The Shirley Sherrod story has an ironic twist. For years, black farmers were losing their land and the USDA did nothing to help. They declined to provide much-needed loans and subsidies to help black farmers keep their land. And now, we hear of a black USDA official who helped white farmers save their land.
In 2002, in places like the Mississippi Delta, African Americans owned 18 percent of farms in the region, compared to 82 percent that were owned by whites. Yet, subsidies to black-owned farms by the Agricultural Department only accounted for 5 percent, compared to 95% of subsidies going to white farmers. As a result, black farmers lost their land—land that had been passed down for generations. These farmers later sued the government and today, more than 80,000 black farmers are still waiting on a $1.25 billion settlement that is reportedly tied up in Congress.
The irony is that Shirley Sherrod, a black woman who as the director of Rural Development for the USDA, found herself helping white farmers keep their land, too. I can imagine the conflict that Ms. Sherrod must have gone through, considering that a white farmer murdered her father in 1965 and was never arrested for the crime.
For anyone else—like me for example—this would have been enough to keep me from helping any white farmer, but not for Ms. Sherrod. She ultimately took on a job where she helped both black and white farmers. In fact, the first white farmer she helped, Roger Spooner, quickly came to her defense when the story of her resignation broke in the media.
I’m glad the world is rallying around in support of Ms. Sherrod. Her story is of transformation and growth. She did what many people need to do and that’s to see beyond racism… don’t let racism taint your humanity. I was born in the south. I know racism is thick in the air down south, and it’s easy embrace racism because of the unfair treatments that take place along racial lines.
I’m sure this is been a painful two days Ms. Sherrod, but I hope that something good comes out of it. Perhaps now, Congress will finally move on distributing the $1.25 Billion that it agreed to pay black farmers. If Congress doesn’t take action, then this has been another lost opportunity to finally address the needs that the 80,000 black farmers have been fighting for. Their plight has gone on way too long!
Kenneth Meeks is supervising editor/producer for Black Enterprise Broadcast and author of Driving While Black: What To Do If You Are a Victim of Racial Profiling.