Intersections – Whitening Blackening

Posted by August 13, 2014

NickiBy Nicki Salcedo, contributor

I could save the city of Decatur time and money. Each year they can ask me, “Is Decatur getting whiter?” and I will say, “Yes.” Signs of the whitening are noticeable. I see them everywhere.

The first sign is a doggy bubble window built into the wooden privacy fences so their dogs and small toddlers peek out into the world behind the safety of plexiglass.

I am contributing to the whitening of Decatur. It’s not because I dance like Carlton and know all the words (grudgingly) to Sweet Home Alabama. It’s because sometimes the people in Decatur need lessons on being white, and I can help them. One of my neighbors has just one dog. The white rule is two dogs or a dog and a baby. If you only have one dog or one kid I don’t know that you are white. White people can have any number of cats.  I’m a cat person myself. My cat Greg Maddux equally dislikes everyone regardless of race.

My family was responsible for the blackening of Stone Mountain in the early 80’s. I know all about white flight. I saw it. I lived it. It is infinitely more offensive than gentrification. White flight is scarier, too. It’s like Hitchcock has written the script. One morning you wake up and all the white people are gone.  Shopping centers and homes become vacant overnight. I like a good zombie story as much as the next person, but white people running away is a bit extreme.

There were precisely two black families in my neighborhood growing up. We were dangerous and disreputable. College-educated parents, nice lawns, kids who were in the band and played soccer. Of the six kids who suffered the white years in Stone Mountains, two went to MIT, two went to Ivy League schools, and one graduated with an engineering degree from Georgia Tech. Me, the black sheep from the black families? I ran off to college in California. That’s where I really learned about whiteness. There aren’t even black people working at the airport in San Francisco.

The blackening of Stone Mountain was a good thing for me. No one likes to be the only one. It sucks. My friends before high school were: the one Indian kid (now a doctor in DC), the one Korean kid (owns a boutique in Athens), and the white kid with buck-teeth and glasses who dumped me as a friend as soon as we got to high school and her teeth got straightened (I don’t know where she is now).

There was no hope of a boyfriend. There is angst of not having any boys like you. There is another type of angst when a boy liked you, called you, visited your house regularly, ate dinner with your family, but you knew he would never ever ask you to the school dance. Because you are black.

I welcomed the blackening.

Eventually there were enough black girls that people became friends with me because they liked me and not because we were all leftovers. I welcomed the black boys with awkward confidence and cologne and the courage to ask me out even if I only talked about Star Trek.

I wonder what will happen to my brown kids in whitening Decatur. I would not wish being the only one on anyone. I notice the white moms who don’t talk to the black moms. Maybe they’ll talk to me. “You’re not really black,” they say. I make note of the parents who assume that I’m a daycare employee when I pick up my kid from school. I have mastered the art of the pregnant pause. I’ve had four kids. I can do a wonderful pregnant pause. I wait and wait, and then I smile and say, “I’m just here to pick up my daughter.” (And no, I’m not the nanny.)

Some will argue economics with me. It’s a socio-economic issue. It’s about the class system. I disagree. You aren’t looking at me and seeing my paycheck or degree. You are looking at my hair. You are looking at my skin. That’s cool, because I’m used to the stares. I’m staring you back at you. I admit that I am here for the schools and access to the MARTA line. I’m also here because every so often I walk into my favorite restaurant or coffee house and someone calls me by name. I’m not here for the whiteness or blackness or refusal to acknowledge the other types of people in Decatur.

I have a friend from Maine who I met in college. She could recall being on a road trip with her family and the very first time she saw a black person. That’s how white her town was growing up. She had to leave her hometown to find black people. Now that’s white. I don’t think Decatur will ever get that white. At least not on my watch.

Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning. 


View all posts by

  • diggiebatts

    Good read, Nicki!

  • Jasmine

    I grew up in Stone Mountain in the 80s/90s too! Hidden Hills, in fact. We moved to City of Decatur from Walton County in part because I remembered it being very diverse. We were taken aback slightly when we arrived. We moved from a suburban area which wasn’t very diverse to an urban area which isn’t very diverse. Not really an improvement in that area. But the neighborhood-y feel, excellent schools and proximity to Emory, Buckhead, and downtown makes it all worth it. I find the new attention being drawn to this discussion very interesting, but comments are few and far between.

