Atlanta, the home of trap music, Fortune 500 companies, wealthy Black socialites, and entrepreneurs. The city has been termed the “Black Mecca” and the “city too busy to hate”. DeKalb County, located east of downtown Atlanta, is the second richest Black majority county in the country. The image of Atlanta is one of Black excellence, success, and greatness.
Much of Atlanta’s mystique, however, is rooted in myth. Atlanta is also the home of massive income inequality, staggering HIV rates, and police violence. Atlanta has the highest income inequality in the nation. The HIV rate in certain parts of Atlanta are alarming and a health crisis. Atlanta’s public transit system is one of the worst in the country and the city is known for its bad traffic, gentrification, low-wage jobs.
Atlanta cannot be called a true Black Mecca when the homeless are constantly harassed by law enforcement, poor residents are being displaced, and its Black population is decreasing. It is also glaringly obvious that the so-called Black mecca has a white supremacy problem. Household income for white people has grown more than it has for Black folk. The fact that “About 70% of Black families in Atlanta are liquid asset poor compared to just 22% of white families” is a stark contrast to an idea of a Wakanda-like land.
Homelessness has historically been a problem in Atlanta. At least 3,240 people are without housing in Atlanta this year alone. The Covid crisis has exasperated already stark inequalities within the city. In 2017, the city of Atlanta closed the Peachtree-Pine shelter in a controversial move. The homeless often sleep in public parks, near hospitals, and even on the steps of churches close to city hall and the state capitol. As Atlanta builds mega stadiums for the wealthy and pushes out poor and Black residents from its inner core, those who are left behind languish in suffering carrying their belongings on their back while life goes on.
The racial demographics in Atlanta have been changing because of gentrification. The Black population has decreased while the white population has increased over the last three decades. The Black elite can afford the rising housing prices and welcome changes that primarily benefit from them. Atlanta’s poor however has been kicked around with little recourse.
By 2011, Atlanta had demolished all of its public housing. This has been presented as an opportunity for project dwellers to move into better neighborhoods and to have access to better opportunities. However, it’s questionable what happened to the thousands who were kicked out of their homes. Several documentaries have sought to chronicle what happened to them.
Atlanta’s demolishing of public housing began in the mid-1990s and correlated with the Olympics coming to town and an urban revitalization program. According to Lawrence Vale, a professor of urban design, “Further, Olympic Games have led to the increased marginalisation (and even criminalisation) of homeless people. In the lead-up to the Atlanta Olympics, over 9,000 arrest citations were issued to homeless persons, mostly African-Americans.”
“The Atlanta Way”, the nickname for the cooperation between Black and White elites, has been about the securing of power for elites, capitalists, and developers and not for its residents and working and poor population.
As a long-term resident of Atlanta, I recognize the difference between the culture of regular people and the (mis)representatives and their handlers. It is my home and has been my family’s home for well over 5 decades. The people of Atlanta are like the people of any place. Diverse with a variety of experiences, stories, and backgrounds. My critique is of the people who run the city and the ruling class who mask the oppression that exists in the city. The neighborhoods where I attended school and its surrounding areas are under threat of gentrification. The glitz and glamour of the city are out of the reach of most of the people I grew up with. Its infrastructure is underdeveloped for what people think Atlanta is and what it could be. The Black faces in high places mislead many into thinking Atlanta is something it’s not.
Atlanta will dominate the hip-hop scene for the foreseeable future, its dance clubs will continue to entertain many, and I see this city as a permanent home for the time being. However, under the mystique, there is a dark underbelly of capitalist exploitation, white supremacy, neglect for the poor, police violence, and a playground for vampiristic developers.
By Sankara Lumumba