Buffalo Strong

I had a plan, you see.  I was going to write today about the Bans Off Our Bodies rally I attended on Saturday morning.  Then, for Thursday, I was going to post about how I caught my biggest fish yet, and how nature has replaced church for me. 

But then, after fishing, I stopped at the Tops on Harlem real quick to get some milk, and then I headed home and curled up with my phone…y’know, to check my socials and messages and such.  I saw a Facebook post from a friend about the local hospital, and suddenly the world crashed down and the fish, and even the rally, seemed insignificant.

On Saturday afternoon, 13 people we shot and 10 people died at the Tops on Jefferson, fifteen minutes from my house, because a self-proclaimed 18-year-old white supremacist decided that was the place in the state of New York where he could murder the most black people.

That is a lot to unpack, and I don’t know how much I will get to in just one post.

I had just walked out of a Tops.  I texted Jaime…she had just walked out of a Wegmans.  How many of us went grocery shopping on Saturday afternoon? It may seem silly, but knowing that I was doing the same thing as my neighbors on the east side of town when they were gunned down…it just turned my stomach.

As details came out, we learned the shooter had posted a manifesto online, as well as livestreamed the attack on Twitch.  We discovered that he had selected the Tops on Jefferson because that zip code has the highest black population in the state.  Our elected officials made it very clear that he was an “outsider.”

Cute.

Listen, I love my city, deeply.  But we have a racism problem…deeply.  We are on the list of the most segregated cities in the nation, and even a tourist can tell, folks.  Have you EVER taken a visiting friend to the east side for any reason, white Buffalonian reading this?  Ok, actually, I have done this…I took a friend there because they wanted to get some weed.  That’s the reputation the east side has in white Buffalo.  Drugs, crime…and black people. 

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t white folks on the east side, because there are certainly black people in my mostly white south side neighborhood as well, There’s just less.  Everyone who lives here knows: the whites live in North and South Buffalo, the blacks live on the east side, and the Hispanics are to the west.  All of this sounds super racist, and it is.  It’s also a fact. 

My neighborhood is strongly Irish, and therefore mostly white.  We live within ten minutes of 6 grocery stores…3 of them are Tops.  The Masten neighborhood is mostly black, and they have one.  Wegmans won’t set foot over there.  There’s an Aldi’s not too far away, but you would definitely need a car to get there, and Masten is a lower income neighborhood, so that’s not an option for everyone.  People in that area live with food insecurity everyday…I don’t.  I might feel like it lately, while money is very tight and I can’t get the things I want, but I do have enough food in my cupboard to survive.  I’m not worried about where my next meal is coming from.

And I’m not worried about being shot at my grocery store, either.  Probably should be, but I’m not, at least not by a Nazi.  I am never worried about being attacked by a hate group, because I am a white woman, and no one wants a dead white girl on their hands.  Generally, I don’t worry about gun violence at all…because I am privileged.  The people in that grocery store are more worried about it than I am, because someone gets hurt on that side of town from gun violence nearly every day.  My point here is that I worry about neither guns nor white supremacy, because I live in a “safe” (read: white) neighborhood.  I put “safe” in quotes, because it isn’t, exactly.  We have crime, too.  We have our low-income section, and we have folks who just don’t give a crap sometimes, also.  Overall, though, my neighborhood is definitely considered “better” than theirs, here in Western New York.

Anyway, like I was saying, mayor Byron Brown was adamant that the terrorist came from outside the community.  Here’s the thing…I know more than one person who was betting on which suburb this asshole came out of, because we all automatically assumed he was a WNYer.  EVERYBODY knows we have a racism problem in the area.  We had a crapton of arrests in Erie County related to Jan. 6th.  I remember seeing tour buses carrying folks down to DC.  Yes, my city is mostly democratic, but the outlying areas are abundant with MAGA republicans.  And while Buffalo itself tends to vote blue, we do have a fairly dodgy police force to contend with, along with the basic segregated setup of the city.  I mean, my first thought when I heard about this shooting was: we need to check on our black friends.  Might sound racist because I was thinking about their skin color, but the truth of it is that they all use that grocery store, because they all live on the east side.

Me, I went to that Tops once at 8am to use the bathroom on the way home from a doctor’s appointment.  I have never had any reason to be there, other than that.  I only ever go to that particular neighborhood if I am visiting the Science Museum there.  I have often wanted to…they have a big park with an amazing splash pad that my kids would have loved in their youth.  Alas…we never went. 

Racism is a huge problem in my city and if you don’t believe that then you either don’t live here or you’re a racist.  It’s as plain as day to anyone with a conscience that we need to change the way we do things around here.  Because that murderer wasn’t from here…but he could have been.  He oh-so-easily could have been.

Buffalo is known as the City of Good Neighbors, and it is.  One time my car got stuck in a snowbank on the east side, and four very large black men approached.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly nervous (of course, their gender trumped their skin color in my mind, but still.)  These gentlemen pushed me out of the snowbank and got me on my way.  I was exceedingly grateful.  Yeah, maybe it’s true that nobody wants a dead white girl on their hands, but I’d also like to believe that nobody in this city wants anyone to be in trouble if they can help.  Do you have any idea how many snowbanks a stranger has pushed me out of, or how many times a neighbor mowed my lawn just to be nice, or helped shovel the sidewalk?  Tons and tons and tons.  All we do is help each other, which is why I have no doubt that we as a community will make it through this crisis.

