Does My Hometown Have a Problem with Race?

The harsh reality us Western New Yorkers must deal with

Wednesday, in the city of North Tonawanda, a house was set ablaze. This house belonged to a black volunteer firefighter. A suspect who happened to be a former firefighter was arrested Thursday night for the arson. What stands out about this fire is the fact just two days earlier, Kenneth Walker received an anonymous threat in his mailbox telling him to resign from his position with the fire department or else something bad was going to happen. All because he was black.

Anonymous letter left for Kenneth Walker.

This story is unbelievable. You would not think something like this could happen in a northeastern city in 2016. However, if you look deeper into the makeup of Western New York it isn’t all the surprising.

Social media comments on this story are what you would expect. This is about as vile as it gets when it comes to racism and almost everyone feels for Mr. Walker. There was a small minority that claimed that he may have set this up himself to fuel racial division.

If you were to look at a lot of news stories posted by local television stations on Facebook, especially about any crime involving an African American or a Black Lives Matter protest, you would witness some of the worst comments a person could make. Ignorant statements left and right, such as comparing BLM to the KKK. Veiled racist comments persist about blacks being lazy or being the “real racists”. These are just a couple examples.

I never wanted to believe that Buffalo or WNY has this problem. I grew up in a poorer neighborhood in the city and went to very diverse grammar and high schools. Maybe I was not the norm? I’ve always had a very diverse group of classmates, friends, and colleagues.

New studies have continued to show Buffalo has a problem with race. The Daily Beast did a study of tweets sent out by city. Buffalo residents sent out the eighth most anti-black tweets in the country. We also ranked number one in anti-gay tweets. A paper published last year also listed Buffalo as one of the most racist cities in America.

If you needed another more recent example, a “White Lives Matter” rally was being organized in Cazenovia park in South Buffalo this past Saturday. Luckily, there were enough people to counter-protest since there was allegedly ties to a neo-nazi group. Everyone hates nazis.

The Region of Segregation

When looking at the city’s demographics, they seem to be quite diverse at first. The 2010 census revealed that Buffalo was 50.4% white, 38.6% black, and 10.5% Hispanic. This does not take into account the total Buffalo-Niagara metro area in which suburbs are very white. Even within city limits, we are still quite segregated. The East side of Buffalo is almost exclusively African American and north Buffalo tends to be mostly white. A recent study pegged the Buffalo-Niagara metro area the sixth most segregated region in the country.

Even scarier is looking at various school districts and their demographics. Let’s take a look at the makeup of the North Tonawanda school district, where this arson occurred. White students make up about 92% of the student body in all of North Tonawanda. Black students only account for 1.67% of the total.

The reason I bring this up is that diversity is very important in a child’s development. Children take on a lot of their parent’s views and are exposed to mostly people of the same race, whether it be family or friends outside of school. Inside the classroom would be the perfect opportunity to have kids experience people of different cultures.

With the lack of diversity in these children’s lives, they have this warped view of other races. They don’t experience much day to day interaction with people of other races or cultures. Instead, they have to learn about other races from a third person perspective from parents or other white students. Some of these parents may have some unfavorable views passed down by previous generations.

The 2010 census reports that in North Tonawanda, 98% of residents are white. Only 0.29% are black. Think about that for a minute. That’s 96 African Americans out of 33,262 people. This is not healthy.

The reason I say that something like this is not healthy is because I credit the diversity of my neighborhoods and schools for a lot of my success. It shaped the way I think and look at the world. I realized the value of every race and culture this world has to offer. I was one of two white males in my eighth grade class so I learned how to communicate with everyone. I then went on to high school where we couldn’t be more diverse. Every group was represented in strong numbers.

When I see other whites screaming about Black Lives Matter, reverse racism, or some other nonsense I can’t help but get pissed off. One argument I hear all of the time is that President Obama has divided this country racially more than ever. It’s like they forgot about Jim Crow laws and slavery. And out of all 44 Presidents, they choose to blame the first black President for all of the country’s race problems. Unreal.

Buffalo and Western New York has a problem with race. It’s around us, we just have to look around. I see it in the way black patrons are treated downtown during nights out. I witness it in South Buffalo when white people use the “n-word” consistently. And it’s in plain site on social media daily.

We have to acknowledge the problem and set out to fix it. We should be past this but we need desegregate again. Diversity is the key to success. I want every child to experience what I experienced in high school. I want African Americans treated the same as I am treated. Let’s lead the way in changing our ways.