Map of racial distribution on the Niagara Frontier, 2010, based on U.S. Census figures. Each dot is 25 people. Blue = Black; Red = White. I do not have a more current version of this map. Courtesy of Wikiwand.com.
In the days following the horrific May 14, 2022 massacre at the Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, lots of claims about the extent of racial segregation in Buffalo were shared via broadcast, print, and social media. We are the most segregated city in America, some said. We’re the 4th or 6th most segregated. We’re the 17th.
Which is it? Below are some segregation rankings, with screen captures and links back to each article. I decided to compile them because of encountering some very victim-blamey rhetoric that sounded like Buffalo wouldn’t have been targeted if it wasn’t so segregated. As if we deserved to be punished for our sins.
Please note that I am not a demographer or statistician. I am not qualified to judge the methodology behind these rankings or declare which one is correct. For one thing, some appear to be counting the population strictly within the city limits of Buffalo, while others count the population in the larger Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area. Some rely on outdated 2010 census figures; some rely on 2020 figures.
These rankings are presented in the hopes that someone who does have demographic and statistical expertise will be inspired to offer some knowledgeable analysis. And to urge everyone to cite their sources when making claims about segregation in Buffalo. Did I miss a ranking that differs from the ones below? Let me know.
Following these disparate findings, keep scrolling for some observations about what is missing from them.
Regardless of our ranking, let me confirm that racism and segregation are real in Buffalo. That is not in dispute. Here is a reading list for those who want to study Buffalo’s history of racism and segregation in greater depth.
In no particular order, some Buffalo segregation rankings
Based on 2020 census data, the Othering & Belonging Institute ranks Buffalo as 17th most segregated in the US.
In an article published in July 2019, USA Today ranked the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls metropolitan area as the 21st most segregated in the US.
World Population Review
The World Population Review published a list of the ten most segregated cities in the US in 2022. Buffalo does not appear on this list at all.
In 2020, counting up from the bottom (most segregated), City Observatory ranked Buffalo as 4th most segregated.
After the 2010 census figures were released, the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) ranked the Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area as 6th most segregated. Now that 2020 census figures are available, these 2010 rankings should be considered outdated.
American Communities Project
Brown University’s American Communities Project has census figures from 1980 to 2020 in tables that you can refine and sort. The column on the right has the 2020 ranking. Using their Black/white dissimilarity (segregation) index for the 200 largest cities in the US, their 2020 figures put Buffalo at 159th least segregated or 41st most segregated. Least dissimilar/least segregated cities are at the top of the list, so I counted up from the bottom (most dissimilar/most segregated). I am not sure that I filtered or sorted these figures correctly, so please let me know if I made an error.
In 2013, Business Insider ranked the Buffalo-Niagara metropolitan area as 5th most segregated. While this measurement includes Asian and Hispanic populations, now that 2020 census figures are available, these 2010 figures should be considered outdated.
Now Let’s Look at the Whitest Cities in the US
The shooter allegedly targeted Tops on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo after Googling the Blackest zip codes in New York State and finding 14208. I thought I would Google the whitest zip codes in New York State and the US. Here is what I found.
ZipAtlas has an undated ranking of whitest cities, towns, and villages in New York State, 16 of which are 100% white. Erie County has four towns in the top 100: Elma at #57; Marilla at #69; East Concord at #71; and East Aurora at #74. None of these towns appear on any Most Segregated lists.
World Population Review
World Population Review has a table of the ten whitest cities in the US, with Hialeah, FL topping the list.
Wikipedia has a List of United States cities by percentage of white population, which puts Laredo, TX at the top, followed by Hialeah, FL.
IndexMundi has an undated table with Laredo, TX at the top of whitest cities in the US, followed by Hialeah, FL.
Did Anyone Notice Anything Odd About These Two Sets of Figures?
When you search for Most Segregated Cities, you get a few sets of city names and rankings, as shown above.
When you search for Whitest Cities, you get an entirely different set of city names. Hialeah and Laredo are apparently the whitest cities in America but do not appear on any Most Segregated rankings.
Why is is that the American cities, towns, and suburbs who have most successfully blocked, repelled, or chased out people of color; Black, Hispanic, or Asian, do not appear on any Most Segregated lists? Apparently, all you need to do to satisfy demographers that your virtually all-white community is not segregated is to make sure that your tiny number of Black or brown households are in different census tracts or zip codes.
Conklin, NY, where the alleged shooter grew up, is 91.9% white, 7.6% Hispanic, and 0.6% Black. That’s less than one percent Black. It appears on zero Most Segregated lists.
Meanwhile, Buffalo, which is 47.1% white, 35.2% Black, and 12.2% Hispanic, is stigmatized as segregated. We are a city that, in spite of our failures and inequities, has a better record of striving for equality, justice, and multicultural democracy than any all-white community.
If we agree that place is a factor in this shooting, then segregation in Conklin, not Buffalo, is responsible. Conklin, not Buffalo, is where everyone should start their May 14 essays and examinations of racism and white supremacy. Our whitest cities and towns are long overdue for some moral scrutiny.