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WBFO Survey: What does racism look like in greater Buffalo?

National Science Foundation

This is a special 2-part report. Today we look at racial equity challenges in Buffalo; Thursday a look at possible solutions and where they should come from.

As part of a broad survey of over 130 Black and Brown community leaders in Buffalo, WBFO's Racial Equity Project and Reporter Thomas O'Neil-White asked how often they felt they were personally discriminated against, and if they could share a sense of what that was like.

Hear reporter Thomas O'Neil-White go in-depth on the survey results, with WBFO's Jay Moran

For most, discrimination was something they have had to deal with at least once in the past week (approx. 26 percent). For others it was a daily or monthly occurrence (20 percent each).

While some did not want to have their names attached to their comments publicly, taken together they all provide this snapshot of what racism looks like in Buffalo and WNY.

"Recently I attempted to make a deposit at a local bank, the ATM wouldn’t accept several of the bills, so I had to go inside. The tellers were busy, as I got in line. Eventually, I was the only one in line and the teller that should assist me, looked directly at me, but didn’t acknowledge me. She busied herself with other matters behind the counter. Finally, as I was the only customer left in the bank, she asked to assist me, in a manner that was less than welcoming! She took care of my deposit, but she clearly made me feel like it was a bother, not a service! I doubt that I will ever go into that branch again. "
-An African- American community leader who has felt discrimination at least a few times each year.

Rev. Mark Blue, NAACP Buffalo Pres.
NAACP photo
Rev. Mark Blue, NAACP Buffalo Pres.

(Within the past week) "I was aggressed by a colleague for calling them a racist".
-A Hispanic/Latino  professor at a Buffalo area university. Age: 35-44

"I was shopping at the mall at a Macy's store. The sales associate acted as though I was invisible. I had to get his attention when there was only another customer and myself. When we were at the register just prior to completing my purchase, another white gentleman walked up and the sales associate proceeded to assist him until I politely reminded him that we weren't finished."
-NAACP Buffalo President Mark Blue, who said he was last discriminated against within the past few months.

"During a discussion about classical music one participant wasn't including me assuming that I would not know anything about Chopin or Beethoven. When she later apologized I simply said "no problem, I don't blame you for your ignorance."
-Alicia Granto - Estenoz, local educator and mentor., who says she’s been discriminated against most recently on average a few times each year.

For Dean Seneca, a Native American and the Founder of Seneca Scientific Solutions, his most recent example of discrimination was "being was being called a racial slur."

"It's a part of my existence. It can't be boiled down into neat little packaged vignettes to suit your survey."
-An approx. 60 year old African American who says they have felt discriminated against on the very day they filled out the survey.

Maritza Vega, VP, Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY
Maritza Vega
Maritza Vega, VP, Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY

"When competing for a contract with an agency - I had an all black team (with one white person) set to fulfill what they needed covering every aspect of the project and we didn’t get it"
-Black female business owner, who says she has felt discrimination recently, on very the day the survey was filled out

Maritza Vega VP Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY says she was most recently discriminated against “during the Hispanic Heritage month and other events focused in cultural understanding. I hope that once we get to show more awareness people will stop the hate against those who are different and speak different. More so during Trump era.”

"It was multi-layered. As a person of color and elderly and not exactly what the world today considers attractive, I was put down on social media for my profile picture."
-A 65 year old African American woman from Buffalo, who says she has felt discrimination most recently in the past week before filling out the survey.

"In general myself and people of color experience racism on a daily basis, when people double lock their doors with the remote as you walk by."
-An African American male, approx.. 60 years old, who says that they have felt discriminated against in the past week.

"As a Black professional, I am often the only person of color at the table in meetings. When I walk into predominantly White spaces, I am often met with the glares and actions of un-welcomeness and am often intentionally overlooked and devalued based on the color of my skin. This happens more times than I can count, right here in WNY and it's exhausting. I have to pray and mentally prepare before going into every space because you never know how contentious the smallest encounter might become, knowing that my skin color is often seen/perceived as a weapon."
- Dr. Callie Johnson, who says she’s felt discriminated against in the past week

"I was pregnant with my first born son. My mother kicked me out of the house and I was staying with a friend. I applied for public assistance because I needed medical insurance. The caseworker kept denying my application, yet I'm watching able body black men get approved."
- A Black woman, between 55 and 64 years of age, who says she was last discriminated against within the past week.

