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‘Atlanta’ Explores The Unshakeable Intimacy Between A Man And His Barber
A black man’s relationship with his barber is unmatched. The latest episode of “Atlanta” makes that clear when Paper Boi, through a series of shenanigans that put them both in legal jeopardy, remains loyal to Bibby ― his Bluetooth-wearing, toothpick-chewing, slick-talking barber.
“Barbershop,” the fifth episode of Season 2, opens with Paper Boi waiting for Bibby to arrive at the shop. In true black barber fashion, he’s late. The rapper has been sitting in the chair for God knows how long, a fact made evident by the exasperation on his face. When Bibby finally walks in, dressed like your uncle who sells Vector Knives and flips tax refunds, he wants to do everything but cut Paper Boi’s hair: talk on the phone, eat, watch viral videos ― you name it (Shirley Caesar voice). When a woman only known as ??, the name saved in his phone, calls, he asks Paper Boi, who has a lopsided haircut thanks to Bibby chopping off one side before going to the restroom, to come with him to run an errand. Paper Boi is fed up but he obliges because loyalty to your barber takes precedence over everything.
Of course, one errand turns into an entire day of bullshit. All the while, Bibby promises Paper Boi that they’ll head back to the barbershop right after he finishes each task “real quick.” But in the midst of the day’s chaos lies a message about the importance of black men seizing control of their beauty. We rarely get to see intimate scenes of a black man getting his hair cut despite it, arguably, being one of the most vital relationships in a man’s life. It’s the one place black men can go and just, well, be.
Julia Craven and Taryn Finley discuss the damn-near unbreakable relationship between a man and his barber and why the barbershop is a vital safe space, despite its flaws, on this week’s “Run That Back.”
Julia: This episode was literally a ride.
Taryn: Accurate. I knew when Bibby walked into the barbershop at least 30 minutes late for Paper Boi’s appointment that this was about to be a ride. And boy, was it.
Julia: I love how “Atlanta” got all the usual barbershop/hair salon gripes out the way early ― your stylist is late, they’re on the phone, they’re oversharing their personal life, they stop mid-appointment to eat, and they ask you to hold something. Then it got really absurd, borderline unrealistic, yet somehow the most realistic thing I’ve ever seen in my black-ass life. When Bibby said, “I’m on 85 right now!” I knew he was on some other shit that only Atlanta can deliver (the city and the show).
Taryn: All on a Bluetooth at that. Talking shit about his baby mama and making plans with his tax refund that you know he ain’t gon follow through on. Paper Boi can’t tell when Bibby is talking to him or the nigga on the phone. Bibby wants to do everything but do his job. I don’t know a black person who hasn’t been in this position.
Come to think of it, I think Bluetooths are the universal symbols for finesse OGs.
Julia: It’s hands down the universal symbol. If I see a man with a Bluetooth, I run the other way, because I know he’s a scammer on the same level as Joanne.
And Paper Boi gets trapped in this series of ridiculous scams all because of his loyalty to his barber. And I get it, because if Reya (the woman who does my nails) ever pulled me out the chair to ride along so she could do my nails at her homegirl’s house, I’d go, because NO ONE ELSE can shape my nails like her.
Am I supposed to let another tech no my fill-in? So I can look busted? Absolutely the fuck not.
Taryn: Right. Paper Boi is fed up, but he’s more loyal to his barber than he is to any of the women he’s dealing with.
But that relationship with a barber/hairdresser/nail tech is sacred. Who else am I gonna go to and they just know what I want from jump? Nobody. That’s why Paper Boi deal with his bullshit.
Julia: Exactly! This episode, in its own absurd way, shows the deep connection black men have to their barbers. Black men are already likely to have a barber longer than they have a primary care physician. And what Paper Boi and Bibby show us is that that haircut, that trust is worth going through hell for. Paper Boi doesn’t even put his hands on Bibby until half the episode is over, when last season he shot a dude over waaaaaaay less.
You know, another thing that makes this episode super funny is that a few weeks ago I asked #Bae about his relationship with his barber. We were listening to a podcast that was talking about the barber/client relationship. So I asked him if he’d ever leave his barber. And he said, “I don’t know what I’d do if he broke up with me. I’d be fucking crushed. Nobody else knows how to line my beard up like he does.”
Like you said, it’s a sacred bond. I feel like #Bae would leave me before he left his barber LMAO.
