The confluence of two stories persistently in the news this past week – the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA and President Trump’s responses to the deadly violence, and State Education Commissioner Elia’s Aug. 17, 2017 decision to remove Carl Paladino from the Buffalo school board, and conjecture on the “real” reason for Paladino’s removal and the likelihood of success of an appeal from that ruling – begs me to ask: How should we, as Buffalonians, address signs of bigotry and hatred in our own neighborhoods and communities?
One need not journey to a former confederate state to be confronted by forceful symbols of the white supremacist movement.
Travelers on Indian Church Road, a block from Seneca Street in South Buffalo – whether on foot or bicycle or in a car – are reminded daily of that fact:
The immediate “target” of this flag-waving expression of free speech are – it appears – the non-white attendees of the church diagonally across the street from this otherwise well-kept South Buffalo residence:
There is no doubting the aggressive intent of the display of two large and one small confederate battle flags and a small “don’t tread on me” flag. A sign placed in the midst of waving flags proclaims to anyone who approaches the house: “WARNING – IF YOU CAN READ THIS, YOU ARE IN RANGE.” Here is an (admittedly, poor-quality) image of the sign:
There is also little doubt that the sentiments reflected in the display at the corner of Indian Church Road and Parkview Avenue reside in other hearts and minds in Western New York. A March 2016 article – based on racist language used on Twitter – ranked Buffalo, NY among the ten most racist cities in America. [Also see, “The most racist places in America, according to Google”, as well as an earlier post at this site.]
It was reassuring to learn that three elected officials who represent South Buffalo (where I have lived the past two years) – South District Common Council Member Chris Scanlon, Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke, and State Senator Tim Kennedy – participated in a prayer vigil on Wednesday August 16th in Durham Memorial AME Zion Church on Buffalo’s East Side. According to Buffalo News reporter Harold McNeil, speakers in attendance vowed that the hatred and bigotry that descended on Charlottesville on August 12th “will not be allowed to happen here.”
I sent an email to Messrs. Scanlon, Kennedy and Burke on August 17th, forwarding photos of the confederate flag display on Indian Church Road. So far, Pat Burke has responded, and he has expressed his interest in going to speak with the owner of the flag display. I also had a constructive phone conversation this afternoon with a member of Tim Kennedy’s staff.
It is not clear to me what we can and should be doing in Buffalo when we experience symbolic expressions of racial animosity and resentment. I fully acknowledge the “right” of Americans to display whatever flags they wish. But, I also recognize that we – citizens and our elected officials – must find ways to reach out to our neighbors and family members to begin and sustain meaningful dialog and discussions to constructively address the learned hatred and biases that permeate all-too-much of our local and national psyche.
In the words of Nelson Mandela:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
With All Due Respect,
P.S. I’m apparently not the only Western New Yorker to see a connection between the Charlottesville-spurred discussions concerning symbols of the Confederacy, and the toppling of Mr. Paladino from his high horse. See the whimsical cartoon drawn by the uber-talented Adam Zyglis – titled “Finally Removed” – posted at the Buffalo News website on August 17, 2017: http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/17/adam-zyglis-finally-removed/.