The following is a short paper/project that I did for a GIS course I took in the City & Regional Planning Department at the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania ,in 2011. I wanted to do a quick study to show the lack of presence of Blackamericans at farmers markets (predominantly white spaces).
It has been some measure of consternation as to why Blackamericans appear to have a much smaller degree of participation in farmers markets (and some would charge the whole localvore1 phenomenon as a whole) as compared to non-blacks in general and in particular to whites. Several oft-quotes deductions point to lack of education on the part of Blackamericans regarding food:
“If people only knew where their food came from”.2
Beyond the patronizing language reveals a quandary worthy of greater observation: if it is not simply blacks being uneducated to the obvious (cum white) benefits of local organic food, why is it then that there is such a low percentage of Blackamericans who do not participate in farmers markets? My purpose where will be to demonstrate that statistical analysis alone will not be sufficient to explain this phenomenon and that further in-depth study will be required to determine the variables and factors that lead to this social disconnect.
As can be seen in Map A-1, there is moderate density of farmers markets available throughout the greater city of Philadelphia with the exception of the North East section. In addition, SEPTA, the South East Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, provides a variety of lines of access to the great majority of these markets. Often, reasons for lack of participation are also pointed to Blackamericans having disproportionate access to transportation, person or public. From what is demonstrated in Map A-1, there are sufficient public transportation lines that run within a mile or less of a great percentage of these farmer’s markets.
Another argument often portrayed is lack of proximity to locations where Blackamericans live. Map A-2 shows the population density spread of Blackamericans throughout the city of Philadelphia. We can see that in areas where there is moderate to heavy density, there is also adequate proximity to farmers markets. The apparent exception to this availability again is the North East section, though in relation to Blackamericans, it is clearly one of the least populated sections of Philadelphia in terms of black population. Clearly there is something amiss in the statistical analysis of this conclusion.
To improve our analysis of the situation, I believe it will be necessary to employ more than GIS tools and census data to determine as to why Blackamericans would choose not to participate in farmers markets. Throughout Black History in the United States, several groups have actually made growing local food a priority for blacks as a means of independence, liberation and self-preservation. Such proto-Islamic groups as the Nation of Islam or Moorish Science Temple heavily advocated the benefits — social, economic, health and medical — of locally and organically grown foods. Both of these groups had significant numbers of followers in the Philadelphia area and continue to influence the broader Blackamerican population’s attitudes towards food, health and the need for locally produced food. I say all this to the effect of countering, “If they only knew.” Clearly Blackamericans do know, they just do not participate.
One of the variables that I charge needs further exploring is the social-psychological aspect of this disconnected between Blackamericans and farmers markets. All too often, as is seen in other areas of study, what whites pick and choose to be “good,” or “normal,” often manifest as universal truths, save to the mentally disabled (perhaps uneducated here?) or morally bankrupt. This is similar to what Dr. Sherman Jackson whites about in this paper, Literalism, Empiricism, and Induction. Dr. Jackson writes:
In a real sense, blacks in America, like all other orphans of modernity (“Third-Worlders,” “primitives,” or even “Middle Easterners”) were “created” by the forces of white supremacy and the theoretical disciplines of the (French) Enlightenment. This “second creation” had the cumulative effect of placing between blacks and primordial knowledge a normative regime of sense that was sponsored and controlled by the dominant group. At the same time, the invisibility of whiteness (only non-whites were raced) placed whites in the position of being “just people,” who could speak not only in the name of their specific group, but also for humanity as a whole. This had the effect of conferring upon their fears, assumptions, proclivities, prejudices, and specific genius, the status of “normal.” In effect, this reflected a transcendent natural order, whose validity was obvious to all, save the stupid, the primitive, or the morally depraved.3
If social scientists as well as advocacy groups (who are predominantly white) wish to apprehend the reasons behind Blackamericans not participating in farmers markets then it will undoubtedly involve them unraveling many of their on presuppositions on blacks as a whole in order to come to any meaningful conclusion. Anything less will merely “allow the conceit that racism is solved merely by attention to distributional outcomes.4
Similarly, what will need to be brought to the surface is the current discourse on local food and to interrogate the lack of voices of color. Farmers markets are spaces that have been “coded as ‘white’”5 and thus if there is to be any meaningful change then the discourse must also include these voices so they can also contribute to the sense of what is “good” or “beautiful.” Perpetuating a “colorblind” rhetoric in the face of color conscious consequences only shows the complete inability of the current discourse to apprehend let alone affect any change.
In conclusion, there are a number of challenges that will need to be addressed that I feel may help push the discourse along. First is shared space of these markets and what will happen if Blackamericans should choose to start attending these markets? In other social circles, where blacks and white do no normally mingle, there is often a “white flight” that takes place when these two populations intermix. What steps will markets take (or are even prepared to take) to ensure that the participation of both groups will not lead to the flight of another. Second is the charge of (false) universalism. How can markets and advocates allow for full inclusion without resorting to rhetoric of universalism which, according to Julie Guthman6, is just as violent and damaging as overtly racist rhetoric. The challenge in essence is not difference or diversity and any steps that are taken to reduce all actors to a one-dimensional playing field while only perpetuate racism, particularly as those who are often the scribes of universalism are whites.
- Jackson, Sherman A. “Literalism, Empiricism, and Induction: Apprehending and Concretizing Islamic Law’s Maqasid Al-Shari’ah in the Modern World.” Michigan State Law Review (2006): 1469-486.
- Guthman, Julie. Cultivating Food Justice, Ed. Allison H. Alkon and Julian Agyeman. MIT, 2011. 266.
- Guthman, Julie. Cultivating Food Justice¸266.
- Guthman, Julie. Cultivating Food Justice, 267.
- “Those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced”. For more on this definition see the article, Local Food, in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_food.
- Guthman, Julie. Cultivating Food Justice.