Reflections ON Police Brutality, and Racism in the Food System

George Floyd’s brutal and senseless murder, along with those of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dave McAtee, Tony McDade, and many others, are the most recent tragic, unacceptable examples of how deeply harmful our society is to black people.

During this painful moment in our collective history, we believe it is critical to stand in solidarity with frontline black leaders, condemn these and all acts of inhumanity towards black people, and demand justice now. We care about justice in this time not only because our neighbors, families, and friends deserve all chances at full lives free from discrimination, but also because it is integral to our work. The food system and American racism, and specifically anti-blackness, are strongly intertwined. Agriculture in America was built on the enslavement of Africans brought here against their will in horrifically inhumane conditions. Slavery may have ended formally in the 19th century, but the impacts of that institution lay the foundation for the racism that exists today. Slavery’s existence relied on an insidious narrative that established the construct of race and a racial hierarchy, which gave white people a false logic to see themselves as superior to black people. The economic impacts of slavery and the social impacts of the narrative that precedes it lay the foundation for the white supremacy culture we live in today, that is invisible to and benefits white people and kills black and brown people every day. 

Police violence and brutality is one devastating outcome of our white supremacy culture. It also shows up across the food system. It takes the form of widespread discrimination of black farmers in federal farm programs, massive black and indigenous farmland loss and theft, exploitation and abuse of black and brown workers on farms, restaurants, and retail stores, food apartheid, food insecurity, cultural appropriation, and many more injustices. In the food movement it shows up as micro-aggressions, paternalism, victim-blaming, assimilation, silencing, uneven access to funding, and tokenization, to name a few.

NESAWG is committed to centering justice and racial equity both externally through our programs and internally through our operations.  We focus on the food system as a place to dismantle structural racism and build equity across our culture and society, because food is a basic human right and a necessity for survival. The ways in which it is grown, processed, distributed, prepared, and consumed can be sources of oppression or models of resilience, resistance and freedom. 

The work we do to center equity is imperfect, constantly evolving, and ongoing. As an historically white-led organization, we have and will continue to make mistakes on our journey to dismantle white supremacy in the food system. We want to be up front about the work we are embarking on, so we can be held accountable both internally and externally, and we welcome your input and feedback along the way.

Here’s where we’re at: We have committed to centering those most harmed by food systems injustices in our work and organization. In the meantime, we use equity as a primary filter to determine what we prioritize in our work, including who and what issues we feature in our communications work, which policies we advocate for, and what topics and speakers we feature at our conference. We work to make our annual conference financially accessible to members of frontline communities (youth in particular), giving most of our scholarships to members of frontline communities (including people of color, youth, farmers, and low-income folks) and we donate at least 25 percent of the proceeds from our annual fundraiser to a POC-led organization who contribute to that year’s conference. We also seek out sessions led by POC presenters featuring POC-led work, and have devoted the plenary sessions at our past two conferences to showcasing POC leaders in food systems. We host racial affinity caucuses at our conference. Our white caucus is open to everyone but our POC Caucus is only for those who identify as people of color. Internally, we share salary ranges on every job we post and we’ve eliminated educational requirements for positions at NESAWG unless there is a specific training or certification required for a position. Our board is made up predominantly of people of color (as of this month) and we have provided racial equity training to our entire board and staff.  

The above is not an exhaustive list and we welcome your critique, commentary, questions or feedback on it. We also recognize we have areas to grow. Our board and staff are in the process of identifying the ways in which we want to expand our racial equity focus, specifically to operationalize our commitment to center those most harmed by food systems injustices. We must create an analysis and vision to center and ground our approach to equity that is both internal as well as external, so that our equity actions move away from being piecemeal to being coordinated and in intentional service of our commitment. We also need to evaluate all of our programs and operations to determine where we must change our work so that we can be sure that we are addressing our blind spots. Finally, we need to create structures that hold us accountable to people of color and those most harmed by the food system and make sure we are following their lead.

This is long-term work that we will constantly be re-evaluating as we move forward with it. In the meantime, we need to also identify ways to take action that will help make change now. Below are steps we can all take to help dismantle white supremacy in the food system and move us towards racial justice. We also have an anti-oppression resource page and welcome your ideas and submissions. If you have one you’d like to share, please let us know, and as always, please feel welcome to share feedback on this reflection and NESAWG as an organization.

In solidarity and strength,
NESAWG

 

Black-led food systems organizations to donate to (please email us to add additional organizations to this list):

African Alliance of Rhode Island

Black Dirt Farm Collective

Black Church Food Security Coalition

Black Farmer Fund

Black Urban Farmers and Gardeners of Pittsburgh Co-op

Black Urban Growers

Black Yield Institute

Dreaming Out Loud

Farm School NYC

Federation of Southern Cooperatives

Feed Buffalo

Food for the Spirit/Freedom Gardens

Just Food

Gardening the Community

National Black Farmers Association

National Black Food Justice Alliance

North Philly Peace Park

Oasis on Ballou Street

One Art Community Center

The Okra Project

Soil Generation

Soilful CIty

Soulfire Farm

Southwest Georgia Project

Urban Farming Institute

Urban Tree Connection

 

List compiled by other organizations

Soulfire Farm’s list of BIPOC-led videos, gardening projects and other resources

Black Church Food Security Network’s Black Farmer Directory

HEAL Food Alliance's list of Black-led farm and food systems organizations

 

Actions to Take 

Right now, this list is specifically targeted towards white people. If you have an action you’d like us to signal boost, please email us. 

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

4 Not-So-Easy Ways to Dismantle Racism in the Food System

What You Can Do to Support the Protests Right Now: A Guide

WEEK OF ACTION – M4BL

 

Photo credit: campusreform.org