In this installment of urban racial reckonings, I want to point out a recent article from The New Yorker by Princeton Professor and 2021 McArthur Foundation Fellow Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, published in June of 2022: "Hiding Buffalo's Racism Behind a Cloak of Unity."
"Officials have described the recent shootings as an aberration in the 'City of Good Neighbors.' But this conceals the city's long-standing racial divisions."
The entire headline could apply to a story about any city, town, municipality, or other urban, suburban, and rural area in U.S. society. Claims of (historical) unity and aberrations face the unveiling of a concealed history of discrimination and violence.
In the wake of Payton Gendron's targeting of a grocery store frequented by Buffalo's Black community in a racially targeted white supremacist-inspired attack, which he live-streamed, Taylor provides analytical touchstones stories for the ongoing everyday consequences of historical structural discrimination baked into policies and laws, culture, and daily interactions that characterize white supremacist violence in Buffalo.
"The effort to console and empathize can just as easily distort and conceal….In 1993, a writer in the local daily, the Buffalo News, compared Main Street, the central dividing line of the city, to the Berlin Wall, "dividing rich from poor, the haves from the have-nots." Buffalo is one of the poorest cities in the country, and nearly half of children living in the city are poor. But the hardship that defines the city is not evenly shared. A disproportionate number of the have-nots live on the East Side of Buffalo, where more than three-quarters of the city's African American residents live."
Taylor ends with a sobering reminder of how discrimination and violence are state-sanctioned and cultural, baked into policies, ideologies, and everyday decisions, and reproduced across generations by humans making decisions to treat others with disdain, violence, and abandonment.
"Today, white supremacy is being loudly denounced for motivating the rampage at Tops…it is important to remember that the racism behind the shooting didn't spring spontaneously from the killer's deranged mind but also emerged from a society that regularly disregards the conditions of inequality and poverty in poor and working-class Black communities. The attack in Buffalo might be taken as an opportunity not only to pass gun-control legislation and to confront the political phenomenon of white supremacy but also to transform the conditions that undermine the life chances of ordinary Black people."