Segregation and Racism—Buffalo's Ignored History


Jul 25, 2022

Vector of a white and black man divided by a broken bridge on a city background, illustration by Feodora Chiosea/Getty Images

Illustration by Feodora Chiosea/Getty Images

By Rhianna C. Rogers and Stephen Tucker

This commentary originally appeared on The Buffalo News on July 23, 2022.

The recent mass shootings in Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Southern California, among many others, highlight how much work we still have to do in the racial equity space as a country.

In the wake of the horrible tragedy of May 14 in Buffalo, we owe it to the victims and all in our community to implement policies that mitigate and eliminate segregation, including housing, income, and access to employment that pays family-sustaining wages. In addition, we must also address the current, existing challenges in the community, such as poor living conditions, food deserts, and access to quality education.

To move policy forward, public policy research will need to take a joint, nonpartisan look at diverse perspectives while, at the same time, giving space to voices that have been historically underrepresented. Changing or challenging fundamental assumptions in racial equity discourse in places like Buffalo requires a better understanding of the importance of cultural data, the longstanding impacts of systemic -isms on lived experiences, and a push for real-time policy solutions.

This is a complex process that requires us to recognize that we all struggle to address equity, inclusion, and justice; however, in juxtaposition, we must also acknowledge the legacy of unfulfilled policy promises within marginalized communities. For example, WNY has long been plagued with cross-cultural insensitivities, economic hardships, and racial tensions. As would be expected, the results of systemic racism within Buffalo left many marginalized, socioeconomically disadvantaged students without access to quality education. As resident of WNY and PI of the Buffalo Project 2.0 survey, Rhianna Rogers found that the vast majority of student respondents felt that WNY culture was important, but some students resented the inclusion of multiculturalism in education and felt learning it was unnecessary.

To move policy forward, public policy research will need to take a joint, nonpartisan look at diverse perspectives while, at the same time, giving space to voices that have been historically underrepresented.

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For example, one white respondent wrote “No, [learning about multicultural education should not be included in college] because Caucasians [sic] are the minority [sic] now.” The tone of this response indicated that the respondent felt that culture and multiculturalism only applied to students of color, and that including diverse narratives within U.S. education could lead to negative changes to the learning process. Interestingly enough, Teachers College at Columbia argues the opposite, stating that the inclusion of more-diverse narratives in education leads to better critical thinking and cross-cultural competencies.

So how do we move forward when views in our society differ so greatly? Engaging in these types of difficult dialogues with folks who may think differently than you—referred to as “Deliberative Conversations”—is one way to inform all stakeholders about different voices on issues while making changes that support a broader spectrum of opinions.

We believe if we frame the conversation on finding solutions instead of debates, that structured deliberative conversations can move dialogues and, ultimately, public policy forward. As a nation, we cannot achieve equitable inclusive progress if we continue to allow the destructive flames of segregation, hate, injustice, and disparities to breathe, accelerate, and grow in our individual communities.

We must give each other room to discuss our thoughts in order to create safe and brave spaces for developing and expanding cross-cultural competencies.

Rhianna C. Rogers is director of the RAND Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. Stephen Tucker is President & CEO of Northland Workforce Training Center, located in East Buffalo.

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