This season of TV watching has been refreshing to say the least. Among the amazing shows being written, produced and starring actors of color is Issa Rae’s Insecure. Now showing on HBO.
I have been an Issa fan since Awkward Black Girl aired on YouTube back in 2011. Her new show is everything we loved about ABG and more! After watching Episode 3, entitled Racist as F**k, I am officially a believer (if my fandom could actually get any more intense!)
Below I list 11 times during the 30 minute episode when I felt like Issa was exactly like most of my friends and I literally felt like I was standing right next to her. The magic is in the way she uses the subtlety of awkward spaces to shed light on the myriad of rarely talked about but monumentally important issues facing our community today. The combination of laser sharp script writing, amazing direction and raw emotion conveyed through the screen is phenomenal.
- That fake laugh!
Issa fake laughs at minute 3:02, after she and Lawrence have turned in for the night. She has wrapped her headscarf around her head and remarked that her man’s hands were cold when he was clearly trying to initiate physical contact. There would be no hanky panky that night!
Lawrence, trying to lighten up the tension between them, cracks a dumb joke, which falls flat. This prompts him to have to state out loud that he was indeed “just making a joke.”
All that awkwardness led up to the perfectly executed fake laugh from Issa, before she rolls over in bed. The elusive nuance of such an awkward moment is difficult to describe in words. Let alone capture on film. Issa’s ability to call forth the most delicately awkward moments is sheer genius!
- “Too soon.”
The actors’ micro-expressions on this show mean SO much! I marvel at the performers’ abilities to convey so much with a tiny adjustment of their facial expression.
There are a bunch of examples in the show, but for the sake of efficiency I will describe my favorite from episode 3: At minute 8:37, Lawrence tries to crack yet another awkward joke about Issa failing to return home in the previous episode. She didn’t call or speak to Lawrence for days and then he ran into her in Rite Aid.
The look on her face in response to his joke: “Are you coming home tonight? Don’t let me catch you in the Rite Aid;” and the simple words, “Too soon,” meant: you have not allowed enough time to pass since the Rite Aid incident to be able to crack a joke about it. Bad form!
I love when a simple look says so much.
- “I don’t see color. I just see someone who’s gonna fetch me coffee”
Spoken by the cocky white man at Molly’s law firm. As part of their hallway banter at work:
White man: “I told my wife that we shouldn’t be getting a new deck since we have a baby on the way.”
Molly: “You can afford it, you just got that big white people bonus.”
White man: (Laughing) “How did you find out about those?”
Molly: “I see they hired a new black exec”
White man: “I don’t see color, I just see someone who’s gonna fetch me coffee”
Another superb example of microinequity and microagression in the workplace. Small but painful daggers that people of color must tolerate daily in white spaces. Otherwise known as, “death by a thousand paper cuts.”
- “I have all the secs you need”
Issa overhears her white coworkers in the lunchroom discussing the field trip she had planned for the inner city kids she works with, and then finds she was also excluded from emails about the subject (Shout out to Cici from the original ABG!).
She approaches one of them and asks if she has a “sec.” The white girl replies awkwardly, “I have all the sex (secs) you need.”
Secret white people meetings are a real thing. They are yet another form of microinequity in the workplace. Issa’s rant about it when she gets home from work that day sounds like REAL conversations I’ve had with countless women of color over the years.
Rarely do we get to show evidence of these things because they are microscopic. They fly under the radar. Much of 21st Century racism is nuanced, which makes it even more silent but deadly (like a stinky fart).
And we hate hearing that old adage that Lawrence offers in response, “You will just have to work extra hard to prove them wrong.” We are tired of doing double work to prove ourselves. We’ve been carrying this nation on our backs since we got here. Enough already!
- “I love how you just like… don’t even care”
Molly takes Issa along to meet a group of her friends at a restaurant. They appear to be sorors of Molly’s but they have clearly interacted with Issa before. One friend is happily booed up and her bougie boyfriend is faithfully by her side. The other friend is chronically single, voluptuous and a lush, but it’s evident she is an educated professional.
When the bougie friend compliments Molly on her Fendi shoes, the camera zooms in on Issa’s Converse All Stars. Bougie boyfriend points out that she is wearing Chucks, and Issa makes an awkward joke.
At minute 11:03, the bougie friend comments to Issa, “I love how you just like, don’t even care.” A low-key jab at Issa’s choice to dress casually in a setting where everyone else was looking a bit more elegant. I felt like this scene displayed how different types of black people view each other and further categorize and sometimes marginalize one another. Part of Insecure’s mission is to show the audience that there are a plethora of ways to be black.
- Levels of black millennials
While we are on the subject of categories. I felt that the restaurant scene was a clear display of various different types of black millennials. For each character in that scene, I know someone personally who reflects them:
- First there is the most obvious: Molly vs. Issa. Molly is an attorney, lives alone in a fancy apartment, wears designer clothes, is bilingual and prefers to find men using an elite dating app that weeds out the riff raff.
Issa works for non-profit, dresses slightly more casual, is living in a moderate income apartment complex with her unemployed boyfriend, and got up on stage to perform one of her awkward raps at a club recently.
- Then there is the new boo, Jared, who is introduced on the night of Issa’s awkward rap performance. First, we are led to believe that Molly is quite impressed by him, until we discover he did not attend college. The reaction of Molly’s friends is an indication that his rank has been clearly downgraded. Molly later rejects him and goes on a date with a man from the elite dating app instead.
