Republican Rep. King’s Racist Framing: Black Farmers and Obama



Truthdig.com has a good report on the racist commentaries of Iowa’s resident right-wing provocateur, Rep. Steve King. His comments were in regard to the class action lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman, which attempted to get some redress for the large-scale and routinized discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) against black farmers in the 1980s and 1990s

As we summarized the case in our book, White Racism: The Basics:

Government denial of legal redress to the aggrieved black farmers who were protesting discrimination in Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs resulted in a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Across the nation black farmers gave evidence about widespread discrimination in many aspects of the process of getting FSA loans and benefits. This discrimination took the form of FSA officials misinforming black farmers that there were no loan applications or benefits available in particular local FSA offices. Or, if a farmer somehow got an application, some FSA agents held back the information necessary for its completion. In many cases, completed applications were lost, delayed in the extreme, or denied for no legitimate reason. Once complaints from black farmers started coming in, the USDA went into a stonewalling mode for more than ten years and refused to deal with them.

Eventually, the targets of this discrimination had their day and court and won a major settlement of the class action suit, which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The black farmers involved could choose among three options: reject the settlement, get $50,000 if they could show injury, or petition for more in binding arbitration. However, for many farmers the standard compensation offered was insufficient as a response to many years of discrimination, for they had lost their homes, farm equipment, and land, some of which had been in the family for generations. In the initial complaint, the requested damages had been for $1 million for each farmer, which appears to be more appropriate compensation for the damages and pain incurred by most of those involved.

The truthdig report indicates that

The USDA settled out of court in 1999, admitting to widespread racial discrimination against black farmers …. About 15,000 farmers were paid a total of more than $900 million in the settlement, but tens of thousands of farmers filed claims after the deadline, and many charged that the government’s outreach had been insufficient and that they had incompetent legal counsel, causing them to miss their opportunity. … President Barack Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack promised an additional $1.15 billion to cover the remaining claims, which was [belatedly] appropriated by Congress.

Speaking about this lawsuit, Rep. King let loose with his unreflective white racist framing:

Obama supported the farmers because he is “very, very urban”. . . . “King emphasized the word ‘urban’ ” in his speech by “drawing the first syllable out.”

This is a case about rural farmers, so “urban” here is a barely disguised way of saying he did it because he is black. Truthdig continues with King’s website comments:

On Dec. 1, King’s website described the case as a “fraud” because 94,000 African-Americans have submitted claims when the authorized compensation encompasses only 18,000. [However]… Tens of thousands of farmers never had their claims considered because they missed the deadline due to bad legal advice. On Nov. 30 he stated that Obama introduced “legislation to create a whole new Pigford claim.” [Yet] …The “new claim” was actually an act to make all injured parties whole, including those who didn’t get the best legal counsel because they couldn’t afford it or because the statute of limitations expired.

King keeps pushing his white racial framing, also claiming that all these black farmers wanted was reparations for slavery. Yet, much statistical data cited in the truthdig piece and in our book show that the real problem is contemporary racial discrimination, institutionalized racism, not slavery:

The farmers were seeking equal funding by the USDA for work they did within their lifetimes, not for the unpaid work of their ancestors.

King just cannot keep quiet. On one right-wing talk show he continued but arguing that

Obama supports the farmers because he “has a default mechanism in him that breaks down on the side of race, on the side that favors the black person.” . . . All of this speaks to the larger issue of who gets to define what “side of race” Obama, the USDA or anyone else favors. It is striking that nobody is calling King’s opposition to the farmers and the president his “default mechanism of breaking down the side of race” in action.

Maybe that’s . . . because the default mechanism for the white side of race is, in fact, our default.

Indeed, well put.