We often don’t think about our relationship to land as created by public policy, but the experience of black people in America emphasizes how much govt policy affect how we think about land and places where we belong.If that experience has been positive, we often don’t notice it at allImportant to understanding how black peoples unique perspective on relationship to land developedHow specific forms of Resilience were cultivated
… no matter where people live and have relationships to land, there are four themes that come up often Black Land loss <CLICK>Economic potential of black relationship to land<CLICK>Narrow framing around black relationship to land; and <CLICK>Historical trauma that is woven through every aspect of black relationship to land<CLICK>I’d like to share some of what we have learned about these things with you, and then open to some discussion about them together
Here are some key questions about how land loss affects your workUrban agriculture social entrepreneur Michael Easterling Of Open Roads Institute, reminds us that:Many people describe the inner city as land that was ignored or forgotten. Redlining is not a passive activity. Disenfranchisement, isolation, and the creation of food deserts do not happen passively. Insurance costs and redlining do not happen by accident. We are living legislation and policy that is cultural bias manifested in law.
The next critical issue I want to describe is the Economic Potential of Black Relationship to LandWhen non-black people talk about black relationship to land, we often see an image like this one: something about urban agriculture.We seem comfortable with “black relationship to land” being defined as blacks in an agricultural production roleHowever, most landowners look to their land as an economic investment. Most people in American have a relationship to land that has nothing to do with agriculture.So, when black people talk about economic relationship to land, they are thinking of something that might look more like….
Here are some key questions about how the economic potential of black land affects your work in environmental justice, land use planning and community development: Is Land perceived as a source of wealth in the communities with which you work? How does that shape your organization’s programs, goals and objectives?
The grief for the loss of land and for the loss of home-place pervades conversations about relationship to land in black America. The nature of this grief is often unstated It is called historical trauma: a cumulative and psychological wounding and across generations, including one’s own lifetimeMuch research has been done on land loss & historical trauma among Jews & Native Americans, but surprisingly little about African Americans and other blacks in the USHistorical trauma affects each of the critical issues I have mentionsLand loss is a form of historic traumaThe economic potential of black relationship to land is constrained by itWhenever historic trauma is left out the picture ,the frame is too narrow and inadequate to address black relationship to landsurvivor guilt and fixation on past trauma are expressions of unresolved grief from historical trauma: those traumas include enslavement, forced farm labor, loss of enterprise when it aroused envy and violence; and property seizure through urban renewal, tax foreclosureThat frozen grief frequently appears as loyalty to ancestral suffering and focusing on the dead as a source of cultural bonding. What was once “Our people aren’t allowed to do that” becomes “Our people don’t do that”. This includes everything from having the leisure to hike through public parks and wilderness areas to owning a vineyard.Historical trauma can show itself as hypervigilence to exploitation around land use decisions, certain that one will be taken advantage of.. Hypervigilant people don’t show up at public hearings or volunteer for community advisory boards and food policy council s b/c they are afraid of being exploited.There is a strong relationship between chronic hypervigilance and substance abuse
Answering questions like these -- in dialogue and activity -- releases a unique source of knowledge, innovation and self-determination that is critical for the health of our people, and of the built and natural environments in every community.
The third critical issue that emerges in the Black/Land interview is Narrowly Framing black relationship to land A frame is a set of mental and emotional filters that are used to understand something. “Narrow framing” means to look at social issues in ways that are fixed, simplified, and directive rather than dynamic. Frames are based on assumptions about what ideas are legitimate, and keep other ideas obscured from view: ONE EXAMPLE “connection to land” is frequently narrowly framed as “introducing black youth to urban gardening”. This frame:Assumes that black adults (many of whom come from the South and the Caribbean where they were farm laborers) lack the skills or agency to garden, and that black youth need leadership from outside their community. Obscures the economic realities of community gardening projects (white adults benefit as paid staff, and programs lack capacity to produce economic empowerment) -- the average family farm household earns only $9000 a year in income from full-time farming.Not only does the narrowness of the funding and policy driven idea of “Black youth in urban gardens” reproduce the very social and economic injustice it seeks to address, it makes it hard to see all the ways black people have relationships to land
These questions are important to reframing the issue of black relationship to land,
Black/Land HAFA-DC webinar questions v 2
What is unique about black people’s relationships to land and place?What issues characterize black relationships to land and place?How does our community talk about their relationship to land and place?
Why do black Americans have a unique relationship to land?
Some ways public policy has shaped black relationships to land and place• Indenture or enslavement • Southern farmers targeted• Laws requiring purchased or for policy-driven land loss earned “freedom” • Prosperous business owners• American Revolutionaries/ targeted in white race riots Dunmore’s Ethiopian • Homeowners, despite Regiment redlining, racial covenants• Freedmen farmers under • Owners of urban property Field Order 15 devalued by white flight• Sharecroppers • Communities displaced by• Exodusters urban renewal• Segregation-driven schools • Middle-class land loss and land grant colleges through subprime loans
Black Land LossEconomic Potential of Black / LandHistorical TraumaNarrow Framing
Questions about Land Loss• How are black residents in D.C. connected to the experience of rural land in the South?• Do residents who are losing neighborhoods to blight feel connected to a long history of land seizure and land loss?• How are residents of other cities responding to gentrification caused by smart growth policies?
Critical Issue : UntappedEconomic Potential of Black Land
Questions about the Economic Potential of Black /Land• What land use conversations other than urban gardening are happening in your community?• What environmental pollution issues affect the future of your community?• Where are there spaces for small business to grow?• How do black people want to use public land?• How does housing shape neighborhood stability and local economy?
Key Questions : Historical Trauma• What past grief is your black community still fixated on today?• What current issues about place and land use arouse helplessness and fear of re- victimization in black neighborhoods?• Where is D.C. succeeding in transcending the experience of historical trauma related to land? What evidence shows this?
Key Questions: Narrow Framing• Where are black communities already regenerating in the District? Why is it happening there?• What ways of thinking about our neighborhood will we have to give up in order to move forward?• Who is thinking and talking about land in ways that are totally new to us?
If we treat the way black people self-define their relationships to landand place as authoritative, might that change how we do our work?
Implications for Action• How are black folk in D.C making theory from their shared stories now?• How can we use story in our organizing work?• How would our organizing look different if it was based on those stories, instead of issues?• What next steps might we take toward narrative -based organizing?
D.C. Stories We want to hear people tell about …• Barry Farm• Sheridan Terrace• Relationship between people who have been displaced and those who have displaced them• Chelsea Garden• Public use of public land• How art and culture create narratives• The stories told by people who have been told that they have “no story”.
D.C. Stories We want to hear people tell about …• Black bodies as land• Go-go bands as a relationship to land and place• Neighborhood stories, where people died or killed for land they didn’t even own• Black relationships to land from the perspective of business owners
The Black/Land Projectwww.BlackLandProject.orgContactUs@BlackLandProject.org Many thanks to HAFA-DC For hosting this conversation!