Taryn: So Bibby finally begins cutting Paper Boi’s hair but only chops part of the side off before Bibby stops and tells him to watch a viral video of an NBA player’s invisible Lamborghini hitting someone outside of the club. Paper Boi doesn’t care to see it because he actually witnessed it (refer to Season 1, Episode 6) but Bibby insists. As he’s watching, ??calls. And, of course, Bibby was supposed to have BEEN at her house to cut her son’s hair. So what does Bibby do? He tells Paper Boi to come with him to her house.
Now, pause for the cause, raise your hand if you ever had to leave Point A with your beautician to go with her to run an errand with a half-done head of hair before she actually finished your hair at Point B. ??
Julia: Sis, one time she sent ME out for more hair.
Taryn: It’s really the name of the game, and we just deal with it because who else is gonna slay our shit like we like it?
Julia: I actually cannot get over how triggering “I’m on 85 right now!” is.
Taryn: It’s so black. Knowing damn well you ain’t no where near the car. I’d protest it if I didn’t always say “I’m on my way” when I haven’t even taken a shower to leave yet.
Julia: Honestly, when a man tells me he’s 10 mins away, I don’t start getting ready until 30 mins later and I still be ready before he pull up.
Taryn: You better than me. I don’t start getting ready till he gets there. I also ain’t shit so …
Julia: This episode is also the first time I’ve actually laughed in a “funny haha” way at “Atlanta.” Like, this episode was FUNNY.
Taryn: I fought air so many times this episode. I didn’t catch it the first time I watched, but when Bibby actually decides to leave, they gotta go out through the back of the shop because “them people be out there.” Now, I don’t know who “them people” are, but I do know Bibby probably owes them money.
Julia: He absolutely owes “them people” money.
We arrive at the house of ?? to discover that Bibby owes her son a haircut, too. The kid’s appointment was technically before Paper Boi’s, leaving the rapper to sit in a lounge chair and wait on his barber yet again. After Bibby delivers a beautiful cut, ?? yells from upstairs that the water isn’t running and inquires if Bibby paid the water bill. He says he did ― but then the lights suddenly go out. Bibby grabs Paper Boi, and a couple dollars out of ??’s purse, and scurries out of the house and on to the next scam.
Julia: I do wanna discuss the time we spent at ?? house.
Taryn: At ??’s house, we see how slick Bibby’s tongue really is.
Julia: Mainly I wanna know why no one wiped that lil boy nose.
Taryn: Because you know there’s always one little boy who woke up and went to bed with dried-up snot on his nose.
Julia: That poor child. And this scene is when we see the episode’s biggest gag. Bibby is an excellent barber. That boy cut was SICKENING!
Taryn: It was. I also love how much of a close-up we get on black hair. Not only was the cut nice, but the way in which it was shot was beautiful. We spend a good amount of time really looking at the tenderness and care that goes into a black barber’s work and how it truly is an art form. Through all the madness and chaos of the episode, I really appreciated those moments of serenity (here with the little boy and later with Paper Boi). Black men don’t really have those images that reflect the beauty of their hair on mainstream TV today, so it was kinda heartwarming to me.
Julia: Yes! Yes, yes, yes! It was very humanizing and showed how much care black men put into their appearance. We tend to focus on women ― mainly white ones ― and how much we care about how we look, but we don’t get into men’s connection with beauty. And we definitely neglect black men when we do dig into it. It was really beautiful and showed that despite the shop being a time-suck filled with regressive sociopolitical views (that “I thought quince meant 18! What’d she have on a wedding dress for?!” shit), this is place where black men can be free and catered to.
Taryn: Exactly! Barbershops can be a place where black men can be vulnerable, which is rare. There are definitely some hypermasculine themes that still exist within them. But this place is like intro to therapy, low-key. Even though Bibby stressed Paper Boi tf out all day. Hell, he stressed me out.
Julia: Right! It’s a black man’s safe place where they can just exist. And I’m not defending the regressive views on women and gender … but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a place where black men find solace. They crack jokes. They talk about sports and say all the non-PC things they wanna say about women in a place they won’t be dragged for it. And that’s important! We all have trash views we need to deconstruct so I’m glad black men have a place they can possibly do that.
Now do they do that? Most of them prolly don’t, which is a different conversation.
Taryn: Right! That safe space is so important. It’s the first place many black men and boys learn to be vulnerable. There aren’t many spaces like that.