Brenda McDuffie
University at Buffalo photo
Brenda McDuffie

"I was next in line in a store and the staff, went right past me to the next person while she never asked me if I was next or being helped."
-Brenda McDuffie, former Executive Director, Buffalo Urban League, who says she was most recently discriminated against in the same week she filled out the survey

"I get passed over even though my work is stellar"
-An approx. 60 year old Black female educator in Buffalo, who says she’s felt discrimination most recently, on the day before she filled out the survey.  

"I was asked a question today to speak on how today's impact of racism is different from yesterday's. This happened in a room full of non-people of color. I wanted to YELL It's the SAME TRAUMA NOTHING HAS CHANGED!!!!!!"
- Dina Thompson Executive Director -Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition. Discriminated against most reently on the same day she completed the survey.

University At Buffalo
Prof. Henry Louis Taylor

"My supervisor accused me of being angry and wondered why other people were afraid of me."
- Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., Professor and Director of UB Center for Urban Studies, who said he was most recently discriminated against on the day he took the survey.

"Being followed in a store"
-James Morrell,  Deputy Director of Public Transit, who says he feels discriminated against on average every few months

"When I was most qualified but was denied a chance for career advancement. This was a long time ago. In 1978."
-Betty Jean Grant, former elected official and current community activist, who says she feels discriminated against as often as every six months.

"Systemic racism is not obvious. This is why it stays in place. All you have to do is try to do ANYTHING in Kenmore or LoveJoy, cross Main Street from East Side to North Buffalo, count the Black construction workers building downtown, low number of Black Teachers, no Tim Horton's on the East Side, college walls of fame and jobs peppered with one black person every 10 years, I represented in college professional jobs, minority business owners get money to only reface properties with no light-up signage, no equitable capital investment like the Elmwood, Hertel, and Main Street business districts … endless"
- An approx.. 50 year old African American, who said they had been last discriminated against on the day they filled out the survey.

"Even though I am an older woman with gray hair. I was still targeted recently by a watchful sales associate in a big box chain department store. She didn't ask me if I needed help. She simply made herself busy straightening shoe boxes near me. I turned to her and greeted her with a hello. I think I startled her by forcing her to engage with me."
- An older Black woman and Buffalo resident, who said she had been discriminated against most recently in the past six months.

"We participated in a bid for the City of Buffalo. On bid day we were the lowest & only bidder but was told we were over budget, and it would be rebidded. They turned around and just gave it to another company."
-Richard A. Cummings, Black Chamber of Commerce of Western New York , Vice President ARC &COMM., Inc.

LaVonne Ansari, Exec. Dir. Community Health Center of Buffalo
Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable
LaVonne Ansari, Exec. Dir. Community Health Center of Buffalo

"The feeling of discrimination is part of my daily life based on systematic obstacles. In my daily advocating for patients of color in health care."
-LaVonne Ansari, Ph.D., Executive Director , Community Health Center of Buffalo, last discriminated against the day before she filled out the survey

"When I went to the hospital and the nurse (treated) the white clients with respect and didn’t myself."
-Ina Ferguson, President, Hamlin Park Taxpayers Association, discriminated against most recently in the past several months.

"Someone asked me about my opinion about sports teams using words that refer to Native people, but when I explained my perspective, the person reacted as if I was making things up and that my opinion didn't matter ."
-A Native American who says they have felt discrimination most recently on the day before they filled out the survey.

