BLACK VOICES

The MVP Of ‘Atlanta’ Gets Her Moment

Finally, Vanessa Keefer stands her ground against the emotionally abusive father of her child.
A Ping-Pong game reflects the state of Van and Earn's relationship on this week's "Atlanta."
A Ping-Pong game reflects the state of Van and Earn's relationship on this week's "Atlanta."

It takes all day, but, finally, Van comes to a harrowing realization about her relationship with Earn.

“Helen,” the latest episode of “Atlanta,” begins with the pair taking a road trip to an Oktoberfest in the predominantly white city in White County where Van grew up. The opening scene, in which the two drive down a country road and almost hit a wild pig, is a clear reference to the beginning of “Get Out.” In fact, the entire episode gives off horror film vibes, but with enough jokes about white people that the satire is evident. Festivalgoers are wearing creepy masks and costumes that you think only white folks would wear, and Van takes a trip into a dark alley alone ― something a lot of black people frequently make known we just don’t do.

In the middle of it all is the matter of Van’s mental and emotional well-being. She has run-ins with her close childhood friend and her man, and then, due to a traditional German “demon thief” at the fasnacht festival in Helen, her iPhone is snatched. As she’s strolling alongside an unnamed bartender during the phone hunt, Van discusses her broken relationship with Earn. “We can be good together, but only when we really have to be,” she says in fluent German. “And I’m slowly figuring out that maybe we don’t have to.” She reveals the true meaning of an episode laced with references to the hostility directed at black people in white spaces: Women everywhere who have put up far too long with an undeserving hostile man should get out of the situation.

In the episode’s climax, Van tells Earn that she wants to be in a committed relationship with someone who treats her with respect. Earn likes things as they are. And, in a move similar to Monica’s in “Love and Basketball,” Van invites Earn to a game of Ping-Pong in which the back-and-forth of their tattered relationship becomes literal. But in a departure from one of the culture’s favorite movies, they’re done if she wins.

On this week’s “Run That Back,” Taryn Finley and Julia Craven discuss how men are trash, white people are trash and black people who uphold anti-blackness are, yup, trash.

The episode begins with Earn performing oral sex on Van before they embark on their trip to an Oktoberfest in Helen, Georgia. On the way there, the two are happily discussing their weekend plans. Van is preparing him for the events ahead. She knows that Earn doesn’t do well in white spaces and she wants to coach him on how to survive. As she’s letting him know what’s up, the pair almost hits a wild pig standing in the middle of the road eating some sort of melon. They joke that it made them hungry because anything can make you hungry when that loud hits.

Taryn: OK, let’s talk about “Atlanta: ‘Get Out’ Edition.”

Julia: Good morning to no one else but Vanessa Keefer.

Taryn: So I was already a Van stan but this episode really cemented my adoration for her. Van is really the GOAT, not only of this episode but of this entire series. But that first scene tho ... LORDT.

Julia: Why on God’s sweet green earth is Earn’s broke ass trying to have another baby?

Taryn: WHO KNEW EARN COULD THROW THAT NECK LIKE THAT? That took me aback but I was here for it.

Julia: I was here for it last night but after watching the entire episode it just made me angry. Like, this is something else Van has to give up. She has to give up good, consistent dick because Earn is a jerk.

Taryn: Yea, that really makes me feel for Van but she deserves sooo much more. Also, did you peep what she said in the car on the way to Helen? Apparently it wasn’t as good as it looked cause she lowkey played him and said he has more “tongue confidence” when he’s high. I died.

Julia: fghhnjadnfgfuujghvgh. Aight — the road trip to Helen. Let’s rewind a bit. It reminded me of “Get Out” only instead of a buck it was a wild pig. It’s obviously because they’re about to go into a hostile white space. And weren’t Chris and Rose in bed in the opening of “Get Out,” too?

Taryn: Shit, I don’t remember. I just know Rose can kiss my ass and go to hell.

Julia: 

Taryn: But yea, very much “Get Out” vibes. I’m also pissed that they almost hit the hog before we could get into Van’s high-ass question: Are black girls considered brunettes? I can’t say I haven’t wondered the same thing.

Julia: That’s a serious question though! Are we considered brunettes? I guess so but I don’t know. I wanted to hear them figure it out. The streets need answers. I’m still thinking about this lmao. And it the opener really made me think about their safety. I was like, clearly it’s gonna be hostile but how hostile? Are they gonna die? It put me on edge in a good way. It was suspenseful but also, knowing Donald Glover, I was wondering what lesson Van (and we) would learn. And the moral is that Van deserves MUCH BETTER THAN EARN. Such a fucking lame.

