I didn’t get to experience very much of Atlanta, being that I was whisked from the airport to the site, but I did have a few moments of interaction with the locals and I was struck by how different black / white relations are in this city.
Atlanta may be the most racially integrated place I’ve ever been ( I’m talking to you, California ). This was a complete surprise.
In California and liberally-minded campuses, we hear a lot about Diversity: this post-PC concept that all rational, enlightened people are supposed to accept and adapt to as they mature and move through life. Incidentally, the delivery of this message is so sanctimonious and treacly it undermines the message many times. We are taught that this is a Good Thing and that places that refuse this precept are backward and, ultimately, ordering the waves to stop lopping the shore.
But let’s name names, shall we? New York City and Westcoastia are clearly singled out as the progressive environs where such ideal behavior is practiced. States in the Old South are singled out as “not having gotten the message”.
My personal experiences in Northern Californistan turned out to be a bit less than the utopian vision that was alluded to at UT and that is ever-so-freely spoken of when non-CA'ers ask CA'ers what they love about their state, but I came away having drunk the Kool-Aid and thinking “Westcoastia is really integrated.”
But in Atlanta something happened to me that made me question the sincerity of the CA-we-all-love-each-other story. I’m now wondering if it’s a uniting myth, PR, and not necessarily reality.
The Little Things
While I was waiting for my ride I was typing some stuff on this very computer and minding my own business. An black man in a Carhartt jacket sat next to me. I thought he was waiting for luggage or something and I continued typing away.
Day-um, girls be sproutin' like earlier every day
I didn’t think I was being addressed.
Ay, Ay, Ay, stop staring at that theres and take a look
I was being addressed and pointed to, uh, well, a young lady, who, in my neighbor’s eye was worthy of being friendly with.
I was so, surprised, I couldn’t believe it. In Texas and California it’s just so, rare: first to be spontaneously addressed by a member of another race outside of a Diversity Embracing Environment ( work, school, etc. ) and secondly to not have him modulate to my dialect.
So, as he enjoyed his lunch we chatted and he introduced himself. He was a worker for one of the airlines and his name was Hakeem. He told me his advice on getting rich ( a variant of the pay-yourself-first theme ) and how he was planning on looking sharp and finding a girl he could trust with his money. He talked a bit about some of his babymomma drama and how he was planning on getting another job and just banking all that money.
In total, we conversed for about a half hour. He spoke in his native Atlantan dialect and didn’t seem the least surprised that I remained speaking in my own. So we talked for about a half hour with our dialog interrupted only occasionally as he addressed passers by:
To A Lady:
“Hey friend, why don’t you come have a seat?”
To the rejections or eye rolls he opined:
“She’s just tired, that’s all. Tired.”
To a Nation of Islam Member:
As-salaam alaykum, brother, sharp suit. Back: Wa alaykum as-salaam, thanks, brother.
To my great surprise, this approach, when applied to the ladies, netted one giggle and his arranging a rendezvous at that spot when he got off at 9.
He then said he had to go back to work. He sat up, eyed the next acceptable female going his direction and proceeded to follow her so that, I gather, he could have acceptable eye-candy on his walk back.
After my discussion I started listening and observing, to see if I had just met an exceedingly loquacious and gregarious fellow. I had not, I started to see more and more black / white friends walking about through the walkway. I saw tiny social interactions go on between the races effortlessly.
The posh black lady talked to the Fonzworth Bentley Southern Dandy Style type, and the Bently Farnsworth guy was waiting for the white girl who was the girlfriend of his friend the black football player type (280 and BIG!). There was no hint of the hand-wringing (these black guys look like they know what I need to know, can I talk to them?) - just people being people, getting along.
I noticed that the Nation of Islam guys didn’t seem to be too surprised by the white guy with razor notched eyebrows and skullcap with Braves baggy training suit clearly pulled out of the fashion pages of The Source or similar.
In fact, no one seemed surprised to see white people acting “black” or white people acting “white” or black people doing smooth and preppy better than the Harvard yacht club. Similarly when two young black gentlemen sat down next to each other they continued talking ‘white’ despite the one was dressed in a puffy Falcons coat with skullcap out of rap video central wardrobe and the other was in a smooth argyle sweater.
It was enough to send ones stereotype reference guide to the blender.
It was an entirely racially neutral environment - for real! People here simply didn’t seem to care too much what behavior mapped to what cultural association and didn’t seem to be all that concerned about which one people in their environment had chosen (OK, the Nation of Islam guys did give a bit of a tut-tut when the football player type walked into the arms of the white girl ).
Time after time I saw my assumptions challenged.
On one occasion I heard voices outside my hotel room. Obviously a black female and a black male. I walked out a bit later. Wrong. Black female, white male. And it wasn’t like the white male was just doing the “Act Black and try too hard doing it” thing. It was just who he was, how he communicated and, for her part, the black female, a worker at the establishment, seems not to have registered that their discourse was remarkable.
On another night, in the bar, some black gentlemen taught me a game called, I think, “booshit” which is sort of like a profanity-laced version of hot potato that’s a drinking game at the same time. My pronounciation was corrected to be “booshit” because I was a bit hesitant to use black dialect. It was all very surprising, and liberating.
It was the ability to not be a nerdy white guy or to have to wring-hands about is this assmuption PC or not PC, can I say black, or African American, etc. All that stupid burden idiocy that gets in the way of people actually relating was relieved. It was excellent.
This freedom from baggage must be a reason the black educated elite are flocking to Atlanta away from Nashville, Dallas, and Houston. Affordable housing, good quality of life, and for once, everyone seems to really be into what everyone else is cooking, not on paper, or in theory, but in true day-to-day reality.
And, for my part, it’s this freedom from baggage that makes me think Atlanta might be a fine place to reside as well.
I’d be interested in knowing if any CaliGeorgians have any further insight into this. Am I reading too much in? Was this just a bunch of outliers? Do you think you have Westcoastia or Californistan beat in terms of true racial integration?