At the Gate: Now I See!

Sitting at the gate, I see things I did not see before. Many of those things cluster around the word ‘injustice’—things that were going on right before my eyes but I did not see them. Things that created a lopsided society operating with two phrases Walter Brueggemann used in a recent article: “predatory dispossession” and “violent greed.” [1] Today, I illustrate with my own experience of what he writes about in the article, the systemic dismantling of Black farms through white-supremacist tactics.

I grew up in Haskell, Texas. It survived in almost every respect by agricultural revenue. The phrase “Cotton is King” was more true than false in my hometown. No matter which direction you came from to get into town, you drove through miles of cotton fields. Haskell was an island in a sea of farmland. And that picture was replicated throughout much of Texas, and other states as well.

In that agricultural ocean surrounding Haskell, I did not know one Black farmer. I knew minority-group farm workers, but no minority-race farm owners. At the time, I thought nothing of it. Now, I understand that I was living in a culture of white-supremacy which created the dearth of Black farmers. Sitting at the gate, I now see that the phrase, “That’s the way it is,” too easily becomes an anesthetic rendering us unconscious of realities going on around us and leaving us asleep so far as doing anything about them is concerned. The absence of Black farmers was “just the way it is.” Drawing on his reading of an eye-opening book, Brueggemann shines light into a darkness I did not even know was there. [2]

In 1920, there were 925,000 Black farms in The United States. By 1970, there were 86,000. In fifty years, 91% were gone! This did not happen accidentally, but rather through a concerted effort by white people operating in two seditious ways. First, when the U.S. government allocated huge amounts of money over decades to strengthen farming, the USDA authorized County Extension Agents to determine who got the money. Simply put—Black farmers didn’t. White farms were bolstered; Black farms shriveled in the sun like the cotton grown there did in a drought. And that led to the second wave of the sedition: when Black farmers did not produce profitable crops, they defaulted on their loans, and banks foreclosed on their land. And. “wah-lah,” Black farms largely disappeared.

Writing as a white person (like me, though his experience was in North Carolina), Brueggemann laments, “Now it strikes me that the sore point is that I (we) did not know about this. We did not know the economic jeopardy of small-acreage Black farmers. We did not know about the long term resistance of the Department of Agriculture. We did not know about the pattern of predatory dispossession. And we did not know that we lived in a world of assets while these neighbors lived in a world of dangerous debt. We did not know, in our comfort zone so carefully protected from reality.”

We did not know…….”that’s just the way it was.” It still is, and as we continue to say “That’s just the way it is,” we anesthetize ourselves to the white supremacy which continues to operate in the economic, political, judicial, business, educational, media, athletic, entertainment, and religious aspects of our culture. The supremacists want us to accept “that’s just the way it is” in our day, as in times past. They peddle it through the anesthesia of “anti-woke” sentiment, striving to make us take the gas of their poisonous ideology and be as asleep and inactive as has ever been the case in our nation.

But….now, I see! “I once was blind, but now I see.” Amazing grace—that stirs us from our societal sleep of death. As we awaken, we hear Isaiah, Malachi, and Paul rousing us, “Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” [3] Getting “woke” is what happens when “the Gospel says” becomes our interpretive view. Awakening gives us the seeing eyes that Jesus wants us to have (Mark 8:18)—the eyes to see things the supremacists do not want us to see, and are at work to prevent us from seeing. Awakening is cleaning the lens so we can see what’s going on, expose it, and resist it.

Brueggemann ends his article by saying, “The work of learning is an urgent responsibility, to see how and why “the other half”—the half of debt—lives and suffers and resists and fears as it does. There are testimonies, witnesses, and advocates along the way if we pay heed…Our awakened sensibility is a first urgent step toward neighborly restoration. It is a step the church makes in its defining vocation.”

[1] Walter Brueggemann, “The Dispossessing Power of Violent Greed,” Church Anew e-letter, February 3, 2023.
[2] Pete Daniel, ‘Dispossession: Discrimination Against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights.’
[3] Isaiah 26:19, 51:17, 60:1; Malachi 4:2; Romans 13:11; Ephesians 5:14.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
This entry was posted in At The Gate. Bookmark the permalink.