
The relief program that Black farmers have been desperately waiting for is still halted and in the hands of U.S. Judge Marcia Morales Howard. So as white and Black farmers alike wait for a motion to be ruled, all Black farmers can do now is continue to fight and keep hope so that they stay afloat.
Written by Reese Williams