    • Jasmine

      Speaking of which, I tried to find the post on Facebook where the article about the study was shared, but it seems to have disappeared? It had more comments than I’ve ever seen on a Decaturish post…

      • Whoa, good catch. It was there. I don’t know why it’s not now, though.

        • Jasmine

          It’s a weird facebook thing. I found it, but I had to click a dropdown that said something like “Showing highlights” and clicked “All stories.”

          • I’m sure Facebook will just use it as an excuse to try and get me to pay them to promote my content.

        • Jasmine

          Apparently, when you scroll down several screens, facebook makes the decision to just put random stuff under “Earlier in 2014” and just show you highlights determined in some random way. To see everything you have to click the “All stories.” Ah, social media…

  • Michelle Newcome

    I’m from California, which explains a whole bunch about my life choices and where I live. I don’t live in Decatur – it’s always been a little too sanitized and Southern for me – I like my neighborhoods to look like Howard Finster and Red Foxx could live next door. But you I like. I’d live in Decatur just so I could be your neighbor. . .

    • Nicki Salcedo

      I like you, too.

  • Coming from a rural high school with a minuscule minority population, I strongly believe we should be seeking difference rather than more of the same. I’ve seen people move out of this neighborhood as more and more families from different backgrounds move in. I wouldn’t trade my neighbors for anything. They are awesome. Take one look at my lawn, and you will see that *I* am the weakest link. Maybe it’s the former foreign language teacher in me, but I always feel if someone has a different experience than mine, then that person can teach me something.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      You cannot be the weakest link. You are awesome. I used to be OCD about the lawn until I had kids. As soon as I started to breastfeed, the angle of my hedges became a low priority. Gracias!

  • Jennifer

    If the tables were turned, and this were about the “blackening” of Decatur, would it be so well-received? It’s cool to notice and celebrate differences, but to shame them by saying that any group has “rules” or “signs” is not okay — in fact, it perpetuates the divide you seem to lament.

  • OakhurstRez

    It amazes me the double standard that this topic presents. Like the post below, I too feel that if this topic were turned around to the “blackening” of Decatur by some white author you would have Al Sharpton and his crew booking a flight to Atlanta. The author is projecting her own biases, suggesting that this is how all white people in Decatur is going to think.

    Demographics are no different than biological systems, they evolve and change over time measured against many factors. Who are we to intervene and force some idealized harmony by way of political policy or worse, tax payers money just to be able to broadcast to the world that we are officially ‘diverse’. Its not the governments role to tinker with populations as if it were a science experiment.

    Perhaps I can explain what people observe as a mere math problem. Its just basic probability. Since much of human behavior and thinking is based on observation, there is an inherent bias towards anecdotal evidence. People think a city is washing its diversity because they observe more white people – dogs and children in tow. But if you consider that as of the 2010 census, 72.4% of all Americans are white and 12.6% are black. That means you will observe, and I am rounding, 72 white people for every 13 black people, on average in the US. Yes, I understand, these observations are not equally distributed but my point is that at almost a 6 to 1 ratio you will always notice more white people than black people. The City of Decatur has posted on their website that as of 2013, Decatur is 74.1% white and 19.5% black, that is higher than the national average but yet our anecdotal observations leads us to believe that we are just white washing Decatur.

    The notion of “whitening of Decatur” is just intellectual laziness and hyperbole. To define a cities diversity by it whiteness or blackness is making an immense disfavor to the city when you considering the many other ethnicities and cultures that can be experienced in and around the city.

    • Daniel Juieng

      Your argument that “the notion of ‘whitening of Decatur’ is just intellectual laziness” was made lazily. You cited a posting by the City of Decatur that “as of 2013, Decatur is 74.1% white and 19.5% black.” You failed to show where these numbers come from or, more to the point, what the corresponding numbers were for 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003. Such data would show the trend. If you list the data and the sources, then I would think your above comments were not “intellectually laziness and hyberbole.”

      • travelingfool

        @oakhurstRez-I think this is why we can’t have an honest discussion about race. The author only mentions her experiences, yet you projected all over her. Just look at the what happened in COD earlier this year with racial profiling ( )
        .When an African American lays out what happened to them we’re not saying every single white person is racist, yet anytime we do, persons such as your elf can’t even discuss that specific incidence. I, too am in a mixed marriage and I can truthfully say we have as many white friends as black. Most folks such as yourself probably know someone at work who is black but you don’t socialize with more than one or two black couples, so it’s difficult for you to have these conversations.These are her experiences and like most upper and middle class blacks we aren’t shielded from racism because of our incomes or the higher priced areas we may choose to live. Actually, we probably encounter more. The women that mistake her for the help probably aren’t being malicious, it’s just because even in a metro area like Atlanta with it’s huge middle-class black residents we do tend to self segregate. Mrs. Salcedo wants the same things you want for your kids and I respect her for making that choice, but it really gets tiresome on a daily basis and many of my African American friends with higher incomes have moved into areas with lower housing values than they can afford to shield their kids from this.

