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I spent the first Sunday morning in our new Atlanta home heaving worldly possessions from our PODS (Portable On Demand Storage, highly recommended) container to the garage in 95-degree heat. At 10 o’clock I caught the eye of a neighbor mowing his lawn. He nodded and smiled. I nodded and smiled. Not in church, eh? we said telepathically. That’s right, we each responded. Two sweaty joggers bobbed by, presumably not church-bound.



Standing in line at the post office last week, I counted accents. I heard 28 people speak long enough to take a reasonable guess. Several distinct New Yorkers (including one behind the counter), a Bostonian, a possible New Jerseyite, at least three Midwesterners, an English woman, an Indian couple, and two women from California. Others were hard to place but definitely un-Southern.

So how many of the 28 had even a trace of a Southern accent? Three.

Our realtor is from Indiana. Our neighbors on the left are from California. Across the street is Michigan, and next to her, upstate New York. The guy who fixed our phone cable is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

I’m beginning to see why Southerners call Atlanta the “New York of the South.” It ain’t just the skyscrapers — it’s the New Yorkers. We’re in North Fulton County, an area exploding with newbies from everywhere but here, many brought in by the Fortune 500 companies based in town.

And we’re in an area more diverse than the one we left in Minneapolis. Our immediate neighborhood includes families from Indonesia, Taiwan and Pakistan. The populations at my kids’ schools are 40% non-white.

This is goooood.

It’s not that Northern is better than Southern, non-white better than white, or non-religious better than religious. It’s sameness that’s the enemy. I REALLY don’t want my kids growing up surrounded by people who look and think and act just like they do. As a teenager, I remember barfing inwardly at the phrase “Celebrate Diversity!” — until I spent some time surrounded by conforming sameness and watched all of the grotesque pathologies that bubble out of that. I’m a white liberal nonbeliever, but I know better than to want my kids growing up in an area that’s all-white (been there), all-liberal (done that), or all non-believer (don’t even wish for it). I want a mix.

And here in the northern stretch of Atlanta, as a result of the infusion of difference in the past 20 years, my kids are going to grow up in a much more diverse and cosmopolitan place than I sometimes feared in the weeks leading up to the move, laying awake in a cold sweat, staring at a ceiling that kept turning into the Stars and Bars and imagining the new neighbors as some combination of this


…and this


Though these guys are surely around, they’re a helluva lot rarer than the worst of my sleepless Minnesota nights would have had me believe. Isn’t that usually the case? Don’t I usually find that late nights are the worst time to measure reality? So when will I finally learn to tell my insomniac fears, once and for all, to bugger off?

By clicking on the lights one at a time, I guess. All that to say: now that I’ve seen Atlanta with the lights on, I like it.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.