I always knew Id someday end up in Atlanta. My whole life pretty much, Ive heard people tell me that if I wanted to really make it, I needed to go to Atlanta. Why not? Ever since the 1996 Olympics, the city has been hailed as the black American Mecca, especially in the South. D.C. was Chocolate City but Atlanta? Atlanta is black heaven. So eventually I made it here in 2014 for work and Im not sure when or if Im going to leave. Atlanta has black mayors, black congresspeople, black businesses, black wealth, black culture, black history, black education, black life. Georgia, outside of Atlanta, is mostly Trump country. Atlanta is a black island surrounded by a horizon of whitewater thats always at low tide. But the water is omnipresent and ever so often you can feel the breeze from the ocean to remind you its there.
A few miles outside of the city, theres a racist driving around Georgia with a bus intended to round up immigrants and deport them. This is also the reality of living in Atlanta. Georgia State Senator Michael Williams is running for Georgia governor and is using his Deportation Bus to push his agenda. The gray-painted school bus has the words Danger! Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molesters and other criminals on board, on the side. Its quite literally racist dogma on wheels and it has toured through Georgia, gaining the ire of protesters across the state, but plenty of support as it continues its xenophobic campaign.
Republican Michael Williams is using a ‘deportation bus’ as a race-baiting campaign tactic – but this local hero kicked it the hell of his property pic.twitter.com/fYHCdEBoSS
I was raised in Mississippi, living there from the age of six to 18. Its a state with a reputation for having racism as its greatest export. And Id be lying to say I didnt feel the trauma and wrath of micro- and macro-aggressions on a daily basis growing up. Mississippi was also the state where my father was beaten, arrested and persecuted in the 60s as a Freedom Rider and organizer for the 1964 Freedom Summer. Atlanta feels different. Georgia does not.
Its hard to communicate just exactly how different it feels to be black in a place like Atlanta. And even harder to explain what its like to be in the Atlanta University Center surrounded by the rest of Georgia. The AUC, home of HBCUs Morehouse, Clark, and Spelman, is on the Mt. Rushmore of black places in America. I started teaching at Morehouse two years ago and am in constant awe of what its like to be in a place that loves blackness and cultivates that love – in all its beauty and ugliness – so unapologetically. Its a place that feels like it shouldnt exist in an America that voted for Donald Trump. Or a state where someone thinks he can become governor while driving around in a deportation bus. But here we are.
W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk is one of the most influential works ever written in the field of sociology. This short video from Macat explains the timely ideas in the work in only a few minutes. Macat’s videos give you an overview of the ideas you should know, explained in a way that helps you think smarter.
I live in the suburbs of Atlanta and as I leave the city, with the skyline fading in the distance, I reenter a world that doesnt feel all too different from the Mississippi I grew up in. Small towns where Trump stickers are as prominent as Confederate flags and being followed by police. This is the world where Williams feels empowered to run his racist campaigns. This is the reality check. To be in Atlanta is to be constantly and viscerally aware of the double consciousness that Du Bois spoke about.
To live in Atlanta and Georgia is to be aware of ones blackness in a place that loves that blackness while also understanding that theres a world of people immediately outside that sees us as expendable. Williams Deportation Bus epitomizes that dichotomy. Because Stacey Abrams, an African-American woman who graduated from Spelman, is on the other end of the spectrum. Like me, she was raised in Mississippi and knows that there isnt much difference between where she grew up and the many (many) racist responses shes gotten during her campaign.
Abrams hopes to be the first black woman to become governor of Georgia. Shes been heralded as the Democratic savior who can shift the direction of the left as we know it. Her biggest cheerleaders are in Atlanta and her biggest obstacles are the rest of Georgia. If she does win, shell have to represent both of those worlds: the land where the AUC reigns supreme and the small towns where the engine roars of a deportation bus echo over through the quiet night.