The Justice for Black Farmers Act: A Critical BIPOC Review

Chris Newman
8 min readDec 5, 2020
Image from the author’s keynote from the National Young Farmers Coalition, describing the current model of agriculture in America which the Justice for Black Farmers Act not only fails to challenge, but actually manages to reinforce.

In a nutshell, the Justice for Black Farmers Act is a neo-Homestead Act that would transfer some 32 million acres of land (an area roughly the size of Connecticut) to African Americans in perpetuity, in addition to addressing the endemic racism in the United States Department of Agriculture, funding agricultural research in historically Black colleges, and making a number of long-sought amendments to the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921.

It’s a bill so loaded with oversights, anti-solidarity, and implied acceptance of settler-colonial agricultural ethics that it can’t even be viewed as incremental progress or a step in the right direction. Instead, the bill simply represents a coarse attempt to add Black people to an already broken agricultural system, largely at the expense of Indigenous people, while opening up a bonanza of cash to Black non-profits built into the legislation as power brokers.

Let’s discuss this thing in detail.

A “Black Homestead Act”

This phrase is not intended to flatter; the Homestead Acts were legislation designed to invade the American west and effect the genocidal dispossession of Indigenous people residing on lands that comprise much of today’s corn belt. As detailed in my book about the Homestead Acts:

“…before the conclusion of a war that would draft three quarters of a million men to preserve the Union, the nation would enlist far more to fight in a war of conquest in the great unknown to the west, dangling the carrot of land ownership and independent wealth in front of America’s commonfolk in exchange for them accepting the risk of becoming soldiers in the country’s vanguard, the tip of the spear of an invasion into a mysterious but absolutely populated landscape. The United States government crowdsourced the invasion of the west. The strategy was as brilliant as it was ruthless.

Adopting a chessmen strategy, common people were sent out west en masse to squat on land and see what happened. Territory west of the Mississippi was, to White eyes, a landscape teeming with equal parts unbridled opportunity and hellish uncertainty, full of dangers to stationary White habitation: tornadoes, blizzards, wolves, bears, floods, fire, the Comanche, etc. Landed…

Chris Newman

Building a new, accessible, open, and democratic food economy in the Chesapeake Bay region @ Sylvanaqua Farms