Column: The stories we will tell ourselves about the shooting in Buffalo

Three people kneeling in prayer outside a Tops supermarket
Praying at the scene of the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y.
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

The real estate agent told me she was born and raised in Texas. Knowledgeable and full of warmth, she embodied all the honey sweet southern charm country stars like Morgan Wallen sing about.

I went to San Antonio to explore the city and came upon a 112-year-old estate for sale. Though I wasn’t interested in buying the house, I was interested in its history.

Who had it built?

What did the area look like when ground broke?

Everything has a story... some of them are even true.

Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

As the agent and I admired the beauty of the original built-in cabinets that wrapped around the breakfast nook, she looked at me with a smile and asked if I could imagine what it must have been like to eat breakfast in that nook back in 1910?


Everyone has a story as well.

And in hers, Black people in 1910 were having breakfast inside immaculate colonial houses in Texas.

I’m sure she didn’t mean to offend. I’m sure she was just searching for a way to steer me to a connection to the house in hopes of making a sale. But I had already found a connection – in the tiny room that served as servant quarters.

I didn’t bother to shred her romanticized version of Jim Crow America with all the reasons why I could not eat breakfast in that nook in 1910. Instead, I simply said “no, I can’t.”

Everyone has a story…but not all of them are true.

What will your story be about Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old self-proclaimed white supremacist who allegedly drove more than 200 miles to a predominantly Black neighborhood specifically to target Black people, killing 10 and wounding three others at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.?

Yet many right-wing politicians, including Republicans in Congress, still try to deflect meaningful conversations about white supremacy and domestic terrorism.

May 15, 2022

Will you dub him a “lone wolf”? A symptom of some new violence brewing? An example of the violence that’s always been?

I am horrified by the shooting in Buffalo, but I am not shocked. Accepting gun violence is one of America’s pastimes after all. Sunday’s shooting at a church in Laguna Woods that killed one person and critically injured four came a day after Gendron’s alleged assault. The shootings in downtown Milwaukee that left 21 wounded came the day before. This year’s number of mass shootings has already reached about 200.


If not acceptance, then what story about gun violence in America are you telling yourself?

And what did you say in 2019 after 22 people were killed at a Walmart in El Paso, allegedly by a person who was targeting Latinos? What did you say to yourself in 2018 after a gunman killed 11 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, allegedly by person who told police he wanted all Jews to die?

About Gendron, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Sunday: “The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake that this is an absolute racist hate crime.”

According to a 180-page manifesto attributed to Gendron, the suspect was motivated by “replacement theory”-- the idea that whites are being systematically replaced by minorities and immigrants. The xenophobic conspiracy theory used to be on the fringe but is now undeniably a part of the Republican platform. Tucker Carlson pushes it regularly on his popular show on FOX News. Elected officials such as Rep. Matt Gaetz support it on social media. A sitting president characterized white nationalists doing Nazi salutes and chanting “Jews will not replace us” as very fine people. But the story…the story is critical race theory, right?

My chat with the agent in the San Antonio house reminded me of the interview between CNN’s Chris Wallace and Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the 1619 Project. Wallace was having a particularly hard time believing that the so-called Greatest Generation could brutally suppress Black people in part because the 20 and 30 year-olds from Indiana and Brooklyn “fought to defeat..the worst regime, I would argue in world history.”

“You don’t think 20-year-olds were in the Klan?” she asked him.

“I don’t think many of them were, no,” he replied.

In Wallace’s story, World War II heroes couldn’t also be racists. It felt nonsensical as he was saying it — given the church bombings, assassinations and other examples of racially-motivated violence that shaped the Civil Rights Movement — but hey… it was his story and sadly, he was sticking to it. And therein lies the rub. The stories we tell don’t have to be true. They just need to be believed.

With 10 dead in Buffalo, I wonder what story Republicans will tell themselves today. I wonder what FOX News personalities will tell viewers now that the “replacement theory” they’ve been promoting has led to mass killings — again.


The week before the Buffalo massacre, a student at a Christian school in Knoxville was punished for appearing in a social media post wearing a KKK hood and replying with the N-word when asked “Who do we hate?”

State Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Democrat in the Tennessee House of Representatives, tweeted “who taught them this?”

I would say we did. One story at a time.