Everyone believes in heaven.
The Norse called it Valhalla. Greeks called it Elysium or Olympus. But the concept of heaven is not necessarily reserved for the afterlife. Shangri-La, Atlantis, El Dorado, Camelot and the Garden of Eden all exist in the imaginations of many. Regardless of society, religion or culture, people eventually create an idealized version of paradise.
Black people call it Atlanta.
Atlanta is New York City without the smell of urine and having to sell a kidney to rent a broom closet-sized apartment. It’s Chicago without the arctic breeze and having to coordinate the way you cock your hat depending on the neighborhood you’re in. It’s L.A. without the superficial pretense, the wildfires, the mudslides, the droughts and the earth beneath your feet occasionally deciding to krump dance.
Atlanta is snooty Morehouse men alongside niggas smoking a blunt in the back of the shake club on two-dollar Tuesdays. “The A” is the dichotomy of Georgia Me and NeNe Leakes. It’s Waffle House and Real Housewives. It’s the center of hip-hop and R&B. It is the center of black hair, style, art and entertainment. Hotlanta gave birth to the nonviolent civil rights movement but they will politely offer to knuck if one even considers themselves to be buck.
There are more historically black colleges and universities in Atlanta than any other city in America. Unlike many Southern cities, ATL is known for fostering an inclusive environment, earning the name the “black gay mecca.” Black millionaires are plentiful and everyone is a CEO, an “influencer,” or a part-time model. When people tell you they’re doing something “for the culture,” they’re talking about Atlanta.
Atlanta is the culture.
Music? You can’t even talk about black music without having Georgia on your mind (see what I did there?). Ray Charles. OutKast. TLC. Xscape. Jeezy. Gucci Mane. Jagged Edge. Soulja Boy. Childish Gambino. Ying Yang Twins. Babyface. T.I. Toni Braxton. The Dream. Lil’ Jon. Cee-Lo. Migos. Future. Gladys Knight. Jermaine Dupri ...
Oh, Pardon me. I’m only naming the ATLiens who had No. 1 hits (Sorry Janelle Monae, Ludacris, 112, 2Chainz, Killer Mike, Jazze Pha, Lil Yachty, Lil Scrappy, Pastor Troy, B.o.B, Silk, Young Thug, Paperboi and 21 Savage).
Aside from its Real Housewives kickstarting a whole genre of black reality shows featuring people fighting in prom dresses on the “reunion special” that seems to happen every other episode, the city has become the center of the American film industry from Samuel L. Jackson to Tyler Perry.
As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago some guy asked if he could make an independent film about kittens or something. Atlanta almost declined his offer when he told everyone his name because ain’t no niggas from Atlanta named “Ryan.” But he was so adamant that the city finally relented and let him film his little low-budget flick about cats. But there’s so much going on in Atlanta that I don’t even remember if it even came out. Maybe you’ve seen it on Netflix or on a barbershop bootleg.
Have you ever heard of a small little motion picture called Black Panther?
That’s right. Atlanta is the real Wakanda.
Perhaps I should mention that when Forbes listed the cities where African Americans are doing the best, Atlanta ranked No. 1. Twenty percent of ATL’s black workers are self-employed, the highest rate in the country, according to Forbes. It also has more black-owned businesses per capita than any other major city. If there were ever a Mount Rushmore of black-owned businesses, Atlanta’s Bronner Brothers would definitely be carved into the edifice after ruling the world of black hair and skin care since 1947. Every year, thousands of hairstylists from around the country come to the annual Bronner Brothers International Beauty Show just to watch people do hair! Only in Atlanta.
When it comes to famous people, I could name a list that ...
Look, who are we kidding? All those notable names you read from other cities were cute and everything. But we all know that Atlanta possesses the big joker when it comes to black luminaries. There’s no reason to belabor this point so let’s get past it:
Martin Luther King Jr. is from Atlanta.
Y’all tried, though.
Atlanta’s black art scene is self-sustaining and one of the most vibrant in the country. Visual artist (and 2018 The Root 100 honoree) Fahamu Pecou’s paintings hang on the walls of the set of damn near every black television show or movie, are on display at the Smithsonian Museum of African American Art and Culture and his murals decorate the city’s public transportation stations. Stop by the legendary Apache Cafe on and you might catch anyone from Janelle Monae to Talib Kweli dropping in on the city’s thriving underground music scene.
When it comes to food, no matter what you do, don’t listen to anyone who tells you to go to The Varsity for a burger. The Varsity is trash. It is what white people serve at cookouts. If you have a hankering for a burger, you must go to Ann’s Snack Bar and order a “ghetto burger.” Miss Ann passed away in 2015, but her burger lives on.
But if you want to know what Atlanta tastes like, you must first endure an argument about who serves the best version of the negro-sanctioned unofficial dish of Atlanta—the lemon pepper wing.
Now, there are many places where you can order a batch of lemon pepper wings, but any real ATLien knows that you must order in a precise manner: Lemon pepper “wet,” all flats (drums are for idiots), fried hard. Some Atlantans prefer J.R. Crickets, but I find the lemony-ness of their wings vary by location. Some people say American Deli has the best version, but they really just fry a batch of regular wings and shake some seasoning on them. If you’re a baller, I would point you in the direction of Magic City, but you might get a little distracted by the naked women.
Which leaves you two options: Dugan’s or LT’s.
If you’re going to hang out, I suggest going to Dugan’s but it’s going to be crowded and parking’s going to be a bitch. On the weekend, Dugan’s jumps like a P. Diddy party so you’ll probably want to get a sauce-proof outfit. LT’s is just a place to pick up some wings but those motherfuckers are delicious! And please don’t ever ask for a Pepsi in any Atlanta restaurant unless you want to receive a look like you asked for a glass of La Croix mixed with zebra semen.
A few months ago, while waiting at Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand for a Double D (chicken sausage, eggs and strawberry creme cheese inside of a grilled Krispy Kreme doughnut. Don’t worry, it’s not on the menu anymore. It was probably outlawed by the surgeon general), I witnessed three young sisters who couldn’t sit still. They were with their dad and they were loud, boisterous and competitive as fuck.
First, they had a walking race (because they said, it wouldn’t be fair to Keke, the youngest one, if they ran). Next, the two oldest took turns seeing who could braid Keke’s afro puffs the fastest. Then they timed each other to see who could say their ABCs the fastest. Finally, they had a dance-off in the middle of this tiny little chicken sausage breakfast place. By then, all the eyes in the restaurant were watching these three little balls of fire. The dad started beatboxing and the contest started with the oldest sibling. By the time they got to the youngest with her now-cockeyed braids, someone was using the trash can as a drum and everyone in the place was chanting: “Go Keke! Go Keke!”
That little girl turned that motherfucker out.
To be fair, KeKe’s sister did lodge a formal complaint that her daddy beatboxed too fast during her portion of the competition. But that is Atlanta—a little black girl in uneven, mismatched french braids Milly-Rocking in the middle of a chicken sausage stand while everyone clapped and cheered like it was challenge day in Wakanda.
If you like fish and grits and all that pimp shit ... then Atlanta is the proverbial cookout. Atlanta is the culture.
The only thing blacker than that is the fact that all three sisters had on the same shirt as their father. I don’t know why it gave me the warm and fuzzies but I loved this matter-of-fact saying and the sentiment of blackity-black pride that the quote embodies. The shirt said:
“Atlanta got a mayor named Keisha.”
Now tell me, what’s blacker than that?