A comparison of white supremacy to ag supremacy.

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:

Saviorism:

God’s chosen people:

History erasure:

  • 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.

Fragility:

  • 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.

Persecution/Annihilationist rhetoric:

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.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “A comparison of white supremacy to ag supremacy.

  1. Groundhog

    Unaddressed in your comments is that farmers extract value from water in the form of produce for sale, whereas much residential water consumption is for quality of life benefits with a very subjective value. To me, both at and urban use have some degree of essential use, beyond which subsidies and surcharges are warranted.

  2. Noel Park

    My late wife was from Fresno. One year for her birthday I bought her a book which was an anthology of writings about the SJV called “Highway 99”. I thought that she would enjoy a number of stories about her home territory. I still remember how shocked I was to read a number of articles about the ruthless genocide of the native inhabitants by whites expropriating the land. You are correct to point out that the whole system is built upon that genocide. Not to mention the environmental catastrophe which you also correctly cite.

  3. Diane Livia

    I don’t quite agree with your statement, “California faces a necessary discussion about how much of our water should be allocated to agriculture.” While I think your analysis of the “ag supremacy” zeitgeist is spot on, I think it would make more sense to have a conversation about ag billionaires. No one should be allowed to corner 85% of the world’s almond market using California’s ill-managed water. No one should be allowed to make so much money on California’s water.

    No one should be able to practice the destructive practices of vast mono-culture, labor abuse and exploitation and using land willy-nilly as a profit source.

    It’s not so much ag that needs to talked about as *regulating* ag. We need to publicize answers to such questions as “How much of what is being grown in CA?” “Where is all this food being sold?” “How much of which product stays in CA or even the US?” “What is this industry doing to agriculture and food security in other countries?”

    Reportedly, Haiti used to grow 90% of it’s rice and imported 10%. For decades now Haiti imports 90% of its rice. How much of that rice flowing into Haiti comes from CA?

    Questions like this need to answered.

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