The show’s interpretation of Blackness is limited in the same way that the episode tries to criticize other people’s myopic definitions of what it means to be black, and it shows. At the end of the episode, Aaron is “acting black” in a way he wasn’t before, causing him to declare that he “has never been more attracted” to his white ex-girlfriend. This is exactly what I mean when I say that “Atlanta’s” attempts to say something truly meaningful about race are undermined by the writers’ inability to really hold the landing or engage with it by imposing uncomfortable and offensive stereotypes on Blacks, in what seems like an attempt to make sure the white audience isn’t completely alienated. It just doesn’t seem particularly funny or humorous to reinforce a harmful and damaging stereotype about black men who are hopelessly obsessed with white women when you consider the horrible origin of it all. All things considered, the episode would have been better off without him. He’s somewhere in the same category as Chet Hanks and Liam Neeson’s cameo appearances in “Trini 2 De Bone” and “New Jazz,” respectively. I know there are people who are easily impressed by the element of surprise and what they perceive as “boldness”, but let me point out the reality of the situation.
A show created and directed by Donald Glover, a Black man who has a documented history of relying on internalized anti-Blackness and racialized self-loathing in his stand-up, music, and other artistic endeavors, went to great lengths to feature two white men that they have been involved in controversial acts of racism: unapologetic cultural appropriation and fetishism in the Hanks case, and wanting to commit hate crimes against any black man they saw based on the actions of a loathsome individual in the Liam Neeson case. “Atlanta” could have used the “indie” episodes to spotlight emerging black actors and talent in its third season, but instead chose to focus on whites and put more money in the pockets of privileged white men who have been publicly and notably racist in the process. Is it something shocking? Of course. Does it provoke conversation? Obviously. But it’s not smart, and it’s certainly not a substitute for good writing and storytelling. I’m not discounting the fact that Neeson might actually regret it, but his sincerity in apologizing isn’t the point here, and a few little jokes about the nature of white privilege don’t really make up for the fact that a show that was initially well-liked by its cast predominantly black and its surreal stories that resonated with black viewers has become something of an underwhelming disaster for those of us enthusiastic enough to watch or care.
It just doesn’t make sense that, four years after season 2, we’ve barely seen the black characters we love. The show has morphed into a half-hearted attempt at an anthology about white privilege that he doesn’t even have the balls to really Go there because it continues and has devoted four episodes in a 10-episode season to showcasing white actors and white perspectives. Forgive me if I don’t screw up more because it feels like a convoluted minstrel show at this point, so the praise it’s getting for being “deep” is nauseating and ridiculous. Whatever your feelings about “Atlanta” are, there’s only one episode left in season 3. I’ve already seen it. It sucks a bit too, and I’ll tell you why next week.