        • OakhurstRez


          How ironic, the take away from the original article was the desire for diversity and that ‘sameness’ is not a desirable characteristic for our city. However, since I have another take on the matter and I am not in full agreement with others here like Hannah, I am persona-non-grata on this thread.

          I have always been annoyed when people try to qualify there assertions of racial issues based on how many friends (of whatever ethnicity) they have of a particular race. It seems that I can’t possibly have any exposure to that conversation. Well TF if you must know, I have friends, neighbors and even work colleagues of other ethnicities as well. My kids play with them, I had roommates in the past, I was born and raised here in Atlanta, etc, etc. Hell, I even voted for a black man as a presidential candidate. I hope this now lets me in the club.

    • Non-hispanic whites make up %62.6 of the U.S. population. Blacks make up roughly 14.2% of the U.S. population. As for white Latinos that is certainly up for debate as some Latinos claim to be white but wouldn’t pass as white in the U.S.

      This article discusses the gentrification of an Atlanta suburb and how racism creeps its ugly head at every turn. Georgia will soon be minority-majority within 10 years as well. So while national and state trends are pushing towards diversity, there are still pockets of the country that are getting whiter.

  • Guest

    Nicki, someone really said “You’re not really black,” to you? For reals?

  • Aaron Marks

    Nicki, someone really said “You’re not really black?” For reals?

    • Nicki Salcedo

      Aaron Marks, for reals. Usually followed by, “Well, you know what I mean.” No, I don’t. Then I do the Carlton dance. (Secretly the Elaine dance)

  • Hannah

    This is great Nicki. I posted it to Facebook and it is getting lots of likes from people who do not know you. I was going to reply to some of the critical remarks that people have posted here, but can’t think of anything that will change their minds. They jsut don’t get it.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      I was going to reply with pictures of cats cuddling dogs. And men in kilts.

  • Aderya

    Yes decatur is predominately white, however there are other races than just white and black. My boyfriend and I are an interracial couple; I am american black and he is Ecuadorian. Decatur is a melting pot and everyone is friendly with everyone. I think you may be living elsewhere in decatur but the city of decatur, downtown decatur is all mixed up.

  • hmm…

    Many of the things you are talking about are class-based. In many parts of the country–the South, especially–class is implicitly racialized. But it turns out that there are plenty of middle class people with dark skin with one dog and one kid, or a plastic bubble in their fence, just like there are plenty of people with light skin who would talk to you and not assume you are a nanny.

  • Nicki Salcedo

    I must apologize for perpetuating the racial divide with my comments regarding Carlton on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Alfonso Ribeiro is both a great actor and known to be a fine dancer. His portrayal of Carlton was to reverse stereotypes. For this, I thank him. Mr. Ribeiro was so wonderful a dancer that he even danced in a commercial with Michael Jackson. I actually dance like Elaine on Seinfeld, but I thought that statement might be misconstrued.The Carlton analogy seemed to best represent the diaspora. I cannot say that I disagree with any of the comments here. Our experiences impact how we read between the lines. Some will think on this issue with anger. Others thoughtfulness. Others optimism and humor. I shall remain forever, and much to your irritation, optimistic on all matters.

    • Thisten

      “Alfonso Ribeiro is both a great actor and known to be a fine dance.”


      Please don’t forget “Alfonso’s Breakin’ & Poppin’ Book” from 1985!

      • Nicki Salcedo

        Thisten, the video you posted is so amazing. I wish I had the equivalent of 1985’s $19.99 + $3 shipping/handling. I wish. I wish. I worry that since humor is in short supply, this video may not bring the joy to everyone that it did to me. This video makes me was to hug someone and find all the beauty in the world and take out my breakin’ board. Portable breakin’ board. I love you all.

        • Thisten

          I’m so glad you liked it! I had hoped you would.

