A screenshot of a search this week for “what does MARTA stand for” returning a featured snippet that did not provide the correct answer.
The incorrect result used information from MARTA’s Wikipedia entry, which, in its first sentence, correctly defines MARTA: "Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is the principal public transport operator in the Atlanta metropolitan area."
However, in the section on the effects of race on expansion and funding, the entry says MARTA is "sometimes sarcastically said to stand for 'Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta', a replacement backronym, due to the relatively low number of white riders, particularly after peak commuting hours." That sentence is cited with a 2001 AJC article about a marketing proposal designed to improve MARTA's image. The story mentions how the acronym has long been the subject of a racially charged joke: "You know what MARTA really stands for, don't you?"
The 17-year-old article describes how “an Internet search of the phrase shows it turns up in national publications such as The New Republic and as far away as Turkey.” It also notes that the transit agency had considered a name change as it prepared to pitch an expansion to Gwinnett County voters, “in part because it was common knowledge that the acronym was being altered into an ethnic joke.”
Attempts to change MARTA's name are still around. Earlier this year, state Sen. Brandon Beach unveiled a proposal that would include calling an expanded regional transit system, to include MARTA, "The ATL."
"Rebranding will do some good," the Alpharetta Republican and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee has said. The fate of that transit expansion bill will be known by Thursday, the last day of the legislative session.
READ | Riding on MARTA: AJC readers on race and ethnicity in Atlanta
READ | An AJC reader recounts her experience of race on MARTA
MARTA officials are aware of the backronym “that was created to marginalize rapid transit and the people who depend on it,” spokeswoman Stephany Fisher said Wednesday. She said the agency didn’t try to get the search result changed because “attempting to control internet search results is not a productive use of our time.
MARTA has modified 32 existing route. CONTRIBUTED
We proudly serve all who need transportation and anyone who denies our passengers are diverse, doesn’t ride MARTA,” Fisher said.
The derogatory saying is steeped in a racist history, as demonstrated by another article from the AJC archives.
Reporter Frederick Allen wrote about hearing the phrase while covering a massive racial protest march in Forsyth County in January 1987. He couldn’t forget the image of “a furious young white woman, the tendons in her neck strained and popping, her features distorted with rage, shrieking at the marchers, ‘Do you know what MARTA stands for?!?’”
"Anyone white who has lived more than a month or two in these parts has heard a fair bit of racial humor, including the longstanding joke about the "real" acronym for MARTA — Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta. It is supposed to be only mildly offensive, a naughty commentary on the belief that Atlanta's public transit clientele is largely black.
I never did find it terribly amusing. But now, after hearing that young woman spit it out, rat-tat-tat, as though it were some pointed weapon in a war for white supremacy, I never will be able to hear it again without shuddering. Nor any other supposedly harmless quip that plays on race.”
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In other transit news:
5 things to know about Metro Atlanta transit expansion 1. Georgia lawmakers are discussing ways to boost public transit funding as Atlanta competes for Amazon's HQ2. 2. In Clayton County, MARTA has expanded bus service and is negotiating for right-of-way with an eye to adding rail. 3. By the end of 2018, there will be more than 50 new miles of express toll lanes in metro Atlanta. 4. The Cobb/Cherokee Northwest Corridor project will feature 30 miles of reversible lanes, with 39 new bridges. 5. Georgia spe