UB Center for Urban Studies: How decades of racism have shaped Buffalo

The racist mass shooting that took 10 lives on Saturday occurred in a community that has endured decades of racism, and that painful history cannot be ignored, says center director Henry-Louis Taylor Jr.

Release Date: May 19, 2022

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“The places that we live and the conditions under which we live suggest that Black lives do not matter, and it reflects another kind of violence against our people. ”
Henry-Louis Taylor Jr.,
director of the UB Center for Urban Studies
“The findings are chilling. What Taylor’s report clearly shows is these issues have not been addressed sufficiently, and no one’s been held accountable. ”
George F. Nicholas,
pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church and convener of the African American Health Equity Task Force, speaking in 2021 when the report was released

BUFFALO, N.Y — In 2021, the University at Buffalo Center for Urban Studies released a report on inequality in Buffalo over the past three decades.

Conducted with support from community and academic partners, the study focused on conditions impacting Black residents, and explained how discriminatory policymaking fueled decades of underdevelopment in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

The report, titled “The Harder We Run: The State of Black Buffalo in 1990 and the Present,” is receiving renewed attention following Saturday’s mass shooting at the Tops grocery store on Jefferson Avenue, where a gunman driven by white supremacist ideology killed 10 people and injured three others.

The racist attack targeted a Black community that has already endured decades of racism, and that painful history cannot be ignored, says Henry-Louis Taylor Jr., PhD, lead author of the 2021 study and director of the UB Center for Urban Studies. 

“To me, it’s important to remember this history because it helps us understand how we are to respond to this attack,” Taylor says. “I keep making the connection that this attack can’t be seen as an isolated event, that it’s very much associated with the anti-critical race theory movement, and to the efforts across the country to suppress Black voters, and to the conditions of life under which our people live. We are fighting to build a society based on racial, social and economic justice.”

“The places that we live and the conditions under which we live suggest that Black lives do not matter, and it reflects another kind of violence against our people,” he says. “This is a subtle, insidious and quiet violence that’s killing people.”

Portrait of Henry-Louis Taylor Jr. in his office, with bookshelves in the background.

Henry-Louis Taylor Jr., PhD, lead author of the 2021 study and director of the UB Center for Urban Studies. Credit: Douglas Levere

The 2021 study examined metrics like poverty rates, household income, homeownership, employment and education, and concluded that “an entire generation saw little if any improvements in their lives.”

On Sunday, The New York Times cited the report in a story interviewing residents about the discrimination they have experienced over many years, while noting the severe residential racial segregation in Buffalo.

This week, in a conversation with the Los Angeles Times, Taylor discussed how decisions by city and state officials drove the lack of progress: “The city’s actual policies hurt the African American community at the same time racism and other forces continued to isolate them from the best jobs and opportunities within the metropolitan region.”

At the time the report was released in 2021, George F. Nicholas, pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church and convener of the African American Health Equity Task Force, said, “The findings are chilling. What Taylor’s report clearly shows is these issues have not been addressed sufficiently, and no one’s been held accountable.”

Taylor is a professor of urban and regional planning in the UB School of Architecture and Planning, and an associate director of the UB Community Health Equity Research Institute. Co-authors on the 2021 study include Jin-Kyu Jung, PhD, associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, and Evan Dash, a master of urban planning student at UB.

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