And chile, that’s a WHOLE NOTHER conversation that will last longer than Paper Boi’s day with Bibby, I’m sure.
On the way to the next scam, Bibby asks Paper Boi if he’s hungry ― specifically if he wants Zaxby’s. Paper Boi, like all of us, loves Zaxby’s and gets slightly excited about the possibility of having a Wings & Things plate. Bibby, like the scammer he is, drags Paper Boi into a half-built house, hands the rapper a half-eaten plate of food and then Bibby makes the rapper help him steal some lumber from the site. They’re caught by the white woman who owns the property, but, once again, they manage to flee the scene without being caught.
Julia: “Of course I love Zaxby’s.” ― Who said it? Paper Boi or Julia?
Taryn: Trick question! It was actually Taryn.
Julia: I hate you. I just screamed.
Taryn: I love how Paper Boi got an attitude when Bibby asked him if he likes it. Like duh, nigga. It’s Zaxby’s!
Julia: That’s how I feel when I’m home and my parents ask me if I want Zaxby’s. Fuck you think? (I’m sorry, Mama. Please don’t cuss me out.)
Julia: Listen, I’m just playing it safe before I get a random knock on my door and it’s Tammy. (Sorry, I know I’m not supposed to call you by your first name either. Please do not cuss me out.)
Taryn: Listen. I get it. I got a mama who don’t play games either. (Hey, Rhonda … I mean, Mommy!)
Julia: I’ll be in an Uber and it’ll suddenly get rear-ended like Bibby did that poor woman at the stop sign.
But who is the driver? My mother. Pulling up on my ass.
Taryn: fhduihuiref. Also, joke’s on Paper Boi though cause ain’t no Zaxby’s bih! If Paper Boi wasn’t on probation, I know he would’ve knocked Bibby tf out for bringing him to a half-built house with a box of half-eaten chicken.
A perfect metaphor for Bibby’s half-ass ass.
Julia: It reminded me of abandoned houses I ended up in as a young whippersnapper. I don’t know why, but I have eaten in an abandoned home before. Granted, all of my serving was there. It wasn’t some nigga’s scraps LMAO.
Well, let me not lie. I know why I was in the house but that’s not America’s business.
Taryn: Lol. I ain’t mad. Don’t implicate yourself, sis.
Presumably on their way back to the shop, Paper Boi and Bibby drive past a group of children who should be in school. Bibby slows down and stares at the group before whipping his pickup truck around and chasing after the kids. He takes a shortcut and cuts the kids off in the alley. He hops out the truck and screams at his son, Lamar, for not being in class.
Julia: I think my favorite scene though is when they’re leaving the construction site and Bibby sees his son skipping class. The way he whipped that pickup around and cut the kids off in the alley reminded me of a cop-movie trope we always see, but I loved it. Then Lamar (of course that’s his name) had an attitude about being chastised!
He skipped class and ain’t even put up the scammer posters his daddy gave him. I was over it. But these minor inserts of “bad-ass kids” were the perfect garnish to this black-ass episode.
Taryn: Mind you, Bibby promised about 4,789 times to take Paper Boi back to the shop. But when Bibby looked at Lamar and Lamar looked at him, shit got real! The fear in Lamar’s eyes can only be evoked by a parent. (Hey again, Rhonda!) That shit had me triggered and hollering at the same time. The background music didn’t help.
Julia: (Hey Tammy!) That look of “I know this lil nigga ain’t [insert something you ain’t supposed to be doing here]” was VERY triggering.
And that attitude he had upon being caught was his survival instincts kicking in. How do I know that? Well, hey Tammy. And that head cock to the side?! alikhdklahsduygerfdsg.
Taryn: Then when Bibby told Paper Boi to get outta the car to check his son, I died for a few reasons. 1. Lamar FLAMED Paper Boi’s raggedy, lopsided haircut that he gave him before they left the shop. 2. Like you said, THAT HEAD COCK.
That head cock is such a black kid thing. I remember getting checked for doing some shit I wasn’t supposed to be doing and cocking my neck all the way to the side just so I didn’t have to look at whoever was telling me I was wrong. That attitude is like no other lmao.
Julia: Sometimes, this show is so black I’m like, that couldn’t have been scripted. That head cock could NOT have been scripted. It was too authentic, too natural. That young man cocked his head because that’s what black kids do when they’re chastised. That head cocks to their left ― and only to the left ― and they start shifting their weight from foot to foot. Your hands go in your pockets and you start staring off into the background, looking past the person chastising. That couldn’t have been scripted.
