Image Credit: Medill News Service
By: Dylan Evans
Washington, DC, Sept. 28: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that a commission for farmers of color to address, as they stated, “racial equity issues.”
Black farmers have expressed how they have been feeling discriminated by the USDA for decades, starting in 1997 with a national lawsuit known as Pigford v. Glickman. This lawsuit provided thousands of black farmers $1 billion in loan forgiveness and payouts. Another $1.25 billion was provided in 2011 to those who missed the chance to file for the forgiveness.
Black farmers began recognizing this discrimination when it came to debt and loan forgiveness, many being denied for loans from the USDA whereas white farmers were approved for the same loans amongst similar circumstances.
Of 3.4 million farmers in the United States, only around 45,000 are black. Many feel this is because of lesser opportunities provided to them, being denied starter loans and property by banks or the USDA’s federal loan services.
Black farmers have accused the USDA of racial discrimination for decades, claiming that the agency is actively discriminatory when it comes to providing aid and loan forgiveness. Data analysis by POLITICO backed this up, finding that the agency granted loans to only 37 percent of Black applicants in 2020 while accepting 71 percent of applications from white farmers.
John Wesley Boyd, a farmer who has recently spearheaded the movement this year, believes it was racism in the past, and is racism now.
“I think discrimination is still pervasive. I think that it’s done in a much subtler way,” Boyd says. “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.”
In recent months, the Biden administration has been attempting to aid the situation and give black farmers more debt forgiveness. Earlier this year, the administration launched the American Rescue Plan— a bill focused on debt relief for black farmers. This was intended to address the situation, giving an estimated $1.5 billion to the farmers.
This bill was met with legal battles from hundreds of white farmers, feeling that they deserved debt forgiveness as well. Though Biden signed this bill into law, it was met with too much legal action and was put on hold before black farmers were able to benefit from it.
The bill was not only for black farmers but intended for socially disadvantaged farmers. This includes any farmer who is part of a minority group, causing them to face harder challenges than an average white farmer. Black farmers make up 25 percent of all socially disadvantaged farmers.
The stalled progress has put pressure on Congress and the USDA to address the issue directly. Many black farmers are still in need of assistance during the pandemic and its effects.
Abraham Carpenter, a black farmer greatly impacted by the pandemic, had this to say:
“It’s been terrible. When it comes to farming, anytime you have a difficult year once or twice in a row, that can set you back for many, many years.”
And what does the USDA have to say on the situation?
Kate Waters, a USDA secretary, said:
“The reality is the deck has been stacked against Black farmers, who for generations have been denied access to land and capital.”
Though little has been stated by Congress nor the USDA, statements have been released that they are attempting to combat the lawsuits against the American Rescue Plan.
Unfortunately, in this time, black farmers are still struggling, as well as other socially disadvantaged farmers, attempting to keep their farms productive and fighting off debt.
Progress is sure to come, and hopefully soon.