BLACK VOICES

Stuntin’ Is A Habit: ‘Atlanta’ Shows Us That White Notions Of Success Will Never Work For Black People

"Money is an idea, man. There's a reason why a white man dressed just like you can walk into a bank and get a loan and you can't even spend a $100 bill."
Donald Glover as Earnest Marks in "Atlanta."
Donald Glover as Earnest Marks in "Atlanta."

Lilysmom_11, the white woman’s username, was just trying to take her other daughter, Destiny, to school when “this rap song comes on and it was just ...” She pauses, fighting back tears before regaining her composure. “Disgusting.” She digs into the song, reading off the uncensored lyrics before choking up again and expressing disbelief that the track, Paper Boi’s latest banger, would be played on a mainstream radio station.

So begins the third episode of Season 2 of Donald Glover’s “Atlanta”: with white tears. The reference here is clearly to the famous 13-minute video from 2016 in which a white mother of four goes on an emotional tirade about Vince Staples’ song “Norf Norf.” The song played on a Top 40 radio station while she was driving with her children, and, as she related in the video, she immediately grew upset by the lyrics. “This is on our local radio station, this crap is being played,” she said. “I couldn’t even believe the words that I was listening to. As a mom, it infuriated me.” Like “Lily’s mom,” the unnamed woman recited the unedited song lyrics ― which we doubt played on a Top 40 station ― and frequently stopped to choke back tears as she pondered the question of “why society is so messed up.”

The way Glover uses white women to critique the fraught relationship between white folks and black music is one of many things Taryn Finley and Julia Craven discuss on this week’s “Run That Back.” (Spoiler alert: We’ll be giving away some plot points.) Other topics at hand include flipping white tears for free liquor; why, exactly, Earn keeps getting stunted on; and just how much Glover’s brilliance got us fucked up.

Earn, Paper Boi and Darius laugh about the video at a bar and attribute the song’s growing profile to the power of a white woman’s tears. The bartender walks over with a free round of shots and takes one with them before “suddenly” recognizing Paper Boi. He asks Paper Boi repeatedly to put him on a track, which makes the rapper visibly uneasy. When Earn interjects, the unnamed server snaps at him, and Earn declines to assert himself as Paper Boi’s manager.

Julia: Donald Glover got me fucked up.

Taryn: RT Donald Glover got me fucked up. I feel personally victimized by Season 2, Episode 3.

Julia: I am victimized and slightly confused as well. Let’s just start from the beginning here because there’s a lot to unpack this go ’round, and I don’t want Glover to have me more fucked up than he already does. The white woman. Her Instagram. My laugh.

Taryn: That white woman was HURT. I hollered the entire time, and I’m so thankful Donald is making fun of these real-life viral white shenanigans. That truly feeds my soul. She sat up there and read the lyrics as if the version her baby heard wasn’t the damn edited version. I was truly laughing at her pain. Idk who’s worse, this lady or the woman who was told by AppleCare that somebody gave a damn about her white feelings.

Julia: AppleCare owes me some money, so I ain’t mad. But, nah, I took the opening song a few ways ― mainly as Paper Boi addressing how he felt in Episode 2. “Bitch, I need reparations. Niggas tired of dancing like The Temptations.” That, to me, reeks of his experiences at Fresh in Episode 2. Also the use of white women to depict the whites’ disconnect to blackness and black music has been interesting this season. All the white people we’ve encountered thus far either want to appropriate, profit, profile or cry about the fact that they can do none of the above.

And idk about the edited version. They cuss on the radio in Georgia sometimes. God bless the Peach State, forever. The white woman’s video was also DUMB, similar to that video of the white woman crying about Vince Staples you sent me! [below]

Taryn: Oh, then I see why so many artists thrive there. #DeathToCensorship. But you’re so right. They want to do everything to black music but understand it ― or leave it the hell alone to just be at the very least. Same way it operates IRL. But Paper Boi, Earn and Darius wasn’t hurt over her shit though lol.

Julia: I love how they took the publicity and got some free shots of 1800 off it. They flipped white tears. ICONIC! **Joanne voice**

Taryn: THAT GAVE ME SO MUCH JOY! From now on, I’m referring to tequila as white tears.

Julia: As will I, sis. As will I. Solidarity.

Taryn: But that waiter who tried to use those lil free shots as an opening to “build” with Paper Boi wasn’t slick at all. And Earn is too passive to be an Atlanta rapper’s manager. He should’ve been able to shut that down with the quickness.

Julia: THAT REALLY HAD ME BENT. LIKE EARN! SAY YOU’RE HIS MANAGER!! “YOU ARE TALKING TO ME, BITCH! I’M HIS MANAGER!” ― that’s all Earn had to say.