I’m shocked Bibby or Paper Boi didn’t say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” But I may have had a heart attack from my Black Kid PTSD.
Taryn: AND ONLY TO THE LEFT! Wow. I never noticed that until just now but it is only to the left. Black Kid PTSD is real.
Bibby did tell him to get his ass in that tiny-ass pickup, though.
Julia: “Get your ass in the car!” shudders.
“You going back to the shop.” I am so triggered.
Taryn: The back of that pickup was TIGHT. And Bibby was so busy cussing his son out and threatening to call his mom (on his flip phone, which he probably doesn’t have minutes on at that) on the way to the barbershop (finally) that this nigga rear-ended some lady. I SCREAMED.
Julia: Sis, my parents threw me behind the seat of my uncle’s pickup to move me into college my freshman year. I KNOW IT WAS TIGHT, OK?! Chapel Hill is an entire 1.5 hours away from my hometown. And I sat back there, and when I said my legs were sleep, my parents cracked jokes and laughed. I’ve lived Lamar’s life.
Also, just to go back a few messages, I swear only black kids will roast someone checking them. My god.
Taryn: LMAO YO! It’s true. “Why you ain’t fresh?”
Julia: The hilarity in this is how relatable it all is!
Bibby is finally taking Paper Boi back to the shop and he’s berating his son as they go. Paper Boi keeps telling Bibby to watch the road. But, if you know black parents, you know that Bibby is keeping half his mind on the road and both eyes looking back at Lamar while he cusses him out for skipping school. They, inevitably, get into a wreck before returning to the shop where Bibby gives Paper Boi a haircut made for God herself.
Taryn: I can’t imagine being in the back of that pickup when they hit that lady. Then when Bibby told Paper Boi to get in the driver’s seat cause he got warrants, I was done. But when that lady got out the car hollering and holding her lower back, I genuinely couldn’t take it.
Bibby peeled off like, “I ain’t going back to jail!”
Julia: I wanna know where they found that footage of me holding my back and screaming. I want my royalties.
But no, that bounce around was too much! “I got warrants.” “I got weed in my pockets.” And the last nail in my coffin was Lamar saying “I ain’t got a license” before Bibby made the executive decision to peel off. I wanna make sure we characterize it as an executive decision he made in the group’s best interest, because in a lot of ways it was. You know how the police are ― they would have pulled up and ran everybody’s pockets just because the driver who caused the accident was black.
Taryn: Paper Boi has dodged the cops so many times already this season. I’m so glad Bibby acted in the group’s best interest even though the intention was really for his best interest. He saved the day.
Julia: Bibby is a hero, tbh.
Taryn: A lying, scamming hero. But a hero, nonetheless.
Julia: Despite it all, he delivered a very fresh cut. And then Paper Boi broke up with him and went on to get what I assume to be a whack cut next time. Paper Boi can’t win. It’s tragic.
Taryn: Paper Boi shouldn’t have paid Bibby, though. He should’ve just kept on walking out the door.
Julia: I wouldn’t have paid him either.
Taryn: Bibby deserved to get broken up with, because he plays too many games, but that shit hurt my feelings. Paper Boi didn’t even know what the other barber was talking bout when he asked him if he wanted a 2 or a 3. I know Bibby ain’t shit, but I really hope they work it out and Bibby does right by him.
Julia: Bibby also didn’t care about the breakup, which is what hurt me.
Taryn: Bibby’s ego was bruised more than anything. He had that look like, “Oh, so this want we doing, nigga? Aight.” Then moved on cause he knows his blade stays sharp and somebody else can (and did) replace Paper Boi’s spot in the chair.
Julia: Tragic. I guess the moral here is don’t leave your barber ever.
Taryn: Also, can we just take a moment to acknowledge Bibby’s three and a half jobs?
Julia: No I’m done. ? I canna.
Taryn: Barber. Bootleg cable guy (with a “K”). Construction contractor (Read: Con artist). And street team poster hanger.
Oh, he also sells toothpicks for 50 cents each. One other thing and I’m done. I’m so happy we didn’t see Earn in this episode. I’m still pissed at him for wasting Van’s time and energy. It’s still fuck him all season long.
Julia: #TeamVan ― gang gang.