How else to explain the recent ?Women of Influence? supplement published by Business First?
In paying tribute to 25 female entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders and ?community supporters,? the paper and its sponsors apparently couldn?t find a single black or Hispanic worth citing. The only minority appears to be a health care executive born in India.
Granted, it?s tricky judging by photos. But it seems that someone at the weekly would have looked at the two-page spread of winners and said, ?What?s wrong with this picture??
Apparently, no one did – which says a lot about the culture of Western New York?s business community.
But it also says something that others are starting to notice. Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore called the snub ?insulting and degrading? to women of color in a letter to the publication canceling the union?s subscription.
I?m glad he noticed. I just hope that none of those noticing were visitors thinking of opening a business here, only to be repelled by visible evidence of what kind of backwater this must be.
Business First Editor Jeff Wright explained the omission by noting that the paper accepts nominations for the awards from readers.
He wondered why Rumore didn?t nominate someone.
?We would love to get some teachers, especially in the city, and they?ve never nominated anyone,? he said, leaving him ?stunned? to get Rumore?s letter.
Last year?s issue was slightly better, including one African-American, as well as a native of Korea and a native of Iran.
?It?s not a scientific process, by any means, but we try to be inclusive,? Wright said, noting that community people help screen for its ?40 Under 40? awards, while ?Women of Influence? uses more of an ?in-house? process.
If these are the results, it?s time to change that process.
But this also is symptomatic of something bigger. The fact that the paper could do this and not catch serious blowback means it?s in sync with the culture of the local business community. In a marketplace that?s becoming increasingly diverse, that culture is cancerous for Western New York.
?You?ll never be a significant, global, ?cool? city if you don?t make it comfortable for people of color to move to your city,? said Jennifer J. Parker, president of the Black Capital Network, a local consulting company. ?If you don?t do that, Buffalo will not grow.?
But Parker doesn?t blame just Business First. She?s ?continually shocked? by black entrepreneurs who don?t keep abreast of what?s going on in Buffalo. That failure not only shuts them out of business opportunities, it allows recognition such as ?Women of Influence? to slide by without their input.
?If you?re in business, there are certain things you need to read,? Parker said.
Unfortunately, the shared blame leaves us where we always end up: insulated whites in their own echo chamber; isolated blacks and Hispanics never injecting themselves into the process.
It would be comforting to think that this will prompt the paper and business community to do more outreach, and minority entrepreneurs to get more engaged, for the good of both.
But this is Western New York, where teachable moments come with an asterisk: Nobody learns.