In Shonda Rhimes like fashion, Season two episode one of Issa Rae’s HBO series Insecure issues its most memorable content in the last two minutes. The episode ends with a reunited Issa and Laurence, who abruptly split after Laurence discovers Issa’s infidelity. Their reunion was brash, unemotional, and brief. Upon conclusion, Issa’s facial expression mirrored my own–mortified, regretful and confused.
The two reunite when Laurence returns to the apartment to pick up his belongings. The two then become immersed in a brief sexual encounter, where Laurence leaves moments afterwards. This behavior is a vast contrast from the Laurence viewers meet in Season one. That Laurence was sweet and innovative. He was the contemporary frog prince–a good guy in a bad place.
This once ideal man is now tainted by infidelity. He has a casual sexual relationship with Tasha, a bank teller he met while cashing his unemployment checks. The two don’t click on a mental level, Tasha being a simple girl with modest ambitions and Laurence being a young man with mogul potential. However, although their relationship is convenient, it is hard to watch–as hard as it was to see Laurence work for a company that lacked the advancements of his own startup that although unsuccessful was a stroke of genius.
I cringe a little writing this, because as a black woman I think most of us have been Tasha. By being Tasha, I mean the rebound girl given shelf life because you fill a void. Filling this void only allows the rebound girl to possess a single dimension, something the three dimensional woman often sees in hindsight. It’s obvious that Laurence clearly likes Tasha, and we’ve all been liked in this negligible way that allows us to appreciate those in the future who appreciate all of our dimensions. Tasha is the voice in Sevyn Streeter’s Before I Do, a woman caught in the in between a man and his former love.
Tasha, like Laurence, appears a product of Issa’s infidelity. Because Issa cheated on Laurence when he was in transition and broke his heart, Issa emerges as an eve-like figure that hands Laurence a poisonous apple. This poisonous apple prompts Laurence to shed his nice guy exterior as an effort to protect the heart he once wore on his sleeve.
The guy who took Issa ring shopping is now doing “drive bys,” and skipping out moments after sex. The guy who once was sweet and kind is now curt and crass.
Now, are nice guys ruined by the poor choices of some women? Yes. But surely the reverse is true also. The issue here, is what this representation means when both parties are black. Namely, it is troubling to depict “nice black men” as ruined by black women and their sexual carelessness.
This portrayal is particularly problematic as the show appears an effort to narrate the black female experience. This reality begs the query, must we always be a sexual villain in our own narrative?
This is not to say that the emotions in the show are not real. Going through a breakup is scary and it takes a while to find yourself afterward. However, illustrating the black Woman as a catalyst for black male behavior is a misrepresentation of a global setting that plagues black love.
Issa, like so many millennials has job she does not like, and is working desperately to make ends meet. This part of the show proves shockingly accurate to many others going through the same thing– validated in not feeling so alone or berated by an unanticipated reality. However, her indiscretion has little to do with Laurence and more to do with her general unhappiness. Discontent at work tends to birth unhappiness outside of work, something we see in the series but is not quite discussed. The discourse remains in the series’ background, which could be an artistic choice implemented to get viewers to think, but paints the series protagonist as obsessed with what could have been rather than what is. By what could have been, I’m referencing the man from her past whom Issa had always been curious about, an itch she scratches which ultimately ends her relationship. This young man is of course an escapist route that Issa takes to avoid confronting the real issues in her life. This is another relatable moment that is veiled superficially as curiosity, a curiosity that fizzles after the two consummate their lust–depicting the black female as carelessly hyper sexual.
This act does not only offset the course of Issa’s life but the other parties involved, as both men are hurt by her selfish deed. Just as Eve’s curiosity ruined the generations to come, Issa appears the catalyst for Laurence’s metamorphosis from caring to callous.
Realistically, black love is hard. Had the system favored Issa and Laurence, the unemployment that drove a wedge between them would potentially not exist. Had cyclical disenfranchisement not been a real things, perhaps Issa would not have sought to escape, and Laurence would not have had to compromise his ambitions to work for himself. This is not functioning as an excuse, but as an explanation the elephant in the room of so many black relationships. Love is hard for everyone, but a relationship between two bodies systemized in every way possible is exceedingly difficult. Thus, the series’ portrayal of Issa as a black woman who morphs the good guy into a hyper sexual beast with her own immutable sexuality– thereby offers a shallow reputation of what it means for two black people to love each other in the context of global racism.
Separating the black woman from the sexualized image allotted to her during slavery is an ongoing struggle in black female portrayal. However, this depiction becomes more concerning when efforts to counter this image nullify advancement with a unintentional revelation of internalized racist perceptions.
These portrayals prompt the query as to whether or not the antagonized black female protagonist will eventually surface as a heroine, or whether this will even be enough to undo the damage of her initial error.
This is not to say that conflict should not accompany black bodies on the big or small screen. This is to say that oversimplifying black issues to appease the western gaze, compromises what could be an opportunity for the masses to contemplate collective behaviors and thoughts.
So, if anything, I would say that the series title “Insecure” is its most accurate attribute. This insecurity appears to lie in black female inability to reverse her obscurity from a unrelenting racist gaze.