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Uprooting racism in the food system: Communities organize for justice
March 11, 2013
A shovel overturned can flip so much more than soil, worms, and weeds. Structural racism - the ways in which social systems and institutions promote and perpetuate the oppression of people of color – manifests at all points in the food system. It emerges as barriers to land ownership and credit access for farmers of color, as wage discrimination and poor working conditions for food and farmworkers of color, and as lack of healthy food in neighborhoods of color. It shows up as discrimination in housing, employment, redlining, and other elements which impact food access and food justice.
Many people involved in creating food - from Haitian tomato pickers organizing in Florida, to Native Americans saving seeds in Arizona, to Black Detroit residents growing gardens in fractured neighborhoods – are simultaneously chipping away at structural racism. In the Harvesting Justice series we touch on many of these issues, starting with a look at African-American farmers and what they doing to win justice in the food system.
In 1920, one in every seven farmers in the U.S. was African-American. Together, they owned nearly 15 million acres. Racism, violence, and massive migration from the rural South to the industrialized North have caused a steady decline in the number of Black farmers. So, too, has, institutional racism in the agricultural policies of the USDA. By 2007, African-American farmers numbered about one in 70, together owning only 4.2 million acres.
Over the years, studies by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission (CRC), as well as by the USDA itself, have shown that the USDA actively discriminated against Black farmers, earning it the nickname ‘the last plantation.’ A 1964 CRC study showed that the agency unjustly denied African-American farmers loans, disaster aid, and representation on agricultural committees. But organizations like the National Black Farmers Association, the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, the Land Loss Prevention Project, and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives have been challenging racism in agricultural policy through legal action. In 1997-98, African-American farmers filed class-action lawsuits against the USDA for unjustly denying them loans. The lawsuits were consolidated into one case, Pigford v. Glickman, which was settled in 1999. But due to delays in filing claims, nearly 60,000 farmers and their heirs were left out of this settlement. In November 2010, the U.S. Congress passed the Claims Settlement Act (known as Pigford II) to compensate Black farmers who were left out of the first settlement. President Obama signed the bill a month later, making $1.25 billion available for claimants in the form of cash payments and loan forgiveness, though the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association has filed an appeal because Pigford II provides smaller payments and places limits on claimants’ future legal options.
bell hooks wrote, “Collective black self-recovery takes place when we begin to renew our relationship to the earth, when we remember the way of our ancestors… Living in modern society, without a sense of history, it has been easy for folks to forget that black people were first and foremost a people of the land, farmers.”
Some who are still farmers are carrying on the fight for economic and civil rights for land-based African-American people, a fight which dates back to the days of slavery. Probably the most impressive contemporary example of such organizing has been the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. An outgrowth of the civil rights movement, it formed in 1967 when 22 cooperatives met at Atlanta University. The federation has used collective action ever since to support Black and other small farmers and rural communities. Today, their members include over 100 coops in 16 states across the South.
A fast-growing movement is African-Americans reclaiming their connection to their urban land and their food, as part of food justice and food sovereignty movements. People’s Grocery and Mo’ Better Food in Oakland, Growing Power, Rooted in Community, Detroit Black community Food Security Network, and many others are organizing with farmers and connecting African-American growers and consumers. Many of these, such as the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, are working forcommunities of color to have democratic control over their own food systems. Their work includes youth programs and urban gardening in areas where access to healthy, affordable food is limited, as is the case in many low-income and people of color neighborhoods.
These groups are also raising awareness of the ways that African-American communities, and communities of color in general, have been sidelined within the food movement itself. Inclusion and participation of people of color has come slowly and late. Often, African-American neighborhoods are targeted as ‘intervention’ areas by outside organizations that - though well-meaning - are neither led by nor accountable to the community and its most urgent needs and goals. The prevailing white culture of the food movement as a whole creates barriers: the typical image of farmers presented often reflects a white archetype and the types of food solutions presented are not always culturally relevant or practical.
A critical element of many African-American groups’ work thus involves nation-wide education and organizing on structural racism as it impacts health, farming, food, and land. Among other elements, these organizations are committed to knocking down barriers to food production and food access. Some have joined the world-wide movement for food sovereignty, in their own communities and through the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, so that citizen control over food and agriculture can exist across global economic systems.
Ultimately, we all eat, and we are all implicated. Achieving racial justice in the food system is not the sole burden of African-Americans organizing but will take multiracial alliances of people raising awareness of systemic disparities, and working together to end them.
I want to add many Latino & low-income communities have started community farms as well. It’s a huge step toward autonomy, mutual aid & collectivism in these areas where healthy food isn’t readily available or it’s very expensive.
I recently began working with a women’s collective & migrant farm workers to develop a community farm in south El Paso near the Texas/Mexico border. I would really encourage people with the time & resources to start organizing a community farm because food justice is a human right’s issue!
