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January 4th, 2012

Racism, bullying and basketball in Buffalo, NY



Chris Stevenson

There are some things you should know about my city, Buffalo, NY. Buffalo doesn’t really like being considered racist, but it likes the fringe benefits. Most Blacks in Buffalo don’t like acknowledging or fighting racism, they just somehow want it to go away. You might find them trying to pray it away. Two sides praying to God, but God only answering one of them. Buffalo Blacks are left holding the Bible; the most we get is that it makes national news. This was once again the case recently - this time the culprits are some white female students of a girl’s high school basketball team. Once again, Buffalo makes the national news over something negative, be it racism or bullying. This story has elements of both, a majority white girls basketball team representing a majority white school in a mostly-white suburb outside of Buffalo called Kenmore.

You see, these girls, they have this ritual. They hold hands after practice or before a game, and then they scream in unison "1-2-3 Nigger!" You can’t make this stuff up.

I guess they’ve been known to do this for several years now. This year things are just a little bit different (shh... there’s a black girl on the squad). Well, when the little sister - sophomore Tyra Batts - learned of this, she was of course offended. She asked them to stop using this cadence. This is now known through the sheer steel will of eleven or twelve white teenage girls who no doubt had their replies and justifications mapped out according to the times. First came the conservative-born disclaimer "we’re not racists," and then "it’s just a word." Arguments ensued with even more racial epithets being hurled at Batts, until it reached the point where she gave one or two of her teammates what they had so sorely been missing at home: a nice whuppin’.

I take it they mistook her for Herman Cain or that Black college student Byron Thomas - who was displaying and defending the Confederate Flag - and thought she would just find some twisted rationale to justify this as "freedom of expression." No such luck. Ms. Batts refused to play ball with these poor, diluted narcissists-in-training. Give her a trophy, I say.

As expected in these situations, the school tried to punish Batts alone until she made some noise about it. Batts got a 5-day suspension, while the name-calling, non-fighting white girls (you ever get the feeling the entertainment industry is preventing youths from knowing and acting on their limitations?) on the team received only 2-day suspensions. It’s a proven fact; once the N-word gets good to a white girl, she can’t let go.

Bullying to the breaking point isn’t new to Buffalo. The last two known incidents come by way of nearby Williamsville North High School and ended much more tragically. That school used to send its students to the local TV quiz show "It’s Academic" - now they can send them to "It’s Suicide."

Just a few short months ago they lost a 14-year-old student named Jamie Rodemeyer to mostly-persistent online and social network gay-bashing. In February of 2010, junior Joe Chearmonte committed suicide. What this era has produced in the case of Williamsville North is a group of bullies who would be too cowardly to confront you in person, so they simply found a safe outlet and safety in numbers.

According to the BBC Online, half the victims of gay-bashing attempt suicide, and "4-in-10 actually harm themselves at least once. Almost a third harm themselves on more than one occasion, 17% display symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder later in life."

Now, in my personal opinion, if you are devastated by hearing "Jamie is stupid, gay, fat, and ugly," then you haven’t gone through anything. In fact, "bullying" seems to be a pretty loose classification these days. What many of us are raising is a generation of divas, both male and female.

Try growing up in my era, around Eagle or Oneida Streets downtown near the projects. Now you’ll meet some bullies (sorry, cyber-bullies don’t count). Try getting a gun pointed at your skull by a couple of guys from a gang called the Pythons as they interrupt your pickup game at JFK Park. Try being chased by several Pythons until you cross over into the territory of another storied street-gang called the Manhattan Lovers. Try getting jumped in front of your own house by just some average clucks on the block. How does your laughable milksops of Kenmore East or Williamsville North stack up?

And you want to commit suicide? I know I don’t have to make Tyra Batts understand this, but all of you suburban social network assassins out there would be standing on a window-ledge next to Tyra’s stubborn teammates were you made to grow up in East Buffalo during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Worse yet, try being black and growing up in the old south.

The only thing these particular young white offenders of today have convinced me of is what a weak continence they have. 14 to 17-year-old school kids are no more racial experts than they are gay barometers. Most of them find themselves wrestling with both their hormones and whatever behavioral, sexual, and societal standards pop culture and Reality TV (which is now intentionally training young women to act difficult, confrontational, and slow to listen) is currently pushing on them.

Tyra’s teammates would probably insist that they are not racists, in spite of the obvious use of the N-word (understand, they didn’t even bother to make it into a catchy rhyme). They can convince themselves that it’s some form of camaraderie or tradition amongst themselves. They can play the role of naive white girls and claim to not have a basic understanding of the word. The concept of "if I offend you, then I don’t get to say ‘it’s not offensive,’" seems lost on them.

It’s not even the suburban white kids that are the real trouble spot here. It’s the response of the so-called adults - school staff and parents - that leave me wondering where their heads are at.

With Kenmore East High School, both the girls basketball coach and Tonawanda Superintendent are more or less feigning ignorance to Tyra’s issue. The coach says she "heard the girls make the occasional comment that Ms. Batts was black, but had no idea about the chant." Having a school employee be that colorblind would be refreshing, were it really true. The superintendant also claims that he was unaware of it.

This belies the history of the town of Kenmore in itself. The book "Hooded Knights on the Niagara: The Ku Klux Klan in Buffalo New York," by author Shawn Lay, dates the KKK in Kenmore all the way back to 1920, and flatly states that in July of 1924 the Klan’s official files showed membership up to 1,910 individuals. Of these people 1,747 lived in Buffalo, and 33 lived in Kenmore. Even though Kenmore didn’t officially have a branch, they had more members than the rest of the suburbs, which dispersed 99 throughout the rest of the outlying towns.

Now, I’m not saying the girls on the basketball team or any of the teachers or employees of Kenmore East are members of the KKK. I’m saying that with such a long history of racism, some feelings can be, and evidently have been, normalized.

4 / 5 (10 Votes)

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Reader Response
  • Vydailya
  • April 3rd, 2012 Such events like this happen all over the world. It is quite depressing and it causes us to think about our own children. Bullying and racism in schools has become a daily routine. The thought that not all schools are trying their best to protect their students from this is unbelievable. This tragedy could have been stopped if the adults and peers of this school would actually pay attention enough to realize that this was a problem brought upon them and they chose to ignore it. I mean, i would think they would pay attention by then because thay had delt with that same problem a few months before. I feel that the school should have been more focused on their students safety and made sure that bullying and racism was not a problem.

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