So sadly, I can’t tell you about how great the rally was, or how big the fish was.  Maybe I will save those for later this week, but they have become afterthoughts in my mind.  And I’m nowhere close to being done talking about what happened in my city, because I am a firm believer that if you want change you have to stay and fight for it.  All I know right now is that my heart hurts for this place I love so dearly.  I only hope we can all find a way to heal.

Black History

I am white and nine kinds of privileged, but I’m also pissed off…

I am maybe four years old, and my mother and aunt volunteer for a program in the Perry projects that teaches parenting and life skills to the community.  There is a day care during the meetings, and mom brings me to play with the other kids.  I, who have only just started school in a very white neighborhood, am meeting black kids for the very first time.

One’s name was Junebug.  I don’t know if that was his given name or a nickname, but he befriended me immediately despite being older.  I recall him being quite good with the younger kids, likely because he had siblings of his own.  I don’t ever remember thinking about the color of his skin.

There was a girl, too, though her name escapes me.  I was fascinated, absolutely FASCINATED by her hair.  By all the girl’s hair, really…they had braids and beads and barrettes and those little bobble ties I wanted so bad but no…mom kept my hair short and boyish and even if it was long, I could never have it look like that.  One day she let me touch it, on the condition that she could also touch mine.  I wonder now if she was envious of my poker straight hair, wondering what it would be like to run a brush through and not have to worry about tangles or frizz. 

A few years later, I asked for a doll for Christmas.  Her name was Kenya and she was from…Kenya.  More than one person was curious as to why I would want a black baby doll.  I heard this, and was crushed…to do her hair of course!!!  And what difference did it make?  She was unlike all my other dolls, and that made her special.

Again, super white school, so when my friend Sabine, who is black, arrived in 6th grade, my classmates were a little wary of her.  Having hung out with the Perry kids at such a young age, and having parents who never spoke an ill word against another race, I saw no problems and immediately befriended her.  It is now 25 years later and I still consider her a friend, and can honestly tell you that I do not believe race played any instance in our friendship at any time.

Very white high school, of course, so I didn’t have any black friends there.  In fact, the black girls pretty much all stuck together, which I won’t lie…I found intimidating.  Not because of their skin color, but because of their clique-power.  I was wary of them in the same way I was wary of all the girl groups that seemed to be “exclusive” at my school. 

Once though, I was assigned some project with a girl name Trisha.  She was a year behind me and I remember working with her on whatever, and having a good time and many laughs.  In the hallways after, we would always smile or say hi…but in the lunchroom, she sat with the black girls.  It wasn’t meant to be segregated…it just was.

Fairly white college-my first friend I made was named Vanessa.  If memory serves, she was half black and half Hispanic.  Again, it seemed the black kids hung out together mostly, but they were much more accepting of the white kids, and vice versa.  I was only there for a year and yes, it wasn’t a very diverse school, but I made some diverse friends.

Today.  Hubs works with, or has worked with, several black men.  He has befriended many of them.  These men-let’s single out his buds Rome, Malus and Devon-treat me like a damn queen.  When I sit in the parking lot waiting to pick Mark up, Devon is always sure to wave and holler “What up B?”  When we hang with Malus, he always treats me as part of the group and never just “Mark’s wife.”  And Rome?  I could probably go to his house right now with an emergency and he would handle it for me.

My point here is that I have had literally no bad experiences with the black community.  I recall a day when I got stuck in the snow on the east side.  Some folks would be terrified.  I was relieved when a group of black men approached my car and knocked on the window and said “Can we help?”  They did…they pushed me right out of that bank, and got me on my way.

So, with my lack of negative experience, it is simply unfathomable to me why in the world people see black skin and think: criminal.  I honestly have known more white criminals in my life than black ones.  All the black people who have ever entered my life have done so in a respectful and loving way, so what the fuck, America? 

Police brutality is not surprising to me…my husband has faced some low-grade harassment himself, and he’s a white guy.  One time he was walking to work, in his grungy work clothes, eating a sandwich, and a cop accused him of both panhandling and stealing.  So, the idea that black men are being targeted does not surprise me, because I know they target you on your appearance, and being black is like wearing a suit that says “Pull me over.”

Anyway…what happened to George Floyd is despicable. I am SO GLAD that I did not grow up in a racist setting and have to unlearn such atrocities.  I am proud to be able to stand alongside my friends of color and say hey!  THIS IS WRONG.

So what about you, reader?  Can you stand up and scream about the injustice with me, or are you too scared?  And of what, exactly?  You’re own prejudices, or those that surround you?

This is America in 2020 and if you’re still scared of black people, and you think a man deserved to die over suspicion of a forged 20$ bill, then you can just GTFO.

…I just cannot believe I had to go ranting twice this week.  Unbelievable.

Also, very unlikely that I will update on Thursday, just FYI, as I will be venturing across state to Mark’s stepdads’ memorial service.  Hopefully on Monday I can write about how I caught a fish or something and not whatever the hell is on fire at the moment.