MSNBC Panel Defends Pigford Fraud; Calls Pigford 'Reparations'

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: I've been waiting for a front page story about Pigford, because this is such a part of our history and our contemporary practices. But then the frontpage story that we get, and I'm sorry I have to say it, ends up sounding to me like some kind of agricultural welfare queen anxiety.

CONGRESSWOMAN TERRY SEWELL (D-AL): Exactly, and, you know, that is such a gross mischaracterization. You know, years and years and decades of being unfairly treated by the USDA and not being able to get loans. I mean, my grandfather talked about it incessantly. He farmed in Lands County Alabama. As I go across my district, so many were adversely affected that the land is lying idle right now. And I think that goes to your point that we saw a 93% decrease in farming across the board. And, you know, I can tell you to get a claim through is more difficult process than "The New York Times" indicated. The reality is that people had to certify that they were actually discriminated against on penalty or perjury. So many that you have on your panel, State Senator Hank Sanders, who is is a lead council on this. I can tell you people are waiting right now to receive retribution and restitution for decades of discrimination.

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HARRIS-PERRY: So why the "New York Times" piece now? I gotta tell you, it just felt to me like a hit piece in certain ways. On the one hand it felt like this really complicated, deeply researched -- but then I kept thinking. "but wait a minute. What are the motivations here?"

KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC HOST: The thing that bothered me about the piece, you can believe there are parts of the law written poorly or administered poorly because heaven knows the government doesn't always do a good job. At the same time, the two underlying things that were the most disturbing: Number one, this idea of just inefficiency. We were talking about that before. Corruption, that under Obama, that it's inefficient, the government isn't working. We've heard that time and time again. That this black President is inefficient government. Secondly, this theme that we're starting hear time and time again is who is deserving and who is not deserving. The vilification of poor people as lazy and undeserving ... Like you said, the welfare queens. And there are very specific things come to minds when you talk about that. That's what bothered me so much about the story that is just playing seemed to be playing into those very same themes. Then you read crazy Steve King from Iowa saying this is a buyout for black people. They're trying to buy off minorities. That's what's so disturbing right now.

RICHARD KIM, THE NATION: There's also a more immediate historical context that I think the piece missed, which is in 1983 Reagan uses brutal cuts in a very targeted way. And one of the offices he basically shut down was the civil rights division inside the USDA. Right? So that produces a situation where claims of discrimination were being sent to Washington and literally thrown into the trash can, which creates an evidence gap. You're actually not collecting people who are trying to put in writing their claim to discrimination. So, by the time the settlement comes about you are looking at a series of cases where it is not clear. It's not always documented. That's why they allowed oral testimony to be apart of this settlement. Now did that create some loose standards that aren't transparent and accountable? It looks like, from the Times report, that might have been the case. But we need to find out the scale of that. And we need to think about this, if we think about this in reparations in some ways, right? The point of reparations is to actually be historically minded and understand the many times discrimination impactd this group of people. That's the best way to frame this as a historical inquiry about justice.

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