The Moot Senior Center at 292 High Street – in the shadow of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus – will host a discussion on Wednesday, October 19, 2016, from 5:30 to 7:00 PM, entitled “Gentrification: A Social Justice Issue,” led by Prof. Stacey Sutton of the University of Illinois, Chicago’s College of Urban Planning & Public Affairs. As the event’s flyer, Gentrification-a-social-justice-issue, warmly requests: “Come to listen and to participate; bring your observations, questions, and thoughts regarding urban redevelopment; participate in positive change for Buffalo’s East Side and especially the Fruit Belt neighborhood.”
[Note: This blog has discussed gentrification-related issues a number of times, including, for example, here, here, and here.]
Regarding the all-too-frequent “teachable moments” we find ourselves subjected to as residents of the Greater Buffalo, New York metropolitan area, what can be said. As Buffalo News columnist Rod Watson wrote in a November 29, 2012 column, “[T]his is the region that backed the gubernatorial candidate who forwarded racist emails about the president and first lady.” [And, not surprisingly, that unsuccessful candidate for NY’s governorship is now a staunch backer and apologist for an equally unsavory Republican Presidential candidate.] Mr. Watson’s column, entitled “confronting-a-sign-maker-on-harsh-turf,” was a response to a hand-made sign exclaiming “VOTERS RENIGED” displayed in the front yard of a Town of Aurora retiree who was upset with the re-election of Barack Obama as our nation’s President.
Not long after Rod Watson’s column (which had been preceded by an article – “a sign-of-free-speech-or-of-racism?” – by Buffalo News reporter T.J. Pignataro), the conspicuously misspelled “Reniged” was replaced by “Reneged” – although the reverse side of the sign continued to shout: STILL NO PRESIDENT.
A little unflattering publicity, apparently, can bring about some improvement. [At the time, hoping that would be the case, I used the Town of Aurora lawn sign incident as the impetus to write a letter-to-the-editor of the East Aurora Advertiser imploring Village of East Aurora residents (my neighbors, then) not to let “teachable moments” slip away. My missive focused on an unpleasant incident that many men, women and children had observed the previous summer during a soccer game between my twelve-year-old son’s East Aurora team and a team from a Yemini neighborhood in Lackawanna.] [See advertiser-re-renige-sign-teachable-moment-12-03-12.]
Buffalo’s latest unsavory expression of racial disharmony occurred this past week a mile or two down Seneca Street from my current South Buffalo home. In an October 14th report under the eye-catching headline, “Trump supporter defends noose on his Seneca-Babcock lawn,” Western New Yorkers learned of an angry and unhappy man who erected a noose and gallows in his front yard in front of a Trump campaign sign and under a “#TRUMP MAFIA” banner.
A number of local politicians characterized the display as “clearly a racist symbol meant to invoke painful memories of lynching that have scarred the country for centuries.” In response to the criticism, the disgruntled resident insisted to the Buffalo News reporter that the noose display was not meant as a statement of racism, and that he was not a racist. Nonetheless, Buffalo Common Council Member Ulysses O. Wingo, Sr., who represents the predominantly African-American Masten District, gave the following assessment: “He clearly is sending a message that he doesn’t value black lives. Who else got hung with nooses in America? He is clearly not valuing black lives.”
Fortunately, the noose has been taken down. The avid Trump supporter explained to the Buffalo news that he “came to realize during a Bible class on Sunday afternoon the noose’s historical association with the lynching of African-Americans.” Whether motivated by Bible-class enlightenment, or the harsh media spotlight, removal of an expression of speech that brings such pain to neighbors and the broader community is a positive step.
Sadly, the 2012 lawn sign in East Aurora, and the controversial Seneca-Babcock noose and gallows, are far from the only displays of racial animosity in “The City of Good Neighbors.” A house at the corner of Indian Church Road and Parkview Avenue – kitty-corner from the BEREA Church of God in Christ – has displayed a Confederate flag from its front porch most every day for the 15 months that I have lived in the neighborhood. Perhaps in solidarity with the disgruntled Seneca-Babcock resident, the display at the Indian Church Road home was ratcheted up a notch this past week, waving not one, but two Confederate flags – an official one, and a battlefield flag. [There’s a useful history and description of the various Confederate flags at Wikipedia.]
It is time for a break from these dreadful “teachable moments.” I’m looking forward to Prof. Stacey Sutton’s learnable 90-minute discussion Wednesday evening at the Moot Senior Center.
With All Due Respect,
P.S. The flag display at the northwest corner of Indian Church Rd. and Parkview Ave. in South Buffalo changed on or about October 19th from two versions of the Confederate flag to the following dual symbols of racial intolerance: trump-confederate-flags