As I — along with my social-media family — prepare to watch Sunday night’s season finale of HBO’s millennial-focused, girlie series Insecure, I want to thank creator Issa Rae for making me feel more than a bit uncomfortable.
Because in the process, I learned a few things about myself. (Although, full-disclosure, I’m no millennial.)
Like Issa, the protagonist hilariously played by Rae, my personal life was at its messiest when I was at my most insecure. I just didn’t know it then. Sure, I loved watching Carrie Bradshaw flit from high-end store to high-end store on Sex and the City, and I considered myself as neurotic as Joan Clayton on Girlfriends.
Issa is different from those women, however, because she’s not the woman I ever wanted to be — although I do find myself constantly checking for her fabulous athleisure-inspired wardrobe. She was the woman I was.
It’s worth noting here that Lena Dunham’s Girls was full of nonaspirational characters, too. I was just never about Hannah’s all-angst, no-fun life.
But like Issa, I was a twentysomething who, when confronted, knew what I wanted to say — and just didn’t. Not long ago, I was that girl who tripped and fell her way in and out of relationships with dudes who just didn’t like me enough. In intimate relationships, I was likely the one to overreact. Sometimes, I am still my own hype-girl in the bathroom mirror. Why? Because of insecurity. And let me tell you, I still have to work hard to keep that part of myself in check.
We make a lot of mistakes when insecurity runs our lives. This is no judgment on the indiscretions of Issa or her bestie Molly (Yvonne Orji). I’ve just been there, done that. But if, when I was going through my own silly girl drama, there had been a character like Issa in pop culture, I wouldn’t have felt so alone. Then maybe it wouldn’t have taken so much time for me to accept all of myself, bad choices and all. And, who knows? Maybe I’d have found the path to being the woman I wanted to be sooner.
Issa’s journey is so rich to me.
Now, for some background (and a few spoilers). When we met Issa in Season One, she was in an unhappy relationship with her unambitious boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis). By the end of the first arc of episodes, Issa is so over Lawrence she cheats on him with her musician friend Daniel (Y’lan Noel).
In Season Two, Issa is navigating her newfound singledom.
Therein lies the drama. As Issa builds a rotation of new lovers, she kicks it with a dude she met online (if only online dating were as prevalent in the ’90s). She kicks it with a neighbor (been there, done that). And she rekindles things with Daniel, in a friends-with-benefits kind of way (sigh, sounds familiar).
In one of the season’s most-talked-about episodes, “Hella Blows,” Issa decides to “service” Daniel, who is now the star of the hotation. And the situation goes from sticky to uncomfortable because, in Issa’s mind, she’s not the kind of girl a man would do that to. (The truth is, are any of us?)
It becomes obvious — to the dismay of all the men in my social-media feed — that this carnal act was more about Issa than it was about Daniel. And why not? Issa’s truth — whether you think she’s right or wrong, immature or insecure — is that the incident troubled her. Women are allowed to explore these truths only in a black-and-white kind of way — you are a whore if you do and respectful if you don’t. Rae challenged that idea, and it wasn’t over brunch.
Insecure is a show many women who are trying to find their way in life can understand. But it’s particularly inspiring for black women. As the first black woman to write and star in a premium cable series, Rae is taking full advantage of her freedom of exploring black women’s vulnerabilities in a very raw way. Some may say too raw. The gratuitous use of the n-word in the dialogue is flinch-worthy. And there has been some criticism that with all the porn-quality sex scenes on the show, there needs to be more evidence of condom use.
But the bigger message is that black women can be lewd and respectable at the same time. We don’t fall into television’s categories for us: Cookie (ghetto fabulous), Florida Evans (sassy mammy), or Clair Huxtable (perfect).
Just like Mary Jane Paul, Gabrielle Union’s salty television newscaster on BET’s Being Mary Jane, Rae is a brown-skinned woman who is the center of her show, not the sidekick. (That’s awesome on many levels.) Unlike Union’s Mary Jane — or, frankly, many on-screen African American women — Issa’s go-to emotion isn’t rage, but vulnerability. Issa throws stuff around her apartment. (I’ve done that.) She doesn’t lash out, but she lets the anxiety eat her up inside.
I can’t wait to see how Rae wraps up this chapter of Issa’s messy life Sunday night. I know it’s not going to be neat and tidy — because Issa still has so much to learn.