Trump’s Wall and Black American Food Security and Farming Traditions

President Donald Trump (I still can’t believe that title is real) announced his intention to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, the first step in realizing his infamous vision for immigration control. When faced with the question of who would foot the bill for this structure after the refusal of the Mexican government to do so, the Trump administration responded by floating the idea of a 20% tax on Mexican imports.

The same day my mother, who pastors a church in a small rural corner of South Carolina, called me on the phone.

“Trump probably doesn’t remember the last time he was in a grocery story; folks won’t be able to buy any vegetables. I guess it’s good we’re planning that farmer’s market at the church.”

Source: http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts

Her comments drove at a key issue in black communities from the rural southern Black Belt to the urban black midwestern neighborhoods: food security and the availability of fresh produce. Majority black and brown communities across the United States are often the sites of ‘food deserts’ — areas marked by low numbers of grocery stores, high quantities of fast food chains, and little access to fresh produce. This struggle to obtain produce is usually a result of long grocery store commutes (the shelves of processed food at Dollar General are closer than the nearest supermarket), produce discrimination (supermarkets in low income neighborhoods housing less healthy produce than those in high income areas), and the high price of produce.

Source: http://research.prattsils.org/blog/coursework/information-visualization/food-desert-new-york-state-2010-census-demographics/

This problem of produce access stands to be exacerbated by Trump’s proposed 20 percent tax on Mexican imports. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mexico accounts for 37% of U.S. fruit import value and 69% of U.S. vegetable import value, claiming a position as the largest source of U.S. produce imports. Taxing these imports, and at such high rates, will almost certainly increase the amount U.S. consumers will pay for produce, and low-income urban and rural communities suffering from poor food security will feel the worst impact.

My mother’s ideas also suggested potential sources of alleviation for this problem of black food deserts. In these uncertain times, threatened with want, our best source of comfort and supply may be within our communities themselves. For those in rural areas, it means breaching the generation gap, organizing the few black farmers left in our communities, and providing sources for produce and events that allow for the transmission of farming know-how. For urban neighborhoods of color, it means reclaiming our ancestors’ connection to the earth, reconnecting with black farming history and the bittersweet historical memory preceding the great migration, and facilitating umoja by planting community gardens or providing produce funds and delivery services. And for our communities everywhere, responding to the threat of U.S. produce tariffs requires organization and the reclaiming of black farming traditions lost by migration and systemic racism in the form of gentrification, predatory farm loans, and market monopolies.

Since 1910, Black Americans have lost more than 12.6 million acres of rural land. In urban areas, Black Americans are just as vulnerable to the forces of gentrification and urban development that destabilize black communities and leave little room for gardens and farming education. These phenomena, perpetuated by presidential administrations and local governments headed by both political parties, will continue to spread under a Trump administration that has already revealed its penchant for privatization and corporate-friendly policies and a disregard for communities of color. Policy decisions, bureaucratic appointments, and executive orders such as the recommencement of the keystone and Dakota access pipelines or the appointment of Ben Carson to head the department of Housing and Urban Development indicate a long road ahead in the fight for preserving land and the cultures tied to it. These movements are not separate from Trump’s wall and the fight for migrant justice, but rather they are all interconnected.

A small farmer’s market in a church parking lot in South Carolina or a community garden and produce service in Chicago might not seem like much in the face of a government threatening food, housing, and even life security, but these actions are small forms of resistance. They symbolize our resolve to take matters into our own hands and, by tapping into the survival traditions of our foremothers and fathers, provide for our own needs while strengthening our culture, historical memory, and community connections.