Anybody might be white. So proclaims a drawling, drunk white man to his Black fishing buddy within the opening scene of Atlanta’s long-awaited third season. They sit in a small skiff floating on a lake at evening. The vibes are eerie. The pair, dressed nearly identically, are unfamiliar to viewers and are left unnamed. The present’s central forged, led by the cash-strapped and fumbling Earn (performed by creator Donald Glover), is nowhere in sight. The plot, on this scene and for many of the premiere, doesn’t join again to the place Season 2 left off 4 years in the past. But the person’s phrases make one thing plain that Glover has been threading by Atlanta since its first episodes: Race is a efficiency, one as horrifying as it’s hilarious. “With enough blood and money,” the nameless man says, “anyone can be white. It’s always been that way.”
Atlanta, a comedy-drama that’s each surreal and sharp-toothed, likes to play with the concept of race as a type of masks. Within the first two seasons, Glover was primarily fascinated by how Black individuals invent themselves. In Season 1, because the present shook off its sitcom exterior and revealed its weirder, impressionistic essence, it launched a smirking Black boy who trolls his faculty in whiteface, and a Black teen with a penchant for Patagonia who decrees himself a 35-year-old “transracial” white man. Atlanta embraced its satirical dreaminess in Season 2. The episode “Teddy Perkins” includes a Michael Jackson–adjoining recluse who invitations, at turns, terror, ridicule, and pity from his visitor, the perpetually bemused Darius (Lakeith Stanfield). These interludes weren’t simply whimsical gestures. Every posed a query: If race is a efficiency, what occurs when a Black particular person rejects his assigned position?
Within the second episode of Season 3, white of us are performing silly. “Sinterklaas Is Coming to Town” brings us again to our core forged, who’re gallivanting in Amsterdam. Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), additionally recognized by his rapper identify, Paper Boi, has booked a brand new tour, a 12 months after the one he was making ready for in Season 2’s finale. (Now he’s the headliner, not the supporting act.) Right here, blackface is given the lurid remedy that the present beforehand reserved for whiteface—the town, and the live performance venue, are full of Dutch individuals painted black in celebration of the racist, tiresome vacation custom of “Zwarte Piet.” Up to now, in lieu of easy minstrelsy, the primary characters confronted extra insidious caricatures of themselves. Alfred, particularly, has struggled with the stereotypes projected onto his Paper Boi persona, as reporters and shitposters alike tried to cut back him to a “thug” rapper. He needs to money in on his expertise however fears changing into a minstrel for the leisure trade within the course of. That personal worry turns into a public taunt in Amsterdam, when the rapper is greeted by a horde of individuals in blackface. When it’s showtime, Alfred refuses to take the stage.
However that call just isn’t the episode’s climax and is depicted with out melodrama or extended deliberation. As an alternative, the highlight in “Sinterklaas” is aimed on the crowd that’s oblivious to the ugliness of its personal efficiency. At one level, a white character can’t even distinguish between black paint and actual Black pores and skin—in a case of mistaken id, he assaults a white reveler for one thing that Earn did. Toni Morrison addressed an identical kind of myopia in a 1974 essay. She wrote of the “dumbfoundedness” she feels towards white individuals who insist on a simplistic picture of Blackness. “Surely they knew that intelligence was judged by the ability to tell the difference between one thing and another … That the finer the distinctions, the higher the intellect,” she wrote. “The inability, then, to tell one black person from another was tantamount to a public admission of brain damage.” Atlanta’s script appears to riff off Morrison’s prognosis, suggesting that the absurdity is much more amplified when a white particular person can’t inform the distinction between their very own fantasy and Black actuality.
Fittingly, within the season premiere, the drunk man on the boat observes that whiteness prevents an individual from seeing the world clearly, and the best way racist techniques injure everybody concerned. “It’s easy to see the Black man as cursed because you’ve separated yourself from him. But you don’t know, you’re enslaved just like him,” he says. “You lose logic. You see the blood, and you think someone else is bleeding.” However Atlanta has at all times seen the place the blood comes from. And it has lengthy proved itself adept at lining wounds with laughter. In Season 3’s first act, the present faucets additional into whiteness, and suggests it could possibly be probably the most ugly comedy but.