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Equating Farm Work with Slavery is an insult to African Americans and Californians


Like most African Americans, I have been profiled, stereotyped and been the victim of real racism. It offends and shames me to be unfairly judged without anyone knowing a thing about me.

But what about when blacks profile and stereotype others? You know it happens. Our community needs to guard against perpetuating the same attitudes and despicable behavior we say we abhor.

While it may be common to profile other groups subconsciously, there can be no excuse for injecting blatant, crass and bogus racist rhetoric into politics just for the sake of moving legislation or trying to win the presidency. Unfortunately, this has recently occurred in the California State Legislature, where lawmakers of color have been unleashing their inner Donald Trumps by calling California farmers slave owners.

Excuse me?

First, disparaging farmers as slave owners is offensive, false and diminishes our history and the unspeakable practice of real slavery and the injustices inflicted on African Americans, who were dragged here in chains, severely beaten and treated worse than animals. In contrast, today’s farm workers fight to come to California where they can find work picking crops and doing other farm work. Yes, it is hard work, but they weren’t dragged to this country in chains and sold in the market place; and nobody is whipping them to do it.

For immigrants, farm work is an honest way for them to better their lives and support their families; the same can’t be said about our brothers and sisters who were sold into slavery.

Second, it ignores the fact that farmers are a highly diverse group. There are thousands of Asian, Latino and even some African-American farmers in California.

Yes, you heard right. Black farmers exist in our state.

There’s an organization called the African American Farmers of California (AAFC), which is dedicated to protecting the right of blacks to farm in California. So, imagine my amazement upon finding out that over the past few weeks, California farmers are being called slave owners simply because the law accommodates the seasonal nature of farming by having different overtime laws for farm workers.

The racist allegations against all farmers were ugly, nasty and were uttered in public by Democratic leaders, including Senator Kevin de Leon, who is head of the Senate. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the author of Assembly Bill 1066 to change overtime laws for agriculture, also piled on. And most surprisingly for the black community, Senator Holly Mitchell, an African American from Los Angeles, bought into this racist talk and unnecessarily fanned the flames by comparing this issue to those opposed to the 13th Amendment – abolishing slavery in the United States.

This did not go unnoticed by Will Scott, a black farmer and president of the AAFC, who is also taking it personal that he is being labeled a racist slave owner.

In an August 23 letter to Mitchell, he wrote:

                                         “Dear Senator Mitchell,

I write to you today in regards to your comments during the debate of Assembly Bill 1066, the overtime pay bill for farm workers.

My name is Will Scott and I am the President of the African American Farmers of California and a third generation farmer. My grandfather was a sharecropper and my father picked grapes and cotton in the Central Valley.

I want to let you know, as you stated in your comments, ‘that it is personal,’ I too am taking this issue and your comments very personally.

The statistics you cited are outdated. You failed to take into consideration the increased cost of farming when you state that Agriculture’s revenues have increased. Our expenses, specifically the cost of land, equipment, labor and most of all, water have dramatically increased.

Other statistics that were left out include the 2015 UC Davis report highlighting a loss of $902 million by the agricultural industry; and, in 2016, our industry lost $603 million and 4,700 jobs. We are not even in September.

I, too, feel it is personal when you, a California State Senator, compare the farmers, myself included, farmworkers and legislators who oppose AB 1066 to those who opposed the 13th amendment and advocated on behalf of slavery.

As the President of the African American Farmers of California, I work with our farmers to ensure that we stay visible. For too long we have been invisible as a people have played a proud part in agriculture throughout the United States. We have been and still are workers as well as owners and we need to continue to promote our African American farmers in a positive way. I can assure you that our members understand the nature of racism and the impacts it has had on our community, but every issue does not need to be defined through its lens.”

Amen, Mr. Scott.

People of color are better than this. Our representatives in the legislature have no business unfairly playing the race card to vilify our hard-working, multi-ethnic community of farmers.

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