  • RHM

    You are hilarious. The negative comments are coming from over-sensitive white people who can’t understand that your generalizations are intentional and make a point – not that all white people are racist or bad (because you certainly have white friends, and not just the ones at work :). Although I am an obvious minority raised in the deep south in the 80s, my most racist experience happened when recently walking through the Decatur Farmer’s Market in a lovely designer suit (clearly not the nanny) with my mixed race niece (who looks Hispanic or white depending on her sun exposure) being stopped 12 times by people asking, what is your relationship to that child. Wow.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      No one wants to talk about microaggression.

  • Michael

    I’d like to be a fly on the wall at daycare for the next several days.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      It is really clean in there. No flies.

  • NewToDecatur

    Replace “black” with “white” in your post and it would be regarded as one of the most racist stories ever told.

    • Corey Anderson

      You must be “NewtoDecatur” because everyone I know who grew up here can talk about race openly. We don’t always get it right, but it’s better than not talking about it at all. Mentioning race does not automatically = racism. Growing up in Winnona Park, I remember my friends parents discussing the sign of change in the neighborhood in the 80s: Nannies.

      • Nicki Salcedo

        I’ve always found true Southerners to be open to conversations about race. Honest and open. But I will try replacing the words: “Black people should have two dogs or a dog and a kid.” I like kids and dogs. This still seems like a happy thing to me. How come nobody said they wished people treated me with more respect when I’m walking around town? Is the joke offensive? But reality is not offensive? I’m going to stop now and start looking at cute cat pictures to solve life’s conundrums.

  • I suspect we each have an area where we’ve been the only one. I was 23 before I knew anyone who didn’t share the religious beliefs I was raised with. (That’s one result of parochial school from first grade through college.) I made a conscious choice not to work for a church-owned business (which was the cruelest thing I could ever do to my parents) and had to learn things (like how to go to a movie) most people assimilated before they graduated high school.

    Thank you, Nicki, for the reminder to recognize opportunities to extend friendship.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      We have all been the only one. I do believe this. Some of us for a time, some of us for a lifetime. I’m so blessed with people who have extended friendship to me and those who have accepted my (awkward) attempts at extending friendship. You never know who needs it.

  • mcgehee

    You always make me smile and think. I’ll be the one over here hanging her head in shame because she isn’t meeting her dog quota.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      I’ve asked the Editor to update my article to remove any references to “dogs” and “kids” and “plexiglass”. My intent was not to offend. Nevermind all the stuff people say to me and nobody stands up for me to say, don’t talk to her like that. I’ve got my own back. The new quota is zero for dogs and babies. The new quota for saying crazy things to me is also zero. McGehee, keep your head up! And smiling is my favorite. #BuddyTheElf

  • Daniel Juieng

    I thank you for responding to reply to you. You are correct that I could look up the data. However, you made the argument based upon your quote of data. And, you know,'s_teapot. Even though we have never met, I sense that you are very smart. And again, I thank you for responding to my reply. I forget the German saying about people that light their pipes on a man’s burning beard. Regardless, a wise man once said, “can’t we all just get along?”

  • Laura Platas Scott

    You are so funny!! Loved this!! You compare your dancing ( in a response to a comment) to be more like Elaine’s from Seinfeld than Carlton’s…..Bahahahaha!!!! Just saw that Seinfeld rerun…..funny;)

    • Nicki Salcedo

      I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the episode where Elaine dances and my only conclusion is this: Elaine was 100% perfect. Perfect in every way. She had to dance a little silly so we could relate to her, and she would seem less perfect. To me she became 110% perfect, because she loved to dance and she wasn’t ashamed. #Masterofherdomain

  • G Buck

    Nice piece. I enjoy your style, and ability to effectively “poke sticks”, but gently without falling into diatribe.
    That being noted, as a rare Decatur conservative, my most ardent wish for Decatur is more middle (and upper, with prices & rents going where they are) class African, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific, etc. families. Shared culture, shared virtues, shared values, and even shared 90’s TV references, trump skin color every time.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      G Buck, I hope you aren’t a rare. And I can go back as far as The Big Valley (Heath!) and Route 66 (Linc!) in my TV reference, though I usually stick to Star Trek and the Twilight Zone. I may have mentioned before that I’m just a little bit from the future. See you there. Thank you for reading.

New Ben Ad
Banner Decaturish 300x250_April
Decaturish_300x250 V. 3
DeKalb_Medical-DMPG-300x250 (1)

Receive the Daily Email DIgest

* = required field