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With move to South, suburban symmetry dissipates and kindness prevails

The Southerner

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BY GRIFFIN KISH

In February, 2008, I was told that my family and I would be moving back to where I was born, a place I only knew about through stops there on the way to Florida. As a resident of Northern Virginia, moving to Atlanta was not something I had seen coming. Atlanta seemed so different from where I lived. First of all, it was a big city. I had been living in the deep suburbs, blissfully unaware of anything about city life. Then, as a naïve fifth grader, I was worried, because we had just learned about the civil war, slavery, and racism in the south.

When we first moved here, what was most evident was that everything was just… I couldn’t think of the word for it. Quaint. Everything was so unusually different and unique from the symmetry and monotony of the suburbs. In Northern Virginia, all the houses on my street were the same model. All of them were designed and built by the same person. They all looked exactly the same inside and out. I could walk across the street, go in the front door of my neighbor’s house, and turn left into my living room. Here in Atlanta, going into a new house is exciting, and I never know what I’m going to see.

When I first went to school at Inman here in Atlanta, I was shocked by the obvious diversity. I went from a school with one African-American family, 99 percent white, to a school that was about 50 percent African American.  That was when my worry about segregation and racism came into play. I was so overwhelmed, I didn’t speak for the first few days of school, stuck in a silent, observational stupor. It was only until I noticed that everyone was treated relatively the same did I start to warm up to people, and to Atlanta in general.

I never realized that when I moved here, people were more friendly, more kind, more accepting. Coming from my 99 percent white school, different was strange, and strangers being friendly was a notion almost unheard of. The first day I was here, four people in the Kroger commented on the lovely color of my hair. While my orange hair is a novelty pretty much anywhere, rare was the time in Virginia when people would compliment me on it. They were in a silent, observational stupor.

After about four years here, I have come to the conclusion that the fact that people are nicer, things are different, and people are more accepting, are merely traits that show the “Southern Comfort” that I had heard in the country song my parent listened to. Once I realized that all of these traits were part of something greater than just general kindness, I began to observe how the Atlanta natives viewed this “Southern Comfort” standard.

People don’t realize it. Or if they do, it is taken much too trivially. When someone is complimented, it may brighten the day a little bit, but in no way do they think about it in a general manner, or as a trait of where they live. People take this “Southern Comfort” so much for granted, it’s as simple as breathing. When I moved here, I loved the fact that kindness is abundant, and difference is accepted. I couldn’t stand that people don’t realize that not everywhere is like this, and I still can’t.

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An upbeat website for a downtown school
With move to South, suburban symmetry dissipates and kindness prevails