By Peter Ciotta
For the first time in my career, I am in the minority.
The statistical facts are, I’m a White male working with colleagues who are 95+ percent people of color including Black, Indigenous, Latino, Arab, Middle Eastern, Somalian, South Asian, Pacific Islander and multi-racial. In short, I work in a daily world of diversity that has both challenged pre-conceived notions, and that is rapidly creating new perspectives thanks to candid and sometimes very difficult conversations that are the norm for my organization.
Once such very difficult dialogue that has been ongoing in various forums from “All Staff” meetings, to zoom conversations with local pastors, to hallway discussions, has revolved around questions related to “what is now really needed in the aftermath of the Tops massacre?”
To fellow members of the Western New York “White majority”, the “answers” I’ve listened to – and now share as follows – are difficult to hear, but in the words of one Black male colleague “can no longer be ignored.”
First and foremost, we White people must no longer remain silent and instead openly acknowledge that racism is not only very real in America, but has also been deeply embedded in Buffalo, and Western New York. My Black colleagues want us to stop reacting to talk of racism as a personal insult, and instead see it as a reality hundreds of years in the making that they deal with every day, and that White people either ignore or knowing and unknowingly contribute to.
My colleagues want us to take the lead in the dialogue, in the learning, and ultimately, in the change of both systems and behaviors.
When White people see racism, whether it be witnessing a Black person being scrutinized for simply walking in a “White neighborhood”, or the horror that was the Tops hate murders perpetuated by an avowed white supremacist, we need to not only without hesitation acknowledge racism, but we now need to go much further. We need to speak out and even intervene.
We need to challenge beliefs and behaviors of family, friends, and co-workers, and become active participants in both continuing to teach and learn what racism looks like, why it is wrong, what is its impact, and how can things change for the better.
The day after the twin towers fell, the world was profoundly changed. The aftermath of pure evil slaying towers of our Black community must be the end of White silence, and the new beginning of profound and ongoing discourse about racism and its impacts in our families, neighborhoods, schools, companies, and institutions operating across all aspects of daily life in Buffalo and Western New York.
Peter Ciotta is Director of Communications for the Community Health center of Buffalo, Inc.