‘Insecure’ Sees My Messy, Awkward Blackness
In season three, Issa reminds us we don’t always have to strive for excellence.
All image courtesy of HBO.
I do this thing where I make pretend phone calls just to leave a joint without talking to people...because I want to leave the joint without talking to people. It’s that simple. I don’t want your “see ya later” or accidental fist-bump-shake. I’m just done. If it’s the middle of the day, and I’m hugging the phone towards the door, I’m not coming back.
The return of season three of Insecure feels like that messy half of me—the normal-ass dude that runs from insecurities like any normal-ass dude.
And god damn, it’s refreshing place to be in.
Sure, I’ve appreciated this pop-culture space of black wokeness—the manufacturing of fly black excellence and king and queen-dom—but can’t always subscribe to be that shit.
Atlanta—my favourite series of the year for example—oozes a brand of flyness that prevails over a story of black struggle. Black Panther is blackness elevated—nobility up the ass—with blackity black “excellence” personified as transformative but idealistic. And Insecure next to all that is just current—my normal met with my uncool, awkward normal—just a black working woman in her fuck up phase. It’s refreshingly oblivious to all that “be great” and “be cool” messaging Feeling like a cool-ass king or queen will always be a dope thing on a good day; but Insecure is a necessary vision of blackness that flaunts the crack in black, and I fuck with that.
As a show stripped down, Insecure is really a story of partial love triangles, love squares, love trapezoids, and whatever-the-hell-else shapes. In one Insecure season, Issa is back and forth with the dude with good bone structure but bad aim, Daniel. In another, she’s repairing a relationship with no-job-having Lawrence (who she cheats on with bad-aim-having Daniel). But it’s all told within a middle-class framework. Issa has low-credit and debt, her love interests are struggle warriors, and she’s the one black chick at her non-profit job. Come season three, a lot of that isn’t changed because it’s a ride that always embraces the mess.
Several mainstream representations of blackness make constants out of Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) types—calculated, powerful and cunning in the same calculated, powerful and cunning quality of a Kerry Washington in Scandal. In other instances, it’s an edgy black dude named James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Power) or Lucious Lyon (Empire) with the dreamy eyes and punishing stare who doesn’t give a fuck. From world changing black excellence to every cool character in-between, the awkward and insecure in all that greatness rarely sits at the centre.
Take season three, episode two of Insecure for example: In a memorable scene, struggling hip-hop producer Daniel displays some anxiety at a club when trying to get the attention of a popular artist named Spider. He performs the whole cringe-like ritual of stalling, downing the drank, looking towards the ground, fumbling his hands and tripping over his words. He’s serious about his music and it becomes a huge source of his insecurities as he tells Issa regarding his more successful friend “I got good, Khalil got famous.” All that “sexy, cool, debonair” shit that the show spent two years building around him is put to the wayside for what’s awkwardly real.
Moments like this are sprinkled throughout this seasonal joint, whether it be Issa’s ride-or-die careerist friend Molly whose career-isms drive her to make bad decisions. Or Issa herself whose whole adult life is a bad decision. Blackness in Insecure isn’t rested on the burden to be powerful, cool, insightful and progressive. It rests on the idea that messy insecurities move tantamount with the black excellence we often want to present.
I mean I get it. The use of ultra strong black characters of routine flyness and strength is a natural reaction to a culture that dehumanizes and devalues black life at every turn. For most of us who fall prey to ascribing to that bullshit on a bad day—all of us really—the growing number of pop-culture narratives remind us that we can be far better, and more dope than we ever imagined ourselves to be. That we’re more than the moments that require a “worldstar” proclamation. But still, a show that avoids putting its metaphysical eggs into that notion respects the self-inflicted bullshit that goes on underneath our ebony sheens.
The truth is that I’ll occasionally do awkward messy shit like my girl Issa, because I can be awkward and messy. I’ll occasionally feel inferior like my man Daniel, because I often feel inferior. Insecure continues to be a refreshing gateway to that humdrum of the regular debt-having, awkward-talking blackness that many live and love in.
Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.