California faces a necessary discussion about how much of our water should be allocated to agriculture. This conversation is hampered by a set of beliefs I’m calling Ag Supremacy, seen at its purest in the “Thank a Farmer” campaign. I think many in ag and out have an unexamined sense that farmers are the core American identity and somehow purer, harder working and better than effete city-dwellers. Partly because of that, we don’t look clearly at the extent of their resource and labor extraction and hoarding. Below, I’ve pulled apart some of the elements of white supremacy to show the counterpart for ag supremacy.
Visually identifiable in-group:
- White supremacy: white or light skin tone
- Ag supremacy: western dress. Jeans, plaid button up shirt, cap or wide brimmed hat
Claim the essential American identity:
- White supremacy: White Christians are the “real Americans” whose votes should count
- Ag supremacy: Jefferson’s yeoman farmers, “farmers are the backbone“, amber waves of grain
- White supremacy: White man’s burden
- Ag Supremacy: “Feeds the world“, ‘without farmers ineffectual helpless urbanites would all starve’
God’s chosen people:
- White Supremacy: “white supremacy was part of the Christian worldview“
- Ag Supremacy: God made a farmer
- White supremacy: Erasure and minimization of slavery, genocide, dispossession and lynchings
- Ag supremacy: in California, erasure and minimization of genocide, land seizure (from Californian Indians, from Japanese-American farmers in WWII) extraction of rivers (that the southern SJV was historically a lush lake, that the salmon return used to thunder so loud that people couldn’t sleep), of labor exploitation of brown peoples.
- White supremacy: White fragility
- Ag supremacy: oh my god they’re so instantly furious and whiny if you propose that ag is a valuable skilled industry among other valuable skilled industries but that doesn’t mean it should get the lion’s share of CA’s water.
Ag Supremacy is identifiable by its absence in other fields. Mechanics and restauranteurs work equally hard, but have no expectation that they be heralded as better people than us. We simply pay them for their labor and product. Power companies provide another daily essential product, but there is no “Thank Your Power Provider” campaign. Many of us take life-saving medicine, but there is no cultural sense that pharmacists should be illustrated in calendars.
As drought focuses us on the perennial question of allocation of resources, I want us to have that conversation with an awareness of ag supremacy. Recognize it in op-eds. Challenge it in our own thinking and policy proposals. Note whether we ourselves are reflexively promoting bullshit ag saviorism like “feed the world”. It is hard to see. These two writers struggle with it without knowing quite why they object.
I leave an analysis of the overlap between white supremacy and ag supremacy as an exercise for the motivated reader, but I note that none of the farmers in the first two pages of these images are, for example, Asian-Am. They are not a perfect overlap; I can think of at least one Asian-Am farmer who eats that shit up and of white farmers who appropriately value their professional skills without an overlay of supremacy.