Jared is juxtaposed against the “College educated Black men who turn into the most n****est of n****s,” once they complete their degree. Molly’s friends complain that educated black men become pretentious and won’t even approach women in LA. Jared points out that he is different from those guys, which earns him some cool points.
- Types of relationships: The bougie couple begin to sound off on why men and women struggle in relationships. With the man saying something I myself have heard a thousand times, “You women are still single because you are just too difficult.”
Molly replies, “Just because we have standards does not make us difficult.” And Jared chimes in saying that he thinks Alpha type women are sexy.
Then bougie girl goes on to say: “The reason why my baby and I work is because I let him be a man and he lets me be a woman.”
Let’s face it. Traditional gender roles just don’t work for everyone, and that is okay too!
- “You a good black man… Betta keep yo head up”
This scene in the bank hit home for me on a number of levels. I have witness many black men suffer through the pain of perpetual unemployment despite having college degrees and a wealth of work experience.
Lawrence is unemployed and it is a source of tension between him and Issa. He is trying to find work with the use of a head hunter (job placement agency), but the results are fruitless.
That headhunter all but told Lawrence he was getting passed over for jobs because he was black. She had no intention of finding him a job. She told him flat out to seek an entry level, retail position! By the look on his face, I could see him thinking about all he went through to get a college education, just to be told to settle for a job at Best Buy, and still keep his head (both heads) up! Salute my brother!
The bank teller, Tasha with the winning smile, gave him a little confidence boost while cashing his unemployment check and I appreciated that. We all need that kind of unconditional love and praise from time to time.
8. “Rasheeda. But you can call me Dada, girl…”
When Issa’s attorney best friend, Molly tries to have “the black talk” with Rasheeda, the new black female exec at her firm, it backfires. Molly basically tries to tell Rasheeda to stop acting so “black” around all the white people at the firm. Rasheeda refuses, pointing that she has been successful without ever having to compromise her personality. There is a tense but delicate balance between the two women’s completely valid yet seemingly opposing viewpoints: Should we code switch for them or nah? Yet respect is shown to both women and the women keep it respectful between themselves. Much respect Issa for showing everyone a variety of ways that black women can choose to present themselves in this world!
Can you say mic drop?!?!? Here’s everything that lead up to that statement, and why it was so poignant:
- The bus ride to the beach: Issa painstakingly plans a beach clean-up field trip for the inner city kids she works with. Her white co-workers chaperone the trip, and spend the entire bus ride to the beach doubting her plans and complaining about the kids.
- “We are in mixed company:” Issa’s way of trying to prompt the kids (of color) on the bus to behave differently to in order impress her white colleagues.
- “Why don’t more of them swim?:” a white coworker approaches Issa while she surveys the many successes of her beach field trip and looks cooly satisfied.
Issa looks at the white man. And after a well-timed pause, she simply says, “Slavery.” With an emphatic nod and looks away. ‘Nuff said! *with my fist in the air.
- “I didn’t think they’d even need any sunscreen:” The white girl says when they realize they were out of sunscreen. Issa had the foresight to pack extra. And she strolls away almost in slow motion pimp walk formation after she nonchalantly tells the white girl that her skin is getting burnt.
- The white girl apologizes by offering to take Issa to drinks, and one of her students gives her an affectionate side hug. Her response is a playful slap on his head. That’s real AF
- “Ci-ci,” Issa’s racially ambiguous coworker, (who was cavorting with the white girl on the bus) tries to switch it up and take credit for the trip when it went well. Issa performs a rap about this:
Beeeach you aint my friend just cause you brown!
Oh, shit went well so now you wanna be down?
I overheard your ass on the bus tryna clown
GTFOH or bow da fuq dowwnnnnn!
- The make-up scene!
Lawrence made dinner, it’s lamb. Issa grabs a plate and goes to eat in front of the TV (Conjugal Visits is her favorite trashy show!). Lawrence suggests they sit at the table and talk over the meal, and then Issa carelessly spills some rice on their old sofa.
Lawrence makes a fuss about the spill and as he is cleaning he says, “You’re not in this alone, I’m fuckin trying.” Which is one of the most realest things a person in a sometimes stale long term relationship can say.
Watching him scrub the sofa triggers Issa to have a series of amazing flashbacks where we get to see what Issa would have looked like with a big fro (love the sequence); and she remembers why she was actually with Lawrence.
They offer sincere apologies to each other. He confesses he took a Best Buy sales rep job. Just to get work. She empathizes, but appreciates it. He asks her, “I’m in this, are you?”
She says she’s in! And that folks, is how relationships really look.
- “Thru it All” by Wintertime Zi – watch here: Thru It All Video (VEVO)
I have so much love for this underground cut. My 15 year old introduced it to me earlier this year and it has become somewhat of an anthem for my family. It’s playing in the background
while Issa and Lawrence symbolically throw out their old couch (or “Bouch” as the LA Bloods say), and cuddle out on the sidewalk briefly, marking a new beginning for their relationship.
This choice of background music sealed the deal for me and I’m a believer in Insecure! Issa, you are worth the extra $9.99 per month I pay for my HBO subscription! (And much more!!)