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Maybe this is why no one refers to Western New York as the “suburbs of good neighbors.”

The vitriol sparked by the mere thought of Buffalo students trekking to the suburbs for a better education makes past debates about “regionalism” or extending Metro Rail beyond the city seem models of civility by comparison.

The back-of-the-napkin proposal to meet a state mandate by having students in failing city schools transfer to suburban classrooms – sketchy as it is – was enough to rip the cover off the deep-seated biases otherwise politely concealed in “post-racial” America.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, and as we welcome the nation’s first black president back to town today, it’s clear Buffalo Niagara is nowhere near a time when color doesn’t matter or individuals are judged “by the content of their character.”

Instead, the online responses to Buffalo News articles about the transfer plan – misspellings and all – take us back 50 years:

“I’ll be damed if buffalo kids are going to come to our schools. I will go door to door getting signatures to keep buffalo kids out of or district. Or I’ll get parents to keep their kids out of school. We don’t need this rift raft in our schools.”

So much for judging kids by the content of their character. These, after all, would be students whose parents are engaged enough to apply for the transfers. These would be the “good blacks” racists who don’t recognize their racism normally claim to embrace.

“I agree 500% and will also go door to door. don’t buffalo students already get a free college ed. my family works hard to pay very high school and property taxes in West Seneca. NO WAY!!! This is an ATTACK on suburban schools.”

No, airplanes flying into towers constitute an “attack.” Parents wanting a better education for their kids constitutes the American way.

“Trayvon is coming to a school near you.”

That one speaks for itself.

Collectively, such comments don’t say much that’s encouraging about modern-day Western New York. No doubt, the minority of black teens who have never learned to behave in public contribute to the bigotry behind such caustic drivel. But at least they have ignorance as an excuse.

What’s the excuse of those who benefited from a good education and thus should know better, but stereotype anyway? To the degree any of them have the power to hire, make loans or issue mortgages, their biases contribute to the very socioeconomic disparities they blame blacks for creating.

More encouraging are commenters like the one who pointed out that “the wall of segregation is made of socioeconomic factors” and noted presciently that changing demographics mean “the problems in Buffalo are in fact everyone’s problems after all.” It’s a 1990s message that, unlike in other places, never gained traction here.

So here we are, in 2013 with suburban superintendents politely dismissing the prospect of accepting city students while a disturbing number of their constituents dispense with any niceties to express the same sentiments. In the process, we learn a lot about ourselves as a region.

City of Good Neighbors?

Only if, like the sad but certain Robert Frost character, we think “good fences make good neighbors.”

email: rwatson@buffnews.com