Taryn: Same thing so many black people have to think about when going into predominantly white spaces. So Van is prepping him on what to expect when they finally make it to Helen, where she grew up. You know it’s about to be some shit because she’s telling him that it’s a tradition for some white man to run around in blackface (which, gtfo) and gives him a taste of how she’s treated in town. She likens herself to the Serena Williams of Helen, which I think is brilliant: a black woman being undeniably great in a white space while still getting criticized because of her race/appearance. She’s saying this while two old white ladies are staring at Earn and Van through a window like they’ve seen a fucking ghost.

Julia: YES ― SO MUCH YES! I loved that. With Van, we really do stan a legend. And, even still, she doesn’t seem to be as concerned about how Earn will be treated as she is about how Earn will treat them. She was obviously right because Earn is seriously trash and he refuses to not be.

BUT ― and I’m not caping for Earn. Let me preface this with that statement. I understand how out of place he felt and how Van kinda did leave him to fend for himself a few times. HOWEVER, that doesn’t excuse him shitting on her culture and making a mess of something that makes her happy.

When you love someone, you compromise. My nigga don’t like doing everything I ask of him ― and vice versa ― but if it means a lot to me and it’s within reason, he does it. Making your partner happy is part of being with someone. Period. But Earn cares about only himself and that’s one of his many failings. (Side note: I loved how Van, like Zazie Beetz, the actress who plays her, is also half-German.)

Taryn: The way this episode is formatted is purposeful. We get a more tangible taste of Earn’s perspective and uncomfortableness in the first half because we ALWAYS see the black man’s view before the black woman’s — that’s how it’s always prioritized. We really feel Earn’s discomfort with the woman who comes up and rubs his cheek, thinking he’s in blackface. Then again during hootzkootz when he makes a basket on his first go ’round and everyone’s stunned (he becomes the new Serena Williams at this point). And also when the presumably flirty white guy was speaking in German with Van in his face. We feel his discomfort without realizing that Van has had to grow up and come of age in this discomfort ― which we get into later in the episode.

Earn pulls Van to the side during a dance competition. He wants to play Ping-Pong because he’s uncomfortable and having a tough time meshing into the festivities. Van, however, really wants to dance. She beats him at Ping-Pong and asks to return to the dance floor. This bruises Earn’s ego and sends him into a tirade where he ignores her genuine concerns about their relationship and she always compromising for him before throwing the fact that he pays her bills in her face.

Julia: Now let’s only talk about Van. Because OK, Earn is uncomfortable. Great, I get it. And I don’t care. Fuck him. Van’s interaction with her “friend” Christina BLEW ME.

Taryn: I wanted to yoke up Earn’s ol’ fragile-ass masculinity talmbout Paper Boi’s shows are “paying your fucking bills.” Ugh. I wanna fight him. I digress though ― cause Christina can get these hands, too.

Julia: Oh we can go into Earn’s masculinity. Let’s address it before we get to #her because I have a lot of thoughts about Earn saying that shit to Van.

Taryn: LMAO #her. Get it off your chest, sis. Cause the fact that a game of Love and Ping-Pong got his sensitive ass worked up like that made me hot in the face.

Julia: Earn is homeless and he was living with Van. I get that he pulled her off to the side in hopes to find something familiar — Ping-Pong since “it’s the only white game” he knew. However, after she beats him, he gets real froggy. He starts being really cruel to her. He calls the festival — and her culture — stupid. She lets him know that she deals with his plans and his shit ALL THE TIME! And how she really only wants to spend time with him and be considered his equal — like going to the strip club and Paper Boi’s concerts. But then, this piece of shit is gonna have the AUDACITY to say: “I wouldn’t shit on that. That’s paying your fucking bills.”

You’re homeless, Earn. And let us not forgot that he was homeless and using the mother of his child, playing upon her love for him, to get a place to live for next to nothing. He is so so so so so trash. It is insane how horrible of a person Earn is. Then he gets mad at the bartender, a man who showed Van more affection than he ever has and this dude don’t even know her. Earn is pathetic and has such shitty relationships with women. He has no emotional IQ and an odd desire to be perceived as hypermasculine, but he isn’t, so he overcompensates by being cruel to the one person who actually cares about him. But I guess that’s what makes him a black man.

Earn is every shitty man I’ve ever dated so I’m triggered but I also get how Van feels. You put all this emotional labor into a man and this is what you get back. You can’t even get respected and treated like a human. You’re treated like an incubator or, as she so beautifully put it, “an accessory.” And I think that this season we’re gonna see Earn lose Van and his position as Paper Boi’s manager and other things he holds dear to him. And, at the end of it all, ain’t nobody rob Earn. He robbed himself.

Fin. I’m done. Fuck Earn always. Now onto Christina, or #her.

Taryn: Earn robbed himself. Earn robbed Van. I feel like Earn robbed me. Fuck his broke ass forreal.

Julia: I’m so mad.

After Van walks away from Earn, she tries to confide in her friend Christina, another half-German, half-black woman. A white couple walks up and Christina immediately brushes Van off to talk to them before introducing her as “Lotte’s mom.” When Van addresses it privately with Christina, she condescendingly explains that it’s OK for her to treat Van that way since Van “chose black” and she “chose white.”  

Taryn: Christina ain’t a real friend. She caters to anti-blackness and anti-womanhood. You can get a glimpse of that when that when Van is trying to confide in her about her argument with Earn. She pushed her to the side to cater to whatever her white friend and her boyfriend needed. THEN had the audacity to introduce Van as Lotte’s mommy. Then the white guy whose name I don’t care to look up identified her as Earn’s girlfriend. I’m sick at this point because everyone is trying Van by tying her to her relationships as if she hasn’t been a full person with her own identity her entire Black-German ass life. That shit happens to black women so much, yo. I was even more pissed that it came from Christina, your “friend” who you knew most of your damn life. Before motherhood, before Earn.

Julia: When Christina said Van “chose black” and that she “chose white,” my initial reaction was “what the fuck is this nigga talking about?” You’re still black, Christina. And you’re right, this happens all the time. Black women are relegated to some sort of secondary role. Our personhood only matters if it’s connected to whiteness, a man or a child that is “well-behaved.” (Yeah, I peeped that from ol’ girl’s white friend.)

Taryn: Christina really needs to get her head out her ass. She’s had this delusional view of race her entire life. She’s presumably treated Van like shit her entire life based off their argument. Christina think’s she’s better than Van because she’s aligned herself with white people. What she can’t seem to get through her thick-ass skull is that she’ll never be white. Just because Christina’s boyfriend is white and Earn is black doesn’t mean Van “chose” black and she “chose” white. Girl, get over yourself. Under that heat damage is a similar grade of curly, coily hair that you’ve judged Van for for so long. Your man probably trash too, Christina. Don’t be so fucking judgy. Just loud and wrong. Ugh!

Julia: Very strong and wrong. And whyyy did I think about heat damage when Van said Christina straighten her hair? Because that blow out was #laid. So eye know that heat damage is ..... yikeeeeessssssssssss. Or it could be creamy cracked down. Who knows? All I know is Van needs better friends. She doesn’t need a man but my God if she’s gonna have one I want her to have a better one than Earn.

Taryn: “Creamy cracked down!” I’M HOLLERING!

Julia: Listen, I have scalp burn PTSD. And we still pretending we not black in 2018? Wow. GET OUT, SIS! 

Taryn: And if everything else wasn’t falling apart, Van’s phone goes missing because of the witching-hour ritual that I didn’t totally understand. She’s walking outside among a big group speaking German with the flirty white guy as Earn’s scary ass is in the back smoking with some random guy. I’m not sure if Van knew he was there or not, but Earn, walking around with this stupid ass mask still on his face, knew Van was right in front of him. Idk why he didn’t speak up then. Or even better, follow Van into the dark-ass alley when she went to pee by herself since you wanna be so damn manly all of a sudden.

Julia: His masculinity is contingent upon her needing him and taking care of her. He doesn’t care to actually fix things or be of any true service. He only cares about him, which is pathetic. He showed us that when he said, “This works for me.” Which, how many of us have heard that?!

Woman: I want something real.

Man: That’s valid, but I like just fucking you and using you at my discretion.

Taryn: Whatever, I’m glad she finally found her phone. Of course, he texts her and they meet up back at the Ping-Pong table. For the umpteenth time this episode, I was ready to fight Earn when he initially didn’t have an answer when Van asked him, “What do you want?”

Julia: When he said the question felt like a trap??? I lost it. It’s not a trap! She wants to know where y’all stand and she deserves to!!!

Taryn: Kudos to Van for telling him straight up that she wanted a committed relationship “where I’m valued as a human being and not an accessory you can fuck.” She took so much power back when she said that. Then his sorry ass response was their “arrangement” works for him ... GTFO witcho sorry ass, Earn.

Van was like oh word? BET!

Julia: “We can be good together, but only when we really have to be. And I’m slowly figuring out that maybe we don’t have to” was a BOPPPPP.

Taryn: It really was. She reclaimed her time via a Ping-Pong rematch and whooped his ass (a second time). Van is tired of not being appreciated for the emotional labor she’s been putting into their relationship. Van is every woman who’s ever been with a fuck nigga for way too long, treating him better than his trash ass deserves.

Julia: Her beating him in Ping-Pong was so symbolic of how she is in fact better than him. Earn doesn’t deserve that woman and I’m glad she sees that.

Taryn: Ugh. Van and women like her deserve so much better. They don’t deserve to be constantly tired. I think this time she’s truly over his shit. You could tell because she didn’t take the blunt from him on the car ride back lol. I know it hurts because she has a big heart and cares for Earn, but she sees her value and it’s gonna get her further than ever she would’ve gotten with him. So, this take on “Get Out” was really for underappreciated women with trash ass partners. Leave now, sis, before this ain’t shit nigga costs you your sanity.

#TeamVan.

Julia: Forever #TeamVan.

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