Opinion - Why do I hate the suburbs?

Grappling with my prejudice against Cobb County

Cartoon 7954
Photo credit: Mark Giaimo
OLD GRUDGE: This cartoon ran in the Aug., 21 1993 issue of Creative Loafing.

When the Atlanta Braves announced last week that they would be moving to Cobb County, I, like a lot of other people, felt sick to my stomach. That’s partially because we really like going to Turner Field. We like the routine of going Downtown to see the ball game and we don’t want that to change. Another big part of that disgust, though, comes from the fact that Cobb County got them. It’s not that they’re just moving the ballpark, it’s that they’re moving it to the suburbs.

Most people I know who live in cities don’t have to visit a suburb to know how they feel about it. Maybe we lived in one as kids. Maybe we’ve seen them on TV. On the rare occasion that we have reason to visit one as adults, we get stuck in traffic and our eyes glaze over after driving past the miles and miles of strip malls and gated neighborhoods that we expected to see. We leave as quickly as possible, which usually isn’t very quickly because of the traffic and distance, while thinking, “If you’ve seen one suburb, you’ve seen them all.”

The definition of prejudice is something along the lines of what I’ve just described, a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or experience.” Like a lot of my intown peers, I pride myself on being an open-minded person. I try to reserve judgment, to always give people the benefit of the doubt, to assume that the differences that culturally divide me from another group of people are worth my respect and understanding.

But when I think of the suburbanites to our north, I can’t help but imagine a bunch of lily-white middle-class bores who drive too much, whose idea of culture is dinner out at Cheesecake Factory and watching “American Idol.” Surely, those are the people who are still buying Linkin Park CDs, right? They’re the people who voted for George W. Bush twice. They live in gated communities because they’re scared of people who aren’t like them. They’re bridge and tunnel. They’re white-flight commuters. These are slurs that come easy to my tongue.

Being a guilty liberal haunted by the idea of harboring prejudice, I would like to work through my problem. I know that there are probably good reasons to live in Cobb other than being scared of people that aren’t like you. I hear the schools are good. Unfortunately, Cobb makes it very easy to reinforce stereotypes about the suburbs. This is a county so historically conservative that, when it passed an anti-gay resolution in 1993, the New York Times story about it was headlined “County’s Anti-Gay Move Catches Few by Surprise.” To illustrate that headline’s point, the reporter noted “This is where J. B. Stoner, convicted of the 1958 bombing of a black church in Alabama, mounted a white supremacist run for lieutenant governor in 1990.”

Around that time, Creative Loafing ran a comic that illustrated the county as “The Holy Church of Cobb County” with signs that read, “No Fags or Lesbos Allowed!” and “Public Stonings at Noon.” One of the representative of that church in the comic is holding Mein Kampf like a holy book, which, you know, seems a little mean-spirited even to me. Point being, though, that I’m not the only one with prejudices about the place.

After the 1996 Olympics cut all ties to the county, an act that made an international story out of a small county’s bigotry, you would think that things would have changed. In some ways, they have. The culture wars are mostly over and those who once fought to keep Cobb anti-gay and all white lost. The county is more racially diverse than it has ever been. Marietta even has a gay pride festival now. At least Atlanta won that round, even if Cobb won our ballpark.

Some Cobb residents are still working out their prejudices about Atlantans, too. Not only is Cobb County Republican Party Chairman Joe Dendy afraid of “moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta,” but his constituents are putting a finer point on it with comments like these:

“For shoplifters, pick pockets, and purse snatchers (or in other words common criminals) transportation will be built to bring this underbelly to Cobb.”

“It’s going to bring all the beggers/panhandlers sic into Cobb Co. as well as crime associated with the stadium e.g. car theft, etc.”

Apparently, if I’m the prejudiced guy that thinks Cobb is full of tasteless bores, I guess there are prejudiced people living in Cobb who believe Atlanta harbors a vast criminal underbelly that advocates for the expansion of public transportation as a way to grow its petty crime network.

I know that we’re both wrong. I know that the city of Atlanta is a great place to live, that it isn’t run by some criminal underbelly. I know that Cobb is actually much more diverse than the boneheaded white guys that represent the place. I love eating at Tasty China and Heirloom Market BBQ and people in Cobb do, too. We probably have lots of other things in common. Clearly, we both enjoy going to the ball game. If we don’t talk politics, maybe we can even get along.

But every time that I think we can work through this, someone like Cobb Chairman Tim Lee says, “So, let’s say you go to Cumberland Mall and you’re having dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and you want to go to the game,” and I’m like, “Please stop talking, I’m laughing at you, again.” I’m trying not to hate you. I really am.