After Buffalo, the Deafening Silence of White People

The horrific massacre made it clear Black people need to take care of ourselves, and white folk need to rise up against racism.

 

My dream has been shattered.

I was born and raised in Rochester, New York, some 55 miles east of Buffalo. As a native “Upstater,” my family would go on trips to Buffalo to shop and then spend some time in Niagara Falls looking at the Falls. Then, we would come back to Buffalo to have dinner at Gigi’s Restaurant on East Ferry Street in Buffalo.

As an adult, I found myself taking the same trips to Buffalo to shop with my wife and our children. We would visit family and friends, go to the Buffalo Zoo, head over to Niagara Falls, and cross over to the Canadian side to spend money and shop. But we would always come back to Buffalo to have dinner at Gigi’s Restaurant. On our way back to Rochester, we have often stopped at the Tops Supermarket on Jefferson Avenue to pick up snacks for our trip back to Rochester.

I have family there. I have friends there. I have been in that Tops Supermarket. I am angry. I am frustrated. 

I grieve for the lives lost on Saturday, May 14, 2022. But most of all, I’m tired. 

As a young Black boy, I held great promise in this nation. I believed in Dr. King’s dream that I could live in this nation where I would not be judged by the color of my skin but by the content of my character. 

While I have seen change in this nation over my lifetime, the “national sin” — or what Jim Wallis calls “America’s Original Sin” of being judged for the color of my skin — continues to persist and manifest in ways that I never thought would happen. 

I’m tired of white people who develop these weapons of racial terrorism, such as the “great replacement theory” and “critical race theory.”  

Black people in the United States have historically dealt with slavery, lynchings, false arrests, and police brutality at the hands of white people. Now, President Biden called the killing of 10 Black people in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, “terrorism.”

As a Black man, how can I not be angry, frustrated, grieving, mistrusting, suspicious, sad, and tired? How do we even try to talk about Black people going about the everyday task of going to a supermarket and being murdered — never coming home to their families, friends, and loved ones? 

I can’t even begin to understand the phone calls and text messages that were made in the aftermath of the massacre. How do we wrap our heads around someone driving 300 miles from a predominantly white neighborhood to a predominantly Black neighborhood to commit these killings? What are Black people supposed to say to their children and grandchildren — that this nation is a place where you will not be judged by the color of your skin, but by the content of your character?

I’m tired. I’m tired of white people who develop these weapons of racial terrorism, such as the “great replacement theory” and “critical race theory.” I’m tired of “don’t say gay” laws and the potential rollback of Roe v. Wade

I’m tired of what is so obvious in this nation: America is a country of “national sin” where you are judged by the color of your skin, the neighborhood you live in, the car you drive, and who you love.

This week, I have come to the full recognition that I have what diversity and inclusion expert Mary-Frances Winters calls “Black Fatigue.” 

The answer is in the deafening silence of white people who are afraid of white people who espouse white power and white privilege.

Winters describes black fatigue as “the day-to-day small acts of aggression, or small acts of disrespect” that a Black person endures — the endless need to prove your worth, and the constant exposure to news media reporting about injustice and violence being inflicted on people who look like you. 

Winters says that Black people need to take care of themselves. How do I take care of myself? How do I trust people who don’t look like me? How do I trust white colleagues who look like the very perpetrators of this violence?

The answer is in the deafening silence of white people who say nothing. The answer is in the deafening silence of white people who are afraid of white people who espouse white power and white privilege. The answer is in the deafening silence of white people who are afraid of white people who commit these murderous acts of racial terrorism against human beings going to the supermarket on a sunny Saturday morning in Buffalo, New York.

I’ve discovered that the answer is in white people who must speak up against white people who are the perpetrators of injustice, racism, and bigotry. White people must rise up against the national sin that continues to manifest itself. The dream that Dr. King talked about in 1963 is a nightmare for the 10 Black people gunned down on Saturday, May 14, 2022. 

So the question becomes: Will white people stop the deafening silence and help me dream again?

Robert Walker-Smith is originally from Rochester, New York, and lives outside Raleigh, North Carolina. He serves as Digital Revenue Director for the Knight x LMA BloomLab at the Local Media Association.

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