Taryn: As we see in yet another scenario, he just ain’t bout that life. And really, throughout this entire episode, we see how Earn just lets shit happen to him without really drawing clear boundaries. He wants to “stunt” but doesn’t understand how to do it in a way that’s truly beneficial to him.

Julia: Exactly! He doesn’t know how to benefit anyone, not even himself, which is bizarre. And his refusal to stand his ground is becoming a theme, and I wonder when he’s gonna have a true breaking point. It’s maddening to watch so I know it’s maddening to experience constantly being stunted on. I just can’t wrap my mind around being that passive, but I walk around thinking my bones dense af all the time so me and Earn ain’t cut from the same cloth. How you the manager for the biggest rising star in the Atlanta rap scene but you don’t have any bass in your voice? Come on, Earn. Start speaking with ya chest, lil nigga.

Taryn: He finally gets the chance to stunt when he finally gets a little coin from this music shit. He gets a check ― which, I’m assuming, had at least one comma ― and wants to treat Van to a date night. Before he can even cash the check, we already know he’s about to fuck up the money because refer to Episode 2. Van is too good for his mess.

Julia: Aight — so let’s parlay into the movie theater scene.

Zazie Beetz as Vanessa.
Zazie Beetz as Vanessa.

After getting a check off music sales, Earn decides that he, once again, wants to use the little bit of money he has to stunt on the people who so frequently stunt on him. Instead of a fun night out with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Vanessa, he’s racially profiled twice ― the first time by a white woman at an upscale (read: white) movie theater and then again by an African club owner ― and swindled out of his money at a strip club before being humiliated in the club’s parking lot after deciding to race … wait, for it ...

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MICHAEL FUCKING VICK.

Taryn: Earn takes Van to a fancy iPic-esque movie theater. His intentions should be to make up for being a shitty boyfriend in Season 1, but no. He just wants to stunt. He pulls out a $100 bill and, of course, the racist woman who works at the theater says they don’t take bills that high. When he tries to pay with his card, she claims they need to make a copy of his ID and card. Earn is, yet again, confronted with his blackness in a white space.

Watch racism work.

Julia: “This is a new policy” is what got me. I was at a D.C. bar one night and they came up with a new ID policy when I asked to order a drink. I have my old vertical ID and they magically stopped taking verticals that night. This was after chastising me for where I sat and looking at me crazy from the time I walked in the door. I say all of this to say that Earn’s experience hit home. This is something all black people deal with and, as frustrating as it was to see him just brush it off and leave ― albeit after a white dude basically pulled a gun on him ― that’s what so many of us do.

When Earn said, “I should be able to use a $100 bill,” I screamed at the TV. We SHOULD be able to, but we often can’t because a black person couldn’t possibly have any money, right? And then Van basically trolling him and refusing to call it racism was annoying but symbolic of the mental gymnastics we all play in these scenarios. “It was weird.” No, it was racist.

Taryn: I couldn’t fault him for that because I probably would’ve done the same thing, then wrote a tweet thread about it later. Hell, I probably HAVE done the same thing. And the folks who’ve done that to me have looked at me with the same “Yea, you’re not welcome here because of your skin color and there’s nothing you can do about it” look that that white lady gave Earn and Van. Legal U.S. tender means nothing when you’re a black person at the wrong (read: white) place.

Julia: And the fact that she wanted to scan his credit card .... I was livid. She had some fucking nerve.

Taryn: I also appreciate how Glover highlighted that this anti-black attitude isn’t always exclusive to uppity venues. When the cops rolled up on Earn and Van at the hookah lounge, I was really tight cause I knew it was about to be about the C note again.

Julia: That scene really exposed how Africans can treat and how they sometimes view black Americans. And I like how Glover showed us that the police ― who knew the bill was real but went along with the club owner ― truly only serve and protect those in power despite who’s right in the situation.

Taryn: MESSAGE! And it was only THEN that Earn admitted that that was some racist shit.

Julia: And I know Earn just wanted to stunt but got damn, he should be able to blow his money and make his piss-poor financial decisions without being profiled. We all should.

Earn’s night really just ... it just ... Donald Glover got me fucked up.

 

 

Taryn: You know what else I enjoyed? The fact that they finally went to a strip club. Like it’s Atlanta, strip club capital of the world. It’s a crime that it took them this long to get to Onyx, tbh.

Julia: My fave part was Earn getting dusted by Michael Vick in the Onyx parking lot and not recognizing that the nigga he was racing was MICHAEL FUCKING VICK. I also loved how the dancers and bottle girls weaseled Earn out of his check.

Taryn: Earn needed a W so bad and didn’t realize that he was looking for it in all the wrong places. “It’s Michael Vick.” — Van.

