About the “Racist” Black Vice-Principal on Insecure

In Season 2 Episode 2 of Insecure viewers meet a seemingly insignificant new character. The character is Vice-Principal Gaines, an authoritative figure of a corresponding school for We Got Ya’ll—the non-profit organization Issa works for. He’s overtly inundated with responsibility, something made quite obvious. His responsibilities are far less overt than what appears to be animosity towards his Mexican constituency. Specifically, the series captures the principal joke about “building a wall,” and ordering a group of Chicano students to speak English.

Issa’s white coworker becomes quite insulted by the vice-principal’s behavior stating that she “had trouble sleeping.” She even goes on to acknowledges that “the oppressed can’t be the oppressor,” yet still asks if Issa would be what she considers “dismissive” if the principal were white. The suggested interchangeability suggests that while able to articulate the impossibility of the black racist, the fictive white liberal can not seem to understand this reality due to a failure to think outside the parameters of whiteness. Namely, most within the majority faction solely know how to process one-sidedness when things lean in their favor.  Thus, as a racist who is doing everything possible to control the impulses that this black man makes no attempt to conceal, the white woman is unable to see why Principal Gaines is not racist, but she would be under the same circumstances. This reveals an inability to properly conceptualize the term ‘wrong” as blinded by the cognitive dissonance of white supremacist thought.

The answer to the young white woman’s query, which flies over her head, lies in what she wishes to do with her knowledge—report him. Blacks are placed in scenarios like these everyday in workplaces throughout the diaspora, where they witness injustice but are often scared to speak up. Yes speaking up is the “right” thing to do, but it yields all kind of wrong. By speaking up, the black person would be risking the ability to take care of their family. They would also be risking their reputation and possibly the ability to work in their field of expertise. These are small prices to pay for those possessing a revolutionary mindset, but these mindsets are few and far between.

It is also imperative to mention that by choosing to “stand-up” the black person is almost always going to have to stand alone. As a white woman, Issa’s coworker does not have to fear systemic retaliation or a lack of support. Even though Issa does not want to partner  with her white coworker, this white woman can easily find support with those in higher places. Issa’s unwillingness to stand beside her white coworker to take down a black man is an accidentally strong depiction in the series. I say accidental because while her actions are respectable, Issa’s actions appear seems less about principle and more about a personal desire to get ahead at work.

The superficial portrayal of Vice-Principal Gaines however, is not a strong depiction. The image seems to reflects a “person of color” at odds with another “person of color” but in actuality depicts a black man opposing the partial assimilation of those wishing to appropriate his oppressed state. As the descendants of abducted Africans, much of the African diaspora has lost their native language and their native names. Black culture has been largely extinguished by white evil—so the contempt the series depicts this black man having towards Chicanos is a rightful rage against a systemized demon that stripped him of a collective identity. The stripped nature of an identity hollowed by white settlers and retained by their descendants is perhaps most obvious that the principal reprimands these persons of color IN ENGLISH.

Thus, despite the series efforts to depict the vice-principal as systemically disenfranchising his Chicano students by solely extended the supplementary resources of We Got Ya’ll to the black demographic, Gaines is merely an oppressed black man trying to afford an oppressed constituency something they may never get again in their lives–a chance.  Even with a slight advantage, those black children will still have to navigate their lives without the ability to pass for white, without access to their native tongue, without knowledge of their history, and without the ability to escape the cyclical disenfranchisement that waits them at every corner.

The series also  fails to combat the reality that other persons of color stealthy do exhibit similar behavior for their own groups. How is this any different that the jobs Asians, Hispanics, Chicanos, Indians, and Whites provide for their own without even considering hiring a qualified black worker? If hired by these other groups, blacks are typically  overworked, underpaid, and solicited to police their own people i.e. the migrant black man hired to follow his own people around a store owned by a white man or person of color. Moreover, when blacks place their own first it’s negative, but when other groups do it its nationalism.

There are many different routes the series could have taken to illustrate the issues between blacks and other factions of color. The instance that comes to mind is the recent comments George Lopez made about “not marrying someone black” as a member of the Chicano or Latino collective. Instead the series seeks to state a commonly overlooked truth, blacks cannot be racist, but place this truth in the backdrop by suggesting that—while they should not be able to be racist—they are. This is even more detrimental on a show dominated by black presence, from the writers to the actors. Thus, this paradoxical performance infiltrates both the mind of the oppressed and oppressor to cultivate a collective misunderstanding of black thought and behavior.

Insecure is the perfect platform to challenge the caricatured black identity that continues to dominate black portrayal, but instead the series maintains the single dimension allotted to blacks since their forced arrival. So while I am thankful for another opportunity to analyze, I am disappointed that another black within the collective has once again opted to entertain rather that educate, which is a choice to appease not agitate the system that continues to hold us hostage.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Lena says:

    Hey! The real question is… is she allowed to educate instead of entertain? Blk ppl don’t own hbo. So making a blk man appear racists, on a show about blk ppl, appeases the masses. I assume…

    1. Hey hey! Good question! Issa isn’t the blackest person and has made her share of self- deprecating remarks with regard to the black collective. This is who we have narrating our story as young black women. Smh

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