A legacy of racism: How past practices affect segregation in Buffalo today

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–The Buffalo-Niagara region is the sixth-most segregated metropolitan area in the country.


“It might be due to the declining population in this region, it might be due to a very strong neighborhood pattern of where people live, but we haven’t done a good job. In fact, Black/white segregation is actually getting worse here rather than better recently, which is a very sobering statistic,” said Sam Magavern, Senior Policy Fellow at the Partnership for the Public Good.

He and his colleagues research these kinds of statistics.

“People of color in this region are unusually segregated, concentrated into the cities, Buffalo and Niagara Falls. The suburbs are unusually white. And if we look at income and wealth, similar patterns where poverty is more concentrated in the urban areas here than it is nationally, so that’s a real double whammy for People of Color here.”

People of color have two-thirds chance of living in a high poverty neighborhood, compared with white people, who have about a 14 percent chance, and Magavern says your zipcode can determine many things about your life.

“People are breathing in more air pollution, they’re more likely to suffer from asthma. The housing conditions are worse, there’s a lot more lead paint, so the kids are more likely to have lead poisoning,” Magavern said. “The overall pattern still holds very true that east of Main Street is where about 80 percent of African Americans live in the city still today.”

Historic racism is partly to blame.

Magavern says some of today’s segregation goes all the way back to something called redlining during the Great Depression when the federal government mortgage program to help people buy homes drew maps to show banks the areas considered riskiest…and where not to lend money.

“Those maps were explicitly racist. So neighborhoods of color were considered high risk, even if they had similar incomes to white neighborhoods, just based on race. So those types of policies…their legacies still haunt us today.”

Compounding the issue, Magavern says it’s expensive to be poor, with insurance companies charging people more based on where they live.

And when it comes to making a living, there are also major disparities in income, wealth, and wages.

Blacks and Hispanics, for example, only make about three-quarters of every dollar that whites make.

But as bleak as these statistics may seem, Magavern says meaningful progress IS happening in Buffalo.

“Celebrate the victories that have been won so far, but don’t rest on them because we need so much more at every level of government to remedy these terrible injustices.”

Erica Brecher is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.

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