Julia: That’s the most Atlanta L I can think of. You lost money in a parking lot race against Michael Vick out front of Onyx. I’m fucking lkjhgfdfghjkalsdfghj

Taryn: And the whole experience inside Onyx was just so real. Earn getting taxed for turning his money into ones. The DJ shaming Earn for passing the stage and not tipping the dancer. Van feeling bad for the girl whose gimmick is to look like a rookie. Tracy falling in love with one of the strippers and taking up all of her time. Hell, ”The Players Club’s” portrayal of strip clubs wasn’t even this authentic.

Julia: I thought about the money they shave off the top when you exchange your bills at Stadium lmao. Also men who don’t tip dancers should be shamed. Broke bitch. Pay her! She’s performing for you! She deserves!

Taryn: That really pisses me off. WHY ARE YOU HERE IF YOU AREN’T TIPPING??? LEAVE. GO. BYE. WITH YOUR LAVENDER.

Taryn: Paper Boi also knew the jig. He broke down the whole game of why stunting won’t fix Earn’s problems. He thinks money is gonna get him closer to success but he doesn’t realize that his idea of success aligns with whiteness and no matter how close in proximity he gets to it, he’ll never truly achieve it because the system isn’t for him. Albert “Paper Boi” Miles came through with the reality check: “Money is an idea, man. There’s a reason why a white man dressed just like you can walk into a bank and get a loan and you can’t even spend a $100 bill.”

Julia: MESSAGE LIKE SHIT!!!

Donald Glover and Zazie Beetz in Season 2, Episode 3 of "Atlanta."
Donald Glover and Zazie Beetz in Season 2, Episode 3 of "Atlanta."

Before they join Earn and Van at the strip club, Darius and Paper Boi spend some time in the studio with rapper Clark County. The young rapper schools Paper Boi on the power of connections and how white executives make space for only one black person so he makes sure it’s him. After asking Paper Boi to lay down a track with him, Clark County, who doesn’t smoke or drink, bounces into the studio to rap about smoking and drinking. When the audio recording software crashes, Clark County threatens his audio engineer with physical violence, which seems oddly out of character. It’s a dynamic scene that leave Paper Boi and Darius quite speechless.

Taryn: But you know what I really wasn’t ready for? The studio scene with Paper Boi, Darius and Clark County.

Julia: Before we go there, I wanna give a final shoutout to Michael Vick. Good day to Michael Vick and Michael Vick only and only Michael Vick. Now, on to Clark County!

Taryn: LMAO! It was peak niggadom from the jump. They brought weed and a pint of Henny to the studio thinking they were about to have a lit-ass session with Mr. Yoohoo himself. They were everything but right lmao.

Julia: So is Clark County an abuser? I did not get this scene at all despite watching it three times. I need help. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. He’s a bubblegum rapper (I love this genre of rap) but ... is he supposed to be XXXstation or Kashi Cereal 69 or something? Idk them niggas’ names.

Taryn: Clark County is something tf else. He’s a rapper who’s found more success than Paper Boi (Yoohoo sponsorship, “The Fast and the Furious” soundtrack money) because he’s played the game in a very narcissistic, abusive and perpetrating-ass way (like the niggas you named).

He turns down the Henny and kush Paper Boi and Darius offer, then goes into the studio and raps about those very things. When his audio engineer’s software crashes, he threatens him in this very sinister, yet passive-aggressive way. It was SOOO disturbing, yet a brilliant way of reflecting on who the industry lets get a piece of the pie. You can be a shit person who hurts people, but if you make a fire track and rub elbows with enough white folks, you gucci. (Not Mane, of course. All respect due to Mr. Icy, himself)

Even when Paper Boi asked him how he gets all of his deals, Clark said they only let one black rapper in and he gotta get it by any means. So he does. Fuck who he hurts or lies to in the process. Come to think about it, that’s probably why he had his brolic-ass security handle the engineer. He didn’t give them directives to whoop his ass, but they knew what the deal was when he left the room. It absolves Clark of any legal repercussions. No face, no case.

Julia: Omg.

Taryn: Also, I’m Paper Boi and Darius coming back for the half-empty bottle of Henny after security told them to GTFO.

Julia: Wow. I’m mind blown. That makes sense. I thought it was odd that he didn’t smoke and drink, but I didn’t catch that he went in the studio and rapped about it. Do you think this is Glover’s way of saying that authenticity doesn’t get you the bag anymore? Because it use to! But now maybe not so much.

Taryn: Definitely. People don’t care about real shit anymore. If the hook is catchy and the 808s are knocking, damn the facts. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be written by said rapper. This could be a reach, but this climate may even be why Donald Glover is retiring his musical persona, Childish Gambino. I digress, though.

Julia: It could be! I did enjoy just how much Clark County stressed connections and having a good manager. To me, it’s another clue that Earn won’t be Paper Boi’s manager by the end of the season.

Taryn: You’re calling it early, and I truly believe you.

Julia: I, like Darius, can feel everything.

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