- 70 Percent of Anti-LGBT Murder Victims Are People of Color
- While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned.
- Report: Immigration Status and Race Affect Domestic Workers’ Pay
- Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders. The U.S. Sentencing Commission stated that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes.
- Marijuana Prohibition Turns 75, Blacks Three Times More Likely to be Arrested Than Whites
- According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.
- A number of states have bans on people with certain convictions working in domestic health-service industries such as nursing, child care, and home health care—areas in which many poor women and women of color are disproportionately concentrated.
- African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.
- The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.
- [TW: Rape] Canadian police accused of abusing native women
CNN breaks down the numbers: > Nearly nine out of 10 people “stopped and frisked” under a controversial New York Police Department policy in 2011 were African-American or Hispanic.
- The War on Drugs Is Really a War on Minorities
- Martin Luther King assassinated by US government: MLK civil trial decision
The fact that you’re struggling doesn’t make you a burden. It doesn’t make you unloveable or undesirable or undeserving of care. It doesn’t make you too much or too sensitive or too needy. It makes you human. Everyone struggles. Everyone has a difficult time coping, and at times, we all fall apart. During these times, we aren’t always easy to be around — and that’s okay. No one is easy to be around one hundred percent of the time. Yes, you may sometimes be unpleasant or difficult. And yes, you may sometimes do or say things that make the people around you feel helpless or sad. But those things aren’t all of who you are and they certainly don’t discount your worth as a human being. The truth is that you can be struggling and still be loved. You can be difficult and still be cared for. You can be less than perfect, and still be deserving of compassion and kindness.
Don't ever hesitate. Reblog this. TUMBLR RULE. When you see it, REBLOG IT.
- The original post only has US helplines. I've added UK helplines underneath. It would be great if people could add numbers from everywhere in the world.
- Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
- Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-8433
- LifeLine: 1-800-273-8255
- Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
- Sexuality Support: 1-800-246-7743
- Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438
- Rape and Sexual Assault: 1-800-656-4673
- Grief Support: 1-650-321-5272
- Runaway: 1-800-843-5200, 1-800-843-5678, 1-800-621-4000
- Exhale: After Abortion Hotline/Pro-Voice: 1-866-4394253
- Child Abuse: 1-800-422-4453
- UK Helplines:
- Samaritans (for any problem): 08457909090 e-mail email@example.com
- Childline (for anyone under 18 with any problem): 08001111
- Mind infoline (mental health information): 0300 123 3393 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mind legal advice (for people who need mental-health related legal advice): 0300 466 6463 email@example.com
- b-eat eating disorder support: 0845 634 14 14 (only open Mon-Fri 10.30am-8.30pm and Saturday 1pm-4.30pm) e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- b-eat youthline (for under 25's with eating disorders): 08456347650 (open Mon-Fri 4.30pm - 8.30pm, Saturday 1pm-4.30pm)
- Cruse Bereavement Care: 08444779400 e-mail: email@example.com
- Frank (information and advice on drugs): 0800776600
- Drinkline: 0800 9178282
- Rape Crisis England & Wales: 0808 802 9999 1(open 2 - 2.30pm 7 - 9.30pm) e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rape Crisis Scotland: 08088 01 03 02 every day, 6pm to midnight
Another myth that is firmly upheld is that disabled people are dependent and non-disabled people are independent. No one is actually independent. This is a myth perpetuated by disablism and driven by capitalism - we are all actually interdependent. Chances are, disabled or not, you don’t grow all of your food. Chances are, you didn’t build the car, bike, wheelchair, subway, shoes, or bus that transports you. Chances are you didn’t construct your home. Chances are you didn’t sew your clothing (or make the fabric and thread used to sew it). The difference between the needs that many disabled people have and the needs of people who are not labelled as disabled is that non-disabled people have had their dependencies normalized. The world has been built to accommodate certain needs and call the people who need those things independent, while other needs are considered exceptional. Each of us relies on others every day. We all rely on one another for support, resources, and to meet our needs. We are all interdependent. This interdependence is not weakness; rather, it is a part of our humanity.
Marsha P. Johnson, transgender gay rights activist (1944 – 1992)
Little known (or recognized) in the Stonewall Rebellion that launched gay liberation, was the role of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. These two transgender activists were on the leading edge of the rebellion, battling the police, and coining the term “Whose Streets, Our Streets!”
Marsha co-founded STAR (Street Transvestite/Transgender Action Revolutionaries) with Sylvia Rivera, to help aid, feed and shelter queer/trans people without homes and those who’d runaway.
Marsha was found floating in the Hudson River shortly after the 1992 Pride March; the police declined to investigate and ruled her death suicide. Marsha P. Johnson remains a legendary figure in the fight for queer liberation as part of the struggle for racial and economic justice.