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


  1. Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

    So this is where I get lost in white racial framing. That is to say, I understand there is a white racial frame, but this is where I just can’t make sense of how white US-Americans see the world. I mean, don’t the facts of the case allay any suspicion that Obama’s concern is merely racial? If you’re worried that Obama, or anyone else, is siding with blacks, or whites or any race, out of nothing but racial solidarity – why not look at the facts. That’s what I do and every black person I know.

    If King is sincere, why doesn’t he just look at the facts? Maybe he’s not really concerned? In which case, how awful a person must he be to engender these fears in whites only for political purposes?

    The enraging this is that since the white side is the national default, when white children are placed in enrichment classes they didn’t qualify for and a black child is left out, for example, no one says boo. But when white teachers give their whites friends notice that the school plans to start making sure advanced classes are more multiracial, all of a sudden the principle’s phone doesn’t stop ringing.

  2. Seattle in Texas

    Just wanted to bring this link with related issues regarding rural AI populations (and some may qualify for remedy here–details and dates at the sight) to sort of accent the main post:

    And because time is short and this discussion is related to racism and labor/living/survival, wanted to also leave this link for anybody who wishes to stand with Bernie Sanders:

  3. Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

    Can someone here talk me down? Why do so many Dems feel so emboldened to stand up to Obama when they let W get away with so much? Sanders has always been strong. But Landrieu voted for the tax cuts 10 years ago. And Nelson and Conrad were going to cave, too. Why the focus on Obama rather than Reid and Pelosi for not holding a vote on this before the midterms? Why are rank-and-file progressives and liberals so angry with Obama rather than senate Republicans? Where was all this backbone and rage before?

    And have they put King in check yet?

    • Joe

      Blaque Swan, I think you are right, that the principal culprits in all this are congressional leaders, on the Democratic side mainly Reid, it seems. He is rather gutless. And of course the key players working against progressive democracy are those far-right Republican Senators who once again seek to please their plutocratic masters. One did not see such piling on a Democratic president by Democrats when Clinton was president. We are actually a plutocratic oligarchy, and have been since 1607. Only progressive people’s movements, like the civil rights movement, can really bring progressive change.


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