President Joe Biden’s Economic Recovery Act includes $4 billion to aid minority farmers. The idea is to compensate for the discrimination to which these farmers have been subjected for decades. However, white farmers have lodged a complaint of discrimination.
Much more so than his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, Biden tends to approach certain problems from the point of view of racial equity, in accordance with the new rhetoric that emerged on the left during the Donald Trump years and the anti-racist demonstrations of the summer of 2020.
In a White House communiqué, Biden’s $1.9 trillion is described, in part, as a way to “advance racial equity.” Indeed, since American Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are, on the average, poorer than whites, redistribution measures which benefit all modest households (notably, $1,400 checks) can also be presented as ways of fighting against racial inequalities.
But this recovery plan, adopted by Congress in March 2021, includes targeted aid as well, earmarked specifically for non-whites — in this case, Black farmers. Indeed, with a view toward compensating for the discrimination to which Black farmers have historically been subjected, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack anticipates cancelling the indebtedness of around 16,000 of them (as well as the debts of Hispanic and Native American farmers) for a total cost of around $4 billion.
Fox News Presents Biden as Anti-White
The recovery plan foresees billions for the agriculture sector, in general; but in rural areas, the idea that only Black farmers can benefit from certain assistance arouses tensions. Several white farmers interviewed in the media consider these measures as discriminatory, and Republican politicians stir up tensions by presenting the Biden government as anti-white. On Fox News, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham drives it home this way: “But if you’re [a] white person, if you’re a white woman, no forgiveness.“
Several white farmers in Florida and the Midwest have already lodged complaints against the secretary of agriculture. In Texas, a class-action suit is being led by America First Legal, an organization directed by Stephen Miller, a former Trump administration adviser. In his communiqué, he accuses the Biden government of discriminating “against American citizen farmers and ranchers based on their race.”
It is not evident that such aid is illegal because in the United States, the federal government has the right to use racial criteria in public policy if the objective is to correct past governmental discrimination.
For his part, the secretary of agriculture emphasizes that under Trump, agricultural subsidies benefited almost only large, white-run farms: “We saw 99% of the money going to white farmers and 1% going to socially disadvantaged farmers and if you break that down to how much went to Black farmers, it’s 0.1%.” For example, the $23 billion given from 2018 to 2020 to farmers affected by the trade war between China and the United States almost entirely benefited large, white-owned farms.
Blacks Owned 14% of Farmland in 1910, Compared with Less than 2% Today
Vilsack also recalls the painful history of African American farmers, who owned 14% of agricultural lands in 1910, as compared with less than 2% today. In the first half of the 20th century, Black farmers were actually expelled from their lands in the South when racial segregation and daily humiliations pushed millions of them to leave for the cities of the North. Those who continued to cultivate their lands were often discriminated against by the authorities in obtaining loans.
Beginning in 1999, thousands of Black farmers were financially compensated after having brought a lawsuit against the discriminatory practices of the Department of Agriculture. But the Biden government considers this compensation insufficient to restore balance, hence the targeted actions provided for in the recovery plan. This racial approach to the problem is understandable from a historical point of view, but it is politically dangerous. Indeed, much more so than income-based redistribution, race-based subsidies are controversial. Numerous Republican elected officials describe them as anti-white and thus bring on the racial resentment of their electorate.