Tuesday, February 16, 2010


From the “You Can’t Make This Shit Up” department comes this piece of news concerning MARTA, Atlanta’s rapid-transit rail system.

Seems that back in October, MARTA renamed their four rail lines in an effort to simplify navigation. I guess it was pretty difficult trying to figure out where the various lines went, what with complicated names like “North Springs” and “Doraville.” No, it made much more sense to color-code the lines... ’cause it’s so much more intuitive.

The two east-west lines were renamed the Blue and Green lines. OK, fine. The North Springs line - the one She Who Must Be Obeyed and I take when we need to go to the airport - was renamed the Red line. Excellent. And the Doraville line, which serves the northeastern quadrant of the city, was titled the Yellow line.


Problem is, the Doraville line serves Doraville and Chamblee (AKA “Chambodia”), districts with a significant Asian population. I know that in this day of Political Correctness, some ethnic groups tend to get their noses out of joint over pretty much any slight, even imagined ones... but given the past use of the term “yellow” in such Asian-friendly terms as “Yellow Peril” and “Yellow Scourge,” you’d think the double-domes at MARTA would have figured out that a different color choice might have been more, er, ahhhh... sensitive.

I mean, I notice that there’s no Black Line. Would that have been considered insulting to the city’s large African-American population? Would it have mattered which line it was? I don’t know, and I certainly can’t speak for that segment of our city’s citizenry - but I see that that was not one of the names selected.

There were a few folks that saw this (ahem) train wreck coming. John Yasutake, MARTA’s former manager of equal opportunity and conflict resolution, met with MARTA senior staffers a month before the proposed name changes took effect, reminding them that there was a very large Asian community in Doraville and its environs that might not look too kindly upon being told they had to ride the Yellow Line. But nobody seemed to think it was any big deal. At the time, anyway.

Culturally driven sensitivities being what they are, color-coding is fraught with the potential to offend. The Red Line? Commies! Or even worse, Alabama fans! Purple? Horrible. Not only does it remind people of Barney the Dinosaur, it’s the color of eggplant... and melanzane (eggplant) is a derogatory Italian expression for people of African descent. Blue? That’s on the Israeli flag, and it might piss off the city’s Arab population. Hey, even Crayola knew when to rename its “flesh” color crayon when they figured out that not everyone’s flesh was Whitey Pink.

Maybe that’s why the New York subway uses letters and numbers. Of course, with twenty-six different lines, color-coding the New York MTA would require dipping into the more exotic regions of the color palette: raw umber, burnt sienna, aquamarine, Indian red chestnut, salmon, et alia. And a Salmon Line might offend smoked fish-eating Jews.

To extricate itself from this mess, MARTA has agreed to re-rename the Doraville Yellow Line, giving it a name that is less offensive to Asians: the Gold Line.

Community leaders are pleased with the planned revision, indicating that it shows that MARTA is sensitive to their concerns. Albeit belatedly, I would add.

But I don’t think this goes far enough. Correcting MARTA’s faux pas requires more proactive measures. And that’s why I propose that the Doraville line be renamed the Lucky Dragon Triple-Eight Golden Success Happiness Sun Line.

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