Atlanta S3 E6: White Fashion – “Reinvest In Yo Hood”

Jayson Buford and Abe Beame return to discuss Donald Glover's depiction of white terror, Williamsburg food trucks, Deray Twitter takedowns and more.
By    April 26, 2022
Photo via FX/Hulu

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Jayson Buford wants you to revisit 50 Cent’s 1999 Kay Slay freestyle.

Abe Beame‘s Nets schadenfreude is almost as delicious as that salmon belly crudo he made the other night.

Watching Atlanta try to portray white terror and white people’s constant microaggressions has me thinking about Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Spike’s seminal film chronicles a day in the life of Black residents of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn and an Italian-American pizzeria owner and his family. It doesn’t do it with kid gloves; it doesn’t do it as an absurdist farce either. It understands people. It understands that people, even ones who are undoubtedly racist, can have grace in their hearts. It understands that even if someone has a Black person that they appreciate, they can still surely have racist views and say racist things. The Black residents, such as Giancarlo Eposito’s Buggin’ Out, can be crass, loud, and even off-key, but brothers definitely should be on that wall. That wall is in a neighborhood full of Black people. That pizza place has built its legacy off of its Black customers. It understands that the state will murder; that Black life is more important than someone’s private property is, even if Sal did build that pizza store with his bare hands. Spike understands people. He knows that what is in our souls can be contradictory. People are complicated, immensely so, in Do the Right Thing and those complexities make the racism, state violence, and gentrification all the more ugly, intense, and cosmic.

In the recent Atlanta episode, “White Fashion”, I realized that Donald Glover doesn’t know people well. That’s been the biggest criticism of the season thus far. The way Glover writes the white people in this show is one of absurdity and Twitter memes from overzealous white allies. It was fine when the season was more of a hangout session in Atlanta, a city filled with colorful, vibrant, and multi-faceted Black people. We didn’t need nuanced characters when we were following Paperboi’s journey from sitting down in his barbershop chair to trying to teach his barber’s son a lesson. But, Glover is trying his hand at more ambitious works. He’s directly placing white terror at a premium in front of his Black characters.

We’ve seen whites be overzealous in trying to find a missing phone; we’ve seen an Asian woman act like Darius was making a pass towards them; and now, in this latest episode, we’ve seen white companies use Black creatives to combat their racism. While Earn and Paperboi are waiting for this fashion company to greet them in the company hallways, Paperboi jokes that Earn suggesting that he learn to make his own business from this is some “Dr King shit.” In succession, they both say: “They killed his ass!” More on that in a second. While Darius is waiting for them, he is taken to a Nigerian restaurant by a white staffer for some authentic cuisine. Joloff, the Nigerian rice dish, is tasty and the white staffer enjoys it. She’s wide-eyed, very impressed by the culture, and definitely is eager to learn more about the place.

When Paperboi is negotiating what the fashion company should do about the several problems in diversity and lack of Black representation, he gets fed up with the lack of attention people are giving his ideas. Tyree Henry, as usual, is equal parts hilarious and (A recurring bit is fighting with the white passing guy that keeps using “nigga” — it is unsaid whether he is Black or not). Khalil, a Black man who specializes in apologizing for white companies, offers the idea of Black Panther tickets for kids of his charity. When Paperboi loudly questions whether this makes sense, he is shut down by Khalil, who suggests that he take it down a few notches.

Khalil, played by Fisayo Akinade, represents a social justice branding that has picked up steam in the algorithmic and social media era. “Use these companies to do your own social work for your community”, this guy says, taking him from looking like an enabler to seemingly savvy. I’m less convinced. As is Paperboi, who leaves stressed out after it’s suggested that they have “all lives matter’d” an idea that he had. As Khalil explains, the companies don’t want to re-invest in Black people. They want to use Black celebrities and Black culture to extend the reign of their cultural behemoth. Why help Black people when you can use them to help yourselves?

Darius is also shocked, or not shocked, to find that the restaurant that he was brought to has been stolen by the same staffer. It’s now in the form of a truck, not unlike something you would see in Williamsburg. The dish he got was re-packaged – with much less flavor – as “the Darius”, which is as grim as it sounds. Darius is visibly distressed and throws the dish in the garbage. This is undoubtedly something that has happened to Black cuisine, Black culture, and yes, Black people. Our creations are stolen, borrowed, or sketched by people who do not have the art form’s best interest. But, the problem is this episode, and the others like it, is too broad.

