Volume 1, Number 12 November 23, 1998
Reparations: Money or An Industry?
by Dr. Ridgely A. Mu'min Muhammad
The U.S.D.A. is finally dispensing a measure of justice by settling class action lawsuits filed by Black farmers against their discriminatory practices. The initial settlement, according to Mr. Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalist Association (B.F.A.A.), will include the forgiveness of debts owed to the U.S.D.A. by the farmers that filed complaints plus cash settlements amounting to about $50,000 per farmer. This should put hundreds of thousands of acres back into the hands of Black people. At the moment there are about 700 to 800 farmers now involved in the class action lawsuits, however the door is open for other Black farmers to sign onto the lawsuits.
What will the farmers be able to do with this money? Mr. Grant said that he hoped that"... they would not spend it all or take it to white banks." He indicated that Black farmers and Black people in general should know that when the farmers were fighting individually they got nothing. It was not until they began to organize in 1996 and filed the class action lawsuits did they began to move the U.S.D.A. to the negotiating table. Mr. Grant points out the great support that he and the Black farmers got from the Congressional Black Caucus, in particular Representatives Maxine Waters, John Conyers, Jr., Cynthia McKenny and Eva Clayton, in putting political pressure on the Congress. He pointed out how such newspapers as the Final Call helped to get their message out to the masses. Mr.Grant and two other leaders of the B.F.A.A. gave a presentation to the Board of Laborers of the Nation of Islam bridging alliances that would prove most vital in demonstrating to the white power structure that the Black farmers were not alone.
However, Mr. Grant is quick to point out that "... no amount of money can compensate for the loss of life and the destruction of communities caused by the discriminatory practices of the U.S.D.A." Mr. Eddie Slaughter, vice-president of B.F.A.A. informed us that a mock trial was scheduled to be held from November 3-5, 1998 on the campus of Howard University to be aired live on C.N.N. This mock trial was a precursor to the real trial scheduled for February 1, 1999. However, the government quickly settled this case out of court which effectively cancelled the need for the mock trial thereby reducing the bad publicity that would have been generated by testimony after testimony of the pain and suffering caused by the U.S.D.A. to Black people.
We must now ask is this form of settlement a precursor to a larger issue of reparations for the children of former slaves? How much money and then what? If the government gives $50,000 to every Black man, woman and child, what good would it do?
What industries would Black people invest in to gain control over? Every other ethnic group that comes to America seems to focus on a certain sector of the economy and move in. Look at how many motels are owned by East Indians. Look at how many curb markets are owned by the Koreans and Arabs. What industry do we want: agriculture ($124 billion), mining ($127 billion), construction ($730 billion), manufacturing ($4.1 trillion), transportation and utilities ($1.1 trillion), wholesale and retail ($4.3 trillion), finance, insurance and real estate ($2.2 trillion), services ($1.6 trillion)?
What sector of any industry do we control? Let's look at services. We know that Black people are some of the best cooks in America. How many restaurant chains do we own? We know that Black people are some of the best entertainers in the world. How many record companies, movie studios, radio stations, television stations or communications satellites do we own? We know that Black people are some of best athletes in the world. How many basketball, football or baseball franchises do we own? In other words, our chefs, entertainers and athletes are just high priced slaves working to make somebody else rich.
To control any industry you need capital, cooperation, a willingness to sacrifice, a long term commitment, knowledge of the industry, a readiness to fight if necessary to protect it. In other words, money by itself is not the answer. We already have access to over $500 billion per year in spending change. What are we doing with that? We spend it immediately because we have a short term time horizon or a high discount rate on future returns. The perceived benefits of long term investment are directly related to your confidence in the size and security of that return in the future. In other words a people who have no assurance of freedom, justice and equality of opportunity will not invest. Freedom, justice and equality should be a given, but in fact it is a political issue. We know that Black people have been traumatized through centuries of terrorist activities but we must stop being only a reactionary people.
Black people have developed some political capital due to the mass turnout at the polls on November 3. Has anyone mentioned how the mass mobilization started by the Million Man March has politicized, awakened and galvanized the so-called "Forgotten Man" into a hidden political army able to strike without notice when threatened? Evidently no one warned Newt Ginrgrich. How do we leverage such new founded clout? What should we ask for? We need to do as Minister Farrakhan has instructed us, and set up political action committees centered around developing an agenda for change and a platform of action for our communities. Do not sell your self or your vote cheap in the year 2000.
Mr. Slaughter emphasizes that Black farmers now need to organize and decide the best way to use the money that is being offered. "What are we going to grow or raise and where are we going to sell it? Are we going to continue to use our land as collateral to borrow money from white banks or are we going to set up our own credit unions? Are we going to continue to try and do things as individuals or are we going to set up and participate in cooperative ventures and get more involved in politics?"
We are asking not only Black farmers but all Black people who are concerned with land retention, its use and the food chain in the U.S. to contact Dr. Ridgely A. Mu'min Muhammad at (912)995-6619 or Mr. Gary Grant of the B.F.A.A. at (252)826-3017. Let's get busy and organize. Thank you for reading this article.