Racialized Rhetorics of Food Politics: Black Farmers, the Case of Shirley Sherrod, and Struggle for Land Equity and Access

Equity, Farming, Food Justice, Policy & Advocacy


Eileen E. Schell, Syracuse University

Analysis of food from its production side is still a comparatively rare topic in rhetorical studies. By analyzing how radical rhetorics in food- and agriculture-related discourses enable economic and political disparities between African-American and Caucasian farmers, this article reveals how such discourses have affected the U.S. public’s understanding of the federal government’s farm subsidy programs.To begin to address the rhetorics surrounding this systematic discrimination, the article analyzes the historical patterns of federal and local discrimination that contributed to black farmers in the U.S. losing their farms and livelihood in agriculture.To demonstrate the racially coded complexities surrounding food and farming rhetorics, it examines the ways that racialized rhetorics permeate policy and popular media discourses through two specific and interrelated sites: 1) the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) long-standing discrimination against black farmers and 2) the media firestorm surrounding Shirley Sherrod, a former farmer, black activist, and long-time employee of the USDA in Georgia. Sherrod achieved national notoriety when, as a USDA employee, she was baselessly accused of “reverse racism” by blogger/Right-wing pundit Andrew Breitbart.

This article was published in the 2015 issue of Poroi: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Rhetorical Analysis and Invention and is available for free and open access by Iowa Research Online.

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