Glover’s view of the people who are causing Alfred and Darius their strife lets white people off the hook. The overzealous idiot from the last episode, the white staffer that sucks the soul out of the Nigerian restaurant, and the fan that sings the song to Paperboi in the interrogation room come across as a fantasy, or a surrealist view of white terror and racism. White terror isn’t food being stolen into a truck. It is when real estate is bought in that neighborhood, hijacking prices up for the poor people who live there. It lets white people off the hook when they can watch something and say “this is not me! I’m good.” That’s what I fear Glover has done throughout this season. Yes, we’ve seen white people do outlandish things on social media that fit the description that Glover gives them, but racism and cultural appropriation are scary precisely because it is conveniently done in the shadows. Here to talk about this with me is Abe Beame. How are you, brother? No wait, the girl Darius hit on is Asian, the girl that steals the Nigerian concept is white. – Jayson Buford

Abe: So I think Spike, and specifically Do The Right Thing is an interesting reference for this episode, and really this season. Like Spike’s masterpiece, this season has treated its characters as symbols, fluid mouthpieces for the writers, as we discussed last week, they reset those symbols, who they are, what they want, and pet issues the writers are trying to address each episode, each week. I almost wish this had been an anthology episode. It would’ve probably made it a less aggravating half hour of television.

I’ve been thinking about Clark County, another largely symbolic character whose specter hovered over season 2 of Atlanta, he was a funny, well realized character the show kept coming back to, and played into what at the time felt like the major stakes of that season. Now we get a new Clark County every week, and it’s exhausting. The crux of this episode echoes the dilemma presented by the hype beast grifter from Fernando’s billion dollar flat: What do you do with social currency, do you keep some measure of integrity? Or do you trade it to take what you’re “owed”. The show has a salient point about the insincerity of these performative apologies and trying to actually take advantage of the opportunity for change, but ham-fisted writing and score settling get in the way again.

Then they shoehorn in a 2015ish Eater thinkpiece about culinary cultural appropriation and Earn and Van parlay a misguided Karen incident into yet another enigmatic rendezvous, I don’t know man. What a mess.

Jay: I disagree that Do the Right Thing is symbolic, but that is not the point. How well does Glover know people? He is a guy who has spent time in white spaces. But when I watch him, I overwhelmingly get the feeling that these are projections of what he thinks people are like. Nobody has a story. No one has anything in common. It’s a cynical – and not in the world weary way – view of what racism is. It is a mess of an episode. It’s broad. None of the characters have characteristics about themselves. It almost makes me like the reparations episode more. Tyree Henry is still great as the ever-empathetic and weary Paperboi. But, that episodes aren’t good enough to warrant this performance. If it sounds like I am mad, I am. There’s diminishing returns here. I could see why it’s solid in theory – but it lacks any resonance to me. What do you think?

Abe: Nah I mean you nailed it. It’s like these real-life Boondocks episodes that even Aaron Macgruder might say, “My guy, let’s at least attempt a semblance of reality”. But let’s at least attempt to have a dialogue with the creators intention. What do you make of their critique of this kind of elite grifter class of professional Black white people apologists? Deray Mckesson was apparently the main target of their satire. How do you feel about this idea that it’s this window dressing that exists to smooth the sins of institutional racism without actually addressing the architecture in any real material way?

Jay: I think Glover is showing you that Khalil is clearly a bit of a capitalist mind. This idea of philanthropy is somewhat becoming who gets to hide money in their charities. Would I call him my enemy? No. But I don’t trust him. Glover rightfully doesn’t and neither do I. Thought his character was the dopest one in the episode. Deray is a blast from Twitter’s past. Window dressing is an adept comparison. Part of what is going on is class based to me. This is never expanded upon identity politics.

When the roundtable gathers together, it is based on already soulless marketing. It is based on capitalist representation. What is never discussed is combining both. Whenever Paperboi begins to preach about the class dynamics of Black people and race in general, they shut him up. It’s institutional racism done by Oprah’s network. It’s the First Lady show on Showtime. But the best shows always combined the way man thought of himself – with what his economic class level was. I wish class had more of an impact on these white people that Glover wants to re-create. What do you think?

Abe: Yeah I mean, what’s so fucking frustrating is I think these are all fascinating and valid and necessary ideas and criticisms that haven’t really been addressed in culture as explicitly, it’s just so fucking lazy. It’s like Law & Order for racism, each week we’re thrust into these ripped from the headlines timeline crises that the show is in dialogue with in an interesting way, but wants us to just kind of accept exists outside the logic of a narrative based show in its third season with real characters we’re supposed to be charting in a way that hangs together.

I feel like I’m an old Jew on a park bench in front of Lincoln Center with plastic bags over my New Balances and a Zabar’s bag full of newspapers because at this point I’m just repeating myself, but isn’t it the show’s job to work these ideas into its plot and the lives of its characters in a relatable and cohesive way? They’re just going to shoot us out of a cannon into the next straw man of the week until the series finale?

Jay: At this point, I would be content with the worst episode of season two. Something on that level would be a shock to me. Because this season, has not been detailed or dynamic enough. The time is now, Mr. Glover.

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