But the fact that he had to travel more than 200 miles from his almost all-white hometown to find a black community concentrated enough to kill en masse proves that blacks don’t “replace” whites; in fact, black Americans in Buffalo are still struggling to escape deliberate divestment and segregation.
Buffalo is among the most segregated black communities in America — a legacy of the peculiar institution of black subordination once called the ghetto, until that name became pejorative. According to The New York Times, the terrorist shooter chose Tops Friendly Market as the best location for a kill after researching mostly black zip codes. The legacy of segregation facilitated his selection process. In a historically demarcated community that was still suffering from divestment, this one supermarket on the black side of town had become a valuable community gathering space in what had previously been a food wasteland.
In his manifesto, the terrorist shooter hinted that the mere presence of black people posed a threat to his future and that of other white people. And he invented that each black “substitute” cost white taxpayers an average of $700,000 in government largesse.
But Buffalo’s history of segregation shows that instead of blacks replacing whites and taking up too many resources, the truth is the opposite – that many descendants were isolated from the rest of society and systematically deprived of access to resources and opportunities enjoyed by whites.
According to a brief history of Buffalo’s segregation published in 2018 by the Partnership for Public Good, approximately 85% of Buffalo’s black residents live east of Main Street, a major north-south thoroughfare that divides the city. The city’s white residents mostly live west of Main Street. How did this brutal segregation come about? Government and private actors built it with great anti-black intent.
In every American city where large numbers of large migrants have landed, the main response has been to contain them in their own neighborhoods and then cut off those neighborhoods from the public and private investments that were raining down on white neighborhoods. Buffalo was no exception. Black residents of the East Side have been subjected to the same political choices that have caused cumulative economic and social trauma in black neighborhoods across the country: covenants, redlining, segregated public housing, displacement by urban redevelopment and freeways interstate, and rampant divestment.
African-American Southerners came to Buffalo in droves during World War I to work in steel mills producing war materials. Black migrants encountered resistance and sometimes violence when they attempted to settle in white working-class neighborhoods. Estate agents and private landlords began inserting racial covenants into deeds, requiring that properties in white areas never be sold to non-whites.
Segregation into identifiable black space is the enduring legacy of another white supremacist ideology, the idea that black people were unworthy of living near or among white people, that they posed a threat to property values of whites and for white racial purity. The federal government accelerated both the ideology and its physical manifestations when it insisted on classifying neighborhoods in all urban areas of the country in the 1930s. Virtually all black neighborhoods, even the relatively prosperous Hamlin Park in Buffalo , were marked with the lowest grade – D – and coded red, explicitly considered “dangerous”. Immediately, black people were deprived of one of the most important federal wealth-creation subsidies – the federally insured 30-year mortgage – and a residential caste system was born.
Deprived of credit to invest in their homes and neighborhoods marked as unworthy, Black homes and Blackness itself were devalued. Demarcated neighborhoods, even vital ones, began to decline, and the government made matters worse by underfunding basic services like roads, sewers and schools in black areas.
In the more valued white areas, people lived in a well-resourced land of opportunity where prosperity was common. At the other extreme, many descendants of the Great Migrants were relegated to very poor black environments, with systemic disadvantages that required superhuman efforts to overcome, including segregated and unequal schools and lack of public transport to employment centers.
After the redlining, the government piled on, creating even more extreme segregation. The Buffalo Housing Authority intentionally built all-black public housing on the East Side, concentrating poverty and blackness and further entrenching white avoidance of black people as potential neighbors. Blockbusting real estate agents encouraged white panic selling and profited by charging black buyers more than whites were paying for housing.
Whites who wished to escape the encroaching darkness could take advantage of federal grants like the GI Bill and move to all-white suburbs; many white Buffalo residents fled to new strongholds of whiteness in Erie County made possible by exclusionary zoning. Zoning codes that only allowed single-family homes on large lots and no apartments, not even market-priced rental units and certainly not subsidized housing, coupled with discrimination against black buyers, perfected a city-suburb divide in the Buffalo-Niagara metro area in which opportunity and space have been racialized. Even now, according to the Partnership for Public Good report, only 10% of black residents live in above-average opportunity areas in the region, compared to more than 60% of white residents.
In the city of Buffalo, the “Negro Removal” and the construction of freeways added to the architecture of segregation. For example, approximately 1,600 black families were displaced by a large-scale “urban renewal” project known as the Ellicott Redevelopment Project and relocated to majority-black neighborhoods. Across the country, many descendants who have been relocated from strategic inner-city neighborhoods under the banner of urban renewal have been relocated to separate public housing. In Buffalo, when the Kensington Freeway was built, it tore through black neighborhoods on the east side, displacing descendants and destroying black-owned homes and businesses to create easy access to the city for suburban commuters and a physical barrier that reinforced the separation from the west. Side.
The legacy of segregation and hoarding of opportunity, overinvestment and exclusion in affluent white spaces and disinvestment and demarcation of black neighborhoods, continues to this day. For the past few decades, the East Side has been hemmed in by banks and lenders, refusing traditional mortgages. But descendants there, like segregated descendants everywhere, were targeted for predatory loan sharking that robbed black homeowners of the home equity and wealth they had, exploding ownership gaps and wealth between blacks and whites. Modern East Side descendants have also endured very poor schools, disrespectful and excessive policing, health disparities, exposure to industrial pollutants, and lack of access to healthy food.
For decades, East Buffalo didn’t even have its own supermarket, but after a long campaign, the East Side descendants managed to get the Tops Friendly Market.
The fact that a young white terrorist chose the East Side of Buffalo and this Tops grocery store to assuage his anger at a bogus “great replacement” theory demonstrates the opposite of what he believed. In Buffalo and most American cities, with the help and encouragement of the federal government, it was black people who were displaced, surrounded and forced into underinvestment and segregation.
Which, tragically, is why so many people were in the same supermarket, at the same time, innocently buying food for themselves and their families when he went looking for black people to kill.