"My organization has been working on a food access project and has had so much stalling and push back from the Office of Strategic Planning. This project is a job creator, a food access, food equity and food justice project. We have the support of many community based organizations, the University of Buffalo and several others. We are not asking for a handout or a discount we just want to purchase land to expand our urban farm and build a Holistic wellness center that will compliment clinical services in a neighborhood that has not seen any economic investment. We are a 100% black and veteran lead organization. I just wish we could have more cooperation from local government because food access, food insecurity and accessibility is a serious problem in our city. This contributes to our deplorable health outcomes. I do leave room for the fact that race is not a factor in the challenges I have faced however I cannot rule it out."
- Allison DeHonney CEO Buffalo Go Green Inc./Urban Fruits & Veggies LLC. Discriminated against most recently in the past several months.

"I have been attempting to return to fulltime work. Until I removed all racial indicators from my resume, I didn't get a single interview"
-Melvin Bankhead III, President, Buffalo Association of Black Journalists, who says he has felt discrimination within the past week of filling out the survey.

Rather than provide a specific instance, Jamil Crews said there have been “Too many to count. But I’ve been laying low since the pandemic."

Alexander Burgos
Rodriguez Construction Group
Alexander Burgos

"Construction is dominated by the 'old boys club.' The finished product or service that we need to put out there has to be twice as good as the white man whose family has been in the business for generations, and it has to be cheaper, for us to compete. The discrimination is a subtle, but everyday facet of professional workforce locally, it's the skeptical look on the customer or procurement officer's face when they read your name aloud as the low bidder on project. "
-Alexander E. Burgos, Project Manager, who says he feels discriminated against several times each year

"Generally dealing with systems that do not prioritize the needs of Black people."
- Pastor George Nicholas, Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church and The Buffalo Center for Health Equity- who says he feels discrimination average "a few times a year"

"Someone told me that “racism is dead” and as a black man, I’ve never had to go through anything. The purpose of the discussion was everything going on about Russia v Ukraine. Race was completely unnecessary to bring up."
-Daniel Carter, who says he has felt discrimination within the past week of filling out the survey.

A sampling of comments from the WBFO survey:

Lack of Economic Opportunity:
"The inability to create wealth
"Lack of Employment/Jobs
"Economic insecurity
"Economic disparity
"Opportunities for well-paid work positions, especially in growing firms, and social access to hiring decision makers.
"Poor access to capital due past systemic inequities. Lack of minority input in city planning projects.
Inability to tap into "contracting opportunities in government for example Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority
"All the issues of Inequality are interrelated ; but economic inequity is connected to education, health , housing…"

Inequality in Education:
"High School students are allowed to perform poorly and promoted anyways and in doing so we are encouraging mediocrity"

Lack of Suitable, Available Housing:
"Most Black and people of color live in substandard housing

Criminal Justice Issues: "Systematic racism within the legal system from arrests, court, attorneys, juries... "

Societal Factors, Lack of Empathy & Public Education:
"The prevalence of modern day segregation
"The lack of inclusion of all peoples in recent efforts for racial justice. There is much more to be done while we also include Native Americans, Hispanic/Latino/a/x, and Asian & Pacific Islanders, as well as Black & African-Americans
"Not being directly involved in talks about inequity
"Racial discrimination / Prejudice. It has affected the quality of life across the human needs & rights in economic stability, housing, healthcare, education, legal/law system etc.
"Racial segregation
"Economic equity.

NOTES ON METHODOLOGY: Our racial equity initiative sent online surveys to over 150 community leaders in late February and early March. Questions asked how recently the person had felt discriminated against and to provide a brief comment describing that. Those comments are the snapshots above.

They were also asked:

  • "What is the number one racial equity challenge that Buffalo faces in 2022?"
  • "Who is best equipped to make a difference on this?"
  • "Suggest a solution that they should pursue."

Eighty percent of our respondents identified as African-American or Black, approx 12 percent as Hispanic or Latino , approx. 6 percent as native American and approx. 3 percent as other. Approx. 36 percent of our respondents were 55 to 64 years old. Twenty six percent said they were over 65, 20 percent was between 45 and 54, 15 percent was between 35 and 44, and 6 percent was 25-34.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
Dave Debo's journalism career runs the gamut from public radio to commercial radio, from digital projects to newspapers. With over 30 years of experience, he's produced national television news programs and has worked as both a daily and weekly print journalist and web editor.
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