If you’re visiting Atlanta and aren’t looking to be shot in the face, swarmed by smack dealers, stopped by cops merely for being white, or set ablaze by an HIV-positive crackhead squatter, stay away from the area known as “The Bluff.” There are several more wholesome attractions only a few blocks southwest in downtown: At tourist traps such as the World of Coca-Cola, the CNN Studio, and the Georgia Aquarium, the thrills are more benign than being slit in the throat with a box-cutter.
“The Bluff” covers two Atlanta neighborhoods officially known as English Avenue and Vine City. Part of Vine City was designated in 2010 as America’s fifth-most-dangerous area. Some say The Bluff got its name because its narrow, hilly, one-way streets give it a fortress-like sense of isolation, but locals now boast that BLUFF means Better Leave U Fucking Fool. It is bounded on the east by Northside Drive and on its three other sides by roads named after black Georgia civil-rights leaders: Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard, and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. It is therefore a testament to the, er, accomplishments of black Georgia civil-rights leaders.
I was going to say it’s a “living” testament, but this creepy little hood throbs with a feeling of death instead. In other apocalyptic urban landscapes I’ve crossed—places such as the South Bronx in the mid-80s and Gary, Indiana in the mid-90s—what makes your neck hairs stand on end is the terrifyingly still silence. You get the sense that a neighborhood has been bulldozed, that a once-bustling area has been razed with Dresden-level finality. The Bluff is less a testament than it is a tombstone. It’s like driving through a cemetery of what used to be houses.
Although more than half of these dwellings are abandoned, around 4,000 diehards still call The Bluff home. The area’s youth speak in a nearly indecipherable Southern-black patois and do fun things such as upload YouTube videos of their friends stumbling around half-retarded on heroin.
Apart from the world-famous open-air drug market and rampant prostitution, the only discernible entrepreneurial activity in The Bluff consists of a tiny independent film industry—Bluffywood?—serving up socioeconomic porn with footage straight from this rancid human zoo’s crumbled streets. A zero-budget 2006 fictionalized film called The Bluff purports to document “an underground that sucks our young and survival is only and [sic] option when you are dead.” The makers of 2011’s Snow on Tha Bluff won’t reveal which parts of their film are real and which are fiction, mainly because their lawyers have advised them not to. At the movie’s Atlanta Film Fest screening, a fight erupted between film makers and audience members when the latter questioned whether a scene depicting a baby playing near a table piled high with crack cocaine was real. A white film critic described the ensuing melee as “exciting.”
The Bluff wasn’t always this exciting. A hundred years ago, the English Avenue area was predominantly white and working-class, with Simpson Avenue an unofficial dividing line between English Avenue whites and Vine City blacks. Despite some stiff resistance—intransigent whites were suspected of bombing the English Avenue Elementary School as recently as 1960—blacks eventually encroached north of Simpson Avenue, which is now renamed after another Georgia civil-rights leader, Joseph E. Boone.
When Atlanta blacks rioted in 1966 and chanted things such as “black power,” “white devil,” and “kill the white cops,” MLK described it as “the desperate language of the unheard.” When Vine City blacks smashed windows in white-owned stores in 1967, apparently egged on by a “crudely lettered handbill” claiming that “White peope [sic] own our stores. White people own the housing we live in” and urging rioters to “Clean up Atlanta tonight,” the remaining white residents in The Bluff heard the “desperate language” loud and clear—nearly all of them left. A “civil-rights” movement ostensibly aimed at desegregation merely resulted in resegregation—this time both racial and economic. The Bluff is now 97 percent black. A pie chart of its racial breakdown looks like Pac-Man eating the world. It is also overwhelmingly poor.
Cue the sociologists to misunderstand everything about this warped little society, to urge “a multitude of intellectual discourses” in their blind efforts aimed at “empowering marginalized, at-risk individuals” by employing a “comprehensive prevention and wellness approach” that in practice usually amounts to little more than handing out free needles and plastic sippy cups of liquid methadone. Watch the experts shoot in the dark as they claim the area has been victimized by external rather than internal forces, that it is “plagued” by “issues,” how it is a “neglected” and “forgotten” community beleaguered by “underperforming schools” rather than ineducable students.
Cue the fat-necked politicians to stroll The Bluff’s blown-out streets being photographed for campaign ads in oddly inappropriate Tor Johnson zombie poses, blaming the homeowners who fled the area rather than the residents who scared them into fleeing. Atlanta councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr. said it isn’t the gun-wielding gangbangers who are guilty of “terrorism”—it’s the people they frightened into the suburbs. Young concedes that the city’s taxpayers have already tossed nearly $100 million to help pump life into The Bluff since the late 1980s in one failed revitalization project after the next—that’s about $25K per illiterate, dope-slinging resident—yet he insists that more needs to be done and is threatening to seize abandoned homes via eminent domain. Young recently boasted of having helped convince Walmart to build a new store on The Bluff’s fringes, and all it took the retail empire to agree was a stipulation allowing for “an on-site police precinct.” Despite the hundred million that’s already disappeared down the Bluffhole due to ineptitude and corruption, city leaders now promise that a mere Walmart will turn the whole lunar wasteland around and keep hope—or at least reelection hopes—alive.
As these barking cardboard icons pose for photo ops in front of boarded-up shotgun shacks, they’ll insist the area needs “re-branding,” but never a repopulating. The unspoken truth about areas such as The Bluff isn’t that it’s low on city services—it’s nearly devoid of worthwhile human capital. If the 1960s “civil rights” movement benefited anyone, it was the black professional class, because it allowed them to escape into better, mostly white areas. It left the black lumpenproles to fester in urban quadrants that devolved into living horror movies such as The Bluff and modern Detroit.
A question the well-funded sociologists and overpaid politicians never seem brave enough to pose is why conditions always seem to degenerate when an area becomes majority-black. It’s deemed hateful to ask why Haiti melted into putrefaction after they slaughtered all the French or why Zimbabwe went to seed when they started decapitating the white farmers. Scanning the globe, it’s hard to deny that conditions are better for blacks when they’re around whites than when they aren’t. Why is that? It’s an honest question based on honest observations. One needn’t inject “hate” into that question—or maybe one does, if one wants to avoid the question altogether. And until one can ask that question without fear of being charged with a hate crime—or at least a career-destroying thoughtcrime—there will never be answers for places such as The Bluff.
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