In a last post, I started looking at the system of whiteness in Atlanta’s “Three Slaps,” specifically at the ways that Loquareeous’s guidance counselor at school and the social worker who takes him away from his mother work within the system of whiteness to impact Loquareeous. Today, I want to continue with that discussion, looking a little more at Loquareeous’s “disruption” in class that sparks the episode but also at Amber’s question at the end of the episode where she asks Gayle why no one tried to stop them from enacting pain upon Loquareeous and the other foster children in their care. These moments serve as examinations of whiteness, and more notably the ways that whiteness does not challenge itself, allowing it to perpetuate systems of inequality and harm.
At the beginning of the episode, Loquareeous’s teacher tells the class that “in an effort to promote more Black history in the curriculum [the] school has partnered up with the Atlanta Falcons and Dominos pizza for the Change Atlanta Initiative” to take the class on a field trip to see Black Panther 2 in the theaters. This “field trip” doesn’t “promote more Black history,” and the connection with the NFL and a major corporation highlights the performative nature of espousing social justice without actually working towards equality and equity. That, however, is a discussion for another day.
When the teacher announces the field trip, Loquareeous perks up and jumps on top of his desk, dancing for his classmates. Some video him while others cheer him on. The teacher begins to yell at Loquareeous to sit down, but the class continues to cheer him on and he continues to dance. We don’t see what happens next; instead, we cut to Loquareeous sitting outside of the principal’s office as his mother and grandfather talk with the principal and guidance counselor. This opening has a lot to parse out, but one thing that sticks out to me deals with the difference between discipline for white students and students of color. The teacher doesn’t say anything about the white student video Loquareeous as he sleeps when the scene opens, but when Loquareeous dances, she comments.
Melissa Merin comments on these disparities in her essay “School is a Riot.” In the essay, she talks about her own experiences as Black girl in school and how, as he puts it, “I understood from a very early age that shit wasn’t going to be fair for me. I just knew it, the way most kids knew it. . . . It wasn’t fair because no matter who was talking in class, I was always called out the loudest; because if there was a conflict and I was involved, the assumption was that I caused it.” Merin highlights the discrepancies in discipline in educational settings, and the ways that Black boys and girls are disproportionately disciplined with in school suspension or expulsion compared to their white counterparts. We see this in “Three Slaps” with the teacher’s response and also the conversation between the guidance counselor and Loquareeous’s mom. While Loquareeous does “disrupt” class, it occurs at the end of class and other students join in. As well, another student has a phone in class, probably something they are not supposed to have with them. Yet, Loquareeous is the only student who gets in trouble.
We see this scenario played out again over the course of the episode when Loquareeous goes to live with Amber and Gayle. There, the two women, under the guise of neoliberalism, treat Loquareeous and the other children they foster basically as enslaved children. They force the children to work in the garden and to sell the produce at the farmers market, and they use the children for social media clout, specifically with Loquareeous wearing a “Free Hugs” sign just as Devonte Hart did in real life. Even when Loquareeous tries to get people in authority, notably a police officer at the farmers market, to see the ways that Amber and Gayle treat him and the other children those in authority dismiss Loquareeous as a kid grumbling about obeying others in authority. The Black social worker who visits Amber and Gayle could do something, but it’s inferred that Gayle kills her and buries her in the backyard.
No matter what happens, Amber and Gayle continue to exploit Loquareeous and the other children to benefit themselves and increase their “brand.” At the end, as the women plan to kill themselves and the children by driving into Lake Lanier, Amber asks Gayle, “What the hell are we doing?” Gayle responds, “We’re doing what needs to be done. You know, the world we live in Amber is horrible for these kids. Without us to protect them, what’s going to happen to them?” The children will, according to Gayle, go back into foster care and impoverished. Gayle views what they’re doing as salvation, as heroic because she sees their actions as “protecting” the children.
Crying, Amber looks at Gayle and tells her, “When we adopted Fatima, I knew we were doing the right thing. People were so supportive.” The bank gave them a loan, and Amber felt that her and Gayle, at that point, were on more secure financial ground. Continuing, Amber tells Gayle, “Everyone was so supportive. Every single person. And I just kept thinking, why isn’t anyone stopping us? Why didn’t anyone stop us Gayle?” Amber realizes that the ways that her and Gayle treat the children, and feign support, is dangerous and harmful. Through her questions, she points out how whiteness works. No one tried to stop them. They fostered three more children. They exploited the children. When Loquareeous sought help, authorities ignored him and believed the white women. Like the white kid in Loquareeous’s class who videotaped him as he slept, Amber and Gayle skirted by on whiteness, avoiding any reckoning with their actions because of their whiteness.
Amber’s question, “Why isn’t anyone stopping us?” is important. It’s a question we need to ask ourselves. Obviously, Amber knew what her and Gayle were doing was harmful, but she continued. She was allowed to continue because the system of whiteness allowed her to continue. It did not question her. Instead, it supported her and Gayle. This support, in the face of such harmful action, underscores that the disciplinary discrepancies do not end in the educational setting. The disciplinary discrepancies that start there continue throughout life and extend into other venues. These discrepancies, as Merin notes, affect one’s worldview. Merin writes, “It . . . began to dawn on me that the adults around me could not adequately address or repair the wounds that constant microassaults inflicted on me and people like me, especially in the world of education; indeed, many adults would commit a number of these microassaults.”
There is a lot more about “Three Slaps” that I could explore. However, I will leave it here for now